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As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Section 22 of As I Lay Dying, why does William Faulkner abruptly cut Cash's narration, and what does the dialogue between Jewel and Cash suggest about their relationship?

William Faulkner combines the dialogue between Jewel and Cash with Cash's repetitious thought at the end of the section to show how Jewel is cruel to Cash and thinks he's slow. Cash is still trying to make his one point when Jewel rips Addie's coffin out of Cash's hands. Jewel is jealous of Cash for building Addie's coffin and feeling guilty that he was away when Addie died, so he berates Cash for trying to explain how to balance the coffin as they carry it out to the wagon. Later in the novel, Faulkner makes it clear that Cash and Jewel are the only two children Addie considers truly hers, both physically and emotionally, so the two men are perhaps in competition with each other for being the best son. Cash is also highly methodical and explains everything to himself and others, much as Anse does. In this scene, Cash either decides to say nothing at all and just plug forward with what he is doing, or stops short and decides not to continue his explanation. Either way, Faulkner uses the unfinished narration to show how abruptly Cash is interrupted by Jewel's grabbing the coffin.

In Section 23 of As I Lay Dying, why does William Faulkner show Darl homing in on Jewel's breathing as he carries the coffin to the wagon?

William Faulkner first has Darl describe what Jewel looks like as he lifts the coffin, and reacts angrily to Cash's explanations of how it needs to be balanced. He refers to Jewel's face as "suffocated," and says it turns green as Jewel lifts his side of the coffin harder and higher than any of the others, catching them off-guard. Then everyone holding the coffin has to breathe through their teeth in order to not have to smell the decaying body, because Addie has been in the coffin for several days at this point. Darl says once everyone has their bearings, Jewel turns completely green and Darl can hear "teeth in his breath." Jewel is going so fast, Cash begins to stumble and is "breathing harshly." Jewel ends up running with the coffin and heaving it forward like a log into the wagon. Darl says the coffin slides down on the air as everyone behind Jewel loses their grip, and Jewel, as he swears at everyone (especially Cash), uses a "suffocating voice." By not saying directly that Jewel is turning green because of the smell, Faulkner layers the section with a figurative association in addition to the literal odor, which has become unbearable to breathe in. The anger Jewel feels suffocates himself and everyone else. The tension and grief Jewel feels in this moment makes him seem almost seasick, representing the inward state of his character.

In Section 24 of As I Lay Dying, what is the significance of Vardaman's thinking about the train set?

Vardaman thinks about a train set he has seen in the window of a shop in Jefferson, where the family is headed, and he wants the train for Christmas. He is also afraid the store owner will sell it to "town boys" before the family can afford to buy it. In this moment, Vardaman reveals that he has been exposed to some of the tensions threaded throughout the novel between the townspeople and the characters from the country. Vardaman, the youngest Bundren, is discovering his place in society and trying to understand what it means to be poor and not able to afford things. The significance of where someone is born is also beginning to affect him on a personal level. Just as Dewey Dell has her reasons for going to Jefferson (and so does Anse), Vardaman's private thoughts about Jefferson commingle with the actual conversation he is having with Darl, about whether they have a mother anymore. By the end of the section, Vardaman's thoughts wander back to the train, which foreshadows a major event later in the novel when Darl is taken away to an insane asylum on a real train. Each character has an ulterior motive for wanting to go to Jefferson except for Darl. Vardaman's is surprisingly innocent, and ironically becomes connected to his fellow innocent, Darl.

In Section 25 of As I Lay Dying, what does the interaction Darl and Anse have about Jewel wanting to ride his horse reveal about their characters?

Jewel takes off toward the barn as everyone else gets into the wagon. Anse has told Jewel not to take his horse because it's disrespectful not to ride in the wagon with the coffin. However, the coffin smells terrible, and Jewel doesn't get along with the rest of the family, anyway. Anse thinks he has done his duty, and is furious that Jewel has walked away, but Cash says to just let him stay home. Darl, however, knows Jewel better than that. He says Jewel will likely show up on his horse near Tull's. Darl knows Jewel is not about to take orders from Anse when it comes to his horse. But Darl also knows Jewel will not miss out on the burial because he is Addie's favorite son. Anse doesn't really pay attention to anyone but himself when it comes to feelings and emotions, and Darl's power of perception gives him insight into Jewel's intentions.

In Section 26 of As I Lay Dying, why does Darl laugh when Jewel returns, and why is it significant?

Just as Darl predicted, as soon as the family reaches the road to Tull's farm, Jewel appears behind the wagon, barreling down the road on his horse. Anse was sure he had told Jewel what to do and that would be the end of it, but Jewel doesn't show any signs of developing respect for Anse. He does, however, show that he respects and loves Addie. Anse thinks the opposite: Jewel is showing disrespect for Addie, and Jewel has never shown her any affection. Darl laughs because he has been proven right, and because he's under a lot of stress, riding in a wagon with people who don't really understand him and a casket with his dead mother inside (getting more rotten and foul-smelling by the day). Also, at some point, Anse's total inability to understand people becomes comical, and when Darl bursts out laughing, it isn't a sign of craziness, as Anse thinks, but a sign of emotional health.

In Section 27 of As I Lay Dying, what is the significance of Dewey Dell's and Cash's different reactions to passing the New Hope Church sign?

Dewey Dell and Cash both have immediate reactions to passing the sign saying that New Hope Church is only three miles away. They both believe there is a slight possibility Anse will change his mind and decide to bury Addie in the cemetery there instead of driving 40 miles to Jefferson. When Anse does not turn toward New Hope, Cash is not happy at all, and he spits to show his disdain for continuing this journey. He says the body is going to start to smell, which is another indication he thinks the trip is a bad idea. He is also worried the coffin is not balanced properly for the mileage Anse plans to put in to get to Jefferson. Dewey Dell, however, looks back at Darl after she sees the sign and notices they are not turning toward the church. She looks to see if he is going to say anything, and after the silence, turns her head back toward the front of the wagon. She is clearly relieved, not only because Darl has decided not to reveal her secret just yet, but because the wagon is still headed for Jefferson, where she can try to get an abortion. Even though the family forms one unit, physically and emotionally working together to honor their mother's dying wishes, their individual perspectives, at times, clash and create tension between them.

What is the significance of the buzzards in As I Lay Dying?

Even before Addie dies, buzzards are mentioned. In the only section Jewel narrates, he refers to Dewey Dell and Cora Tull and her two daughters as buzzards. Around the same time, Dewey Dell refers to Tull as "old turkey-buzzard Tull coming to watch her die." Buzzards, in this sense, represent the need for privacy and those who feel the need to be close by while someone is dying, the human tendency to gawk at death. None of the characters ever call Anse a buzzard, but numerous characters allude to him looking like one; even Addie describes him as a tall, hunched bird. Once Addie is gone and the actual buzzards show up, they are described in ways that match Anse's personality. In Section 30, Dewy Dell describes a buzzard in the sky "as still as if he were nailed to it," and in Section 21 Darl says, "They hang in narrowing circles." He says they are motionless and tall. The buzzards seem to represent Anse, who is often portrayed as motionless, chewing his tobacco, slow to move or make a decision, and a character whose mind runs in circles. Furthermore, the buzzards are ominous, as they follow the family on their entire journey. They are menacing and tenacious creatures. Vardaman spends an entire day trying to scare them away, but they just "lift enough to dodge him" and linger in the barn anyway. Armstid mentions how just seeing the buzzards makes him smell Addie's corpse, even though it's a mile away. He describes how they're "circling and circling for everybody in the county to see what was in my barn." The buzzards represent the outrage, vulnerability, and feelings of being exposed, which accompany death in the novel.

In Section 29 of As I Lay Dying, why does Dewey Dell insist that Anse keep his promise to bury Addie in Jefferson?

Because the river is extremely high and the bridge near Samson's is washed out, there is no way for the Bundrens to cross safely any time soon. As a result, Samson advises Anse to go back to New Hope, which is much closer, to bury Addie, and Samson even offers to help dig the hole. This enrages Dewey Dell. She is desperate to go to Jefferson, but the main reason is not to bury her mother, but to get an abortion. If her main reason for going to Jefferson is to respect her mother, she would not insist the body continue to be kept aboveground for this long. However, if the family doesn't go to Jefferson, there is no way for Dewey Dell to end her pregnancy without telling her family about it, and she doesn't want to do that. She is hiding her real reason under her insistence that Anse keep his promise to Addie, no matter how long it takes or how bad the body smells. At this point, the unburied body in the coffin is a health hazard, not having been embalmed, but Dewey Dell's comments and body language show she is so stressed and selfish, she barely notices.

In Section 30 of As I Lay Dying, why does Dewey Dell daydream about killing Darl, and how does it foreshadow events later in the novel?

Darl knows Dewey Dell's secret and has taunted her with it in the past. In this section, he stares intensely at Dewey Dell, undressing her with his eyes. Dewey Dell is afraid something or someone, particularly Darl, will stop them from continuing on to Jefferson, where she wants to get an abortion. Killing Darl in her imagination is Dewey Dell's way of trying to stop him from speaking; if she takes any real action or says anything unusual, the rest of the family may discover her secret. Dewey Dell's daydream foreshadows the scene later in the novel when, after Darl burns the Gillespies' barn to try to incinerate the coffin, he is committed to an insane asylum. Dewey Dell is the first person to hold him down so the men can take him away to the asylum. Going to an insane asylum, at this time in history, is almost like a death sentence, and it is also the death of Darl's relationship with the rest of his family.

What is the purpose of Jewel narrating only once in As I Lay Dying (Section 4), and what effect does it have?

William Faulkner has Jewel narrate only once because there is no need for him to narrate a second time. Jewel's exterior is so thick and tough, nothing can penetrate it enough to change the way he thinks. Jewel's viewpoint is given early in the novel. Because he never narrates again, it is difficult to discern what effect Addie's death has had on him internally. He can be understood only through how other characters look at him, describe his actions, or recall what he says. Darl describes Jewel as wooden, suggesting he carries himself in a rigid and stiff manner, and the one section he narrates shows he is tough and has a no-nonsense attitude. He never interacts with Vardaman on a childish level (as Darl does), and often avoids Darl's attempts to provoke him. He remains outwardly tough, never breaks down or shows weakness, and replaces most of his feelings with anger. Jewel takes an active role in the family by saving Addie's coffin twice, sacrificing his horse, and risking his life. However, near the end of the novel, the focus on Jewel lessens. By the time the new Mrs. Bundren arrives, there is a sense of Jewel fading into the background, as if his inability to change has rendered his role in the family unimportant.

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