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As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Section 32 of As I Lay Dying, how does Darl figure out Jewel is not Anse's child?

Darl tells the story of how Jewel acquires his horse. Jewel neglects his chores at home to work nights to earn the money for the horse. He sleeps away the days at home, and Addie has to do some of his chores, covering for him so that Anse won't know. She bribes the other children to do Jewel's chores, too, and makes special food for him, even though she has no idea he is exhausted because of his night job. Darl notices Addie is acting deceitful, when she has always taught the children nothing in the world is worse than deceit, not even poverty. This makes Darl suspicious. Then, when Addie finds out Jewel has bought a horse with the money, Darl says she first says, "Jewel ... I'll give—I'll give—give," and then she cries. Darl says she hates tears, and hates Jewel for making her cry, but she sits next to his bed that night sobbing quietly. Darl remembers vividly how broken Addie looks when Cash guides her stumbling over the plow-marks in the field. This image of Addie makes a powerful impression on Darl. Then, when Darl sees Addie sitting by Jewel's bed crying, having seen all she does for Jewel, he knows in his heart Addie has a secret and it definitely has to do with Jewel. He realizes Addie is sad because she cannot give Jewel everything he wants, which is completely different from how she treats Darl and the other children, making them work hard with their daily chores, expecting them to carry their share of the work. Being unusually perceptive, Darl puts it all together and figures out Jewel is Addie's child but not Anse's, and her guilt motivates her to treat Jewel differently.

In Section 33 of As I Lay Dying, how does Tull feel about the fact that he has crossed the bridge to help Anse, and why?

Tull can hardly believe he has been sucked into helping Anse yet again, and in a situation so dangerous he could lose his life. He crosses the submerged bridge on foot with Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, while the other boys try to ford the river with the wagon. Tull looks across the river at his mule and realizes he has just put himself out of reach of safety and home, and this entire experience would horrify Cora, his wife. He realizes he has just done something he would never do if he had any common sense, looking at the thick, icy water from the other shore and realizing he'd have to get back to where his mule is standing. He thinks he won't be able to force himself to do it, and wouldn't do it, even if Cora asked him. He blames it on having held Vardaman's hand while crossing, and Vardaman wasn't scared at all. His manliness keeps him from thinking like a sensible person. On the way to the ford, he is still saying to Anse he should have waited a day for the water to come down.

In Section 34 of As I Lay Dying, how does William Faulkner illustrate the risk of crossing the river?

William Faulkner has Darl describe how the horse rolls its eyes back, breathes heavily and groans, and starts to tremble. The mules seem to be despairing, as there is a sad look in their eyes and they are groaning as well. Darl says they can see "the shape of the disaster which they could not speak and we could not see." The animals know this is a completely foolish and dangerous idea to try to ford the river, and the mules know they are about to head straight to their deaths. Jewel has to hit the horse's head with his fist to get it to move once the wagon tips over and everything falls apart. The mules end up with their legs in the air, drowned. If the people in this scene had paid attention to the reactions of the animals, they would never have gone into the river.

In Section 35 of As I Lay Dying, how does Vardaman connect the river incident to his idea of who his mother is now?

Vardaman watches as the wagon tips over and Addie's coffin falls out. Cash has tried to hold it in place with one arm, but there is no way he can keep it from falling off the wagon. He had wedged it in with his tools, but now both Addie and the tools are in the river. Vardaman keeps yelling at Darl to catch Addie, and he still believes she is a fish, even more so than before. Darl can't catch the coffin, and Vardaman believes Darl is actually trying, but Darl is trying to save his own life. Vardaman says Addie can go faster than a man in the water, and it's clear (from his description of the event) that it has confirmed for him his mother is actually a fish, the one that got away.

In Section 36 of As I Lay Dying, why does Tull yell at Anse?

Tull watches the river disaster unfold before him, with Cash falling into the water with the coffin, the wagon tipping over, and Jewel and his horse tangled up with the wagon reins. Darl has jumped off the wagon and is safe, but the rest are not. Jewel and the horse go under, as does Cash, and Tull is horrified, shouting at Anse, "See what you done now? See what you done now?" All the boys are in the river because Anse couldn't bring himself to turn around, and Tull means it isn't Anse who is on the wagon risking his life, although it is he who caused this mess. Anse wants to keep his promise, but he's not the one laying his life on the line to make it happen. He has put his own sons in danger of losing their lives just to bury Addie in Jefferson. Tull is furious with Anse, and with himself, for allowing the boys to take such a risk.

In Section 37 of As I Lay Dying, how do Jewel and Tull reconcile their differences?

Jewel is angry at Tull for not having allowed them to use his mule, but he can't be that angry anymore because Tull helps him get the wagon and the coffin out of the river. Then Tull helps Jewel dive down and retrieve Cash's lost tools. Darl is able to tell Jewel what Cash had for tools, and Vardaman holds onto them. Jewel and Tull work together, holding onto a rope (and sometimes each other) to each dive down to try to find another tool. They end up finding most of what Cash had, though Cash is not yet fully conscious to tell them otherwise. Tull and Jewel still argue a bit with each other about where the wagon went down, but they manage to cooperate long enough to stay alive and get what Cash had lost. Jewel can no longer say Tull isn't being helpful; without Tull, he would not have been able to find all that he did.

In Section 37 of As I Lay Dying, what does Anse's reaction to the wagon turning over in the river suggest about his character?

To Anse, the accident is all part of the "trial" he will undergo to be seen as good in the eyes of God. He is unable to see the threat it poses to his children's lives and well-being. Anse, who isn't on the wagon carrying his wife's corpse, reacts to the capsizing of the wagon, coffin, and tools, as well as Cash's near-death experience, by bewailing how unlucky he is. He goes down to look at the drowned mules instead of staying with Cash, who is barely alive. He doesn't stay with the family to help Jewel and Tull find Cash's tools, or to pull out the wagon and the coffin. When he comes back from looking at the dead mules, he scrubs a couple of mud stains off the side of the wagon, not even checking on Cash, who is not yet conscious. After Cash regains consciousness, Anse continues to avoid responsibility for the accident. He even says Cash is lucky the leg that is now broken is the same one he broke falling off a church roof. Then Anse says, "but I don't begrudge her it," meaning all of this is worth it for getting Addie to her chosen burial site. His reaction is selfish and misguided; not at all that of a protective or caring father.

In Section 38 of As I Lay Dying, for what purpose does William Faulkner make Cash's narration so short and unfinished?

William Faulkner uses this technique to show the reader that no one really listens to Cash. In this scene, Cash is lying on the shore, his leg broken for a second time, the mules dead, the wagon full of mud, the coffin soaked, and some of his tools gone. Before this accident—caused solely by Anse deciding his salvation and reputation as a devoted but unlucky widower is more important than the lives of his children—Cash has tried to explain the risk posed by the unbalanced coffin. He says it earlier in the novel when they start out and he discovers they are going to Jefferson, not to New Hope. He says it several more times during the journey to Samson's. Now the mules are dead and he is severely injured, and Cash starts to say he "told them that if they wanted it to tote and ride on a balance, they would have to[.]" Faulkner purposely avoids using end punctuation in this section, so Cash never gets to finish his sentence, typical of the sections he narrates. While his expressions are intelligent and well thought out, everyone simply ignores him.

In Section 40 of As I Lay Dying, why does Addie reveal she doesn't like children, and why is it significant?

Addie's disillusionment with love happens after she has children. When she marries Anse, she is okay with the first child, but when the second child comes along, she realizes all she is for Anse is a baby factory, and she wants to kill Anse for it. She is simply giving Anse a workforce to do his job for him on the farm; it has nothing to do with love. With Jewel, she didn't want another child but he reminded her of her affair with Whitfield, the one time during her marriage when she felt alive. But even Jewel treated her horribly. Her time alone, to have her own life, was gone the minute she had children, and she resents it. For her, once she gave Anse two more children, whom she calls his, not hers, she wants nothing but to die in peace. Addie does not apologize for her feelings in her narration. She says her deep and true feelings plainly, unconcerned about whether she will be judged or not. However, her narration implies her spirit is not in peace when she dies; she still feels a need to confess and be understood by those whose lives she impacted, and those who are still judging her, such as Cora Tull. For readers, the effect of Addie's confession about not liking children is chilling, seeing how lost, angry, full of grief, and confused her children are over her death.

In Section 41 of As I Lay Dying, how does Whitfield compare and contrast with Anse with regard to Addie?

Whitfield is heading for the Bundren farm because Addie is dying. Whitfield wants to admit his affair to Anse and thus cleanse his soul of sin, but when he gets to the farm, Addie is already dead. He realizes, as soon as he sees Anse, that Addie has not told him about their affair. Unlike Anse, Whitfield was passionate about Addie when they met secretly to have their affair. He was also the one to break it off and just stop showing up. Anse has stuck with Addie from the beginning, but it was to have someone do all the work for him and produce children who could also do all the work for him. Anse doesn't have a passionate bone in his body. However, Whitfield and Anse are alike in that they both believe that intending to do something difficult is just as good as actually doing it. Both men are inclined to be lazy about the most important things, and yet they fully believe that by thinking about doing those things, they have done all they can do.

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