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As I Lay Dying | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What is implied by the different characters' descriptions of the dead mules in As I Lay Dying?

The mules are a mute reminder of the dead woman who is also floating and rolling in the water. Likewise, they foreshadow the role about to be played by Cash, whose leg will be "stiffly extended" for the rest of the novel as he recuperates, and suffers, from a broken leg. Several narrators describe the mules dying in the river. Darl first describes "their legs stiffly extended as when they had lost contact with the earth" when they roll over in the water. Then Vardaman describes "their legs stiff their stiff legs rolling" in Section 35. In Section 36 Tull says, "I see the mules come rolling slow up out of the water, their legs spraddled stiff like they had balked upside down, and roll on into the water again." In some ways, both Cash and Addie are the "mules," pulling this family along. And both do so from a prone position, inert. They, like the mules, are gruesome reminders that life is cruel, it ends in death, and along the way it has the power to be violent and destructive.

In Section 46 of As I Lay Dying, why does Anse insist on putting cement on Cash's leg, and what does it say about him as a character?

Anse tends to convince himself that if his intentions are good, then the outcome does not matter. He has already been told by authorities back in Mottson that putting cement on the leg will cause Cash to lose the limb. Cash tells Anse he can last until Jefferson, which they should reach by the next day, but Anse says because they have already bought the cement, they have to use it. This is not true, but Anse won't stop his journey for Cash, and figures he can buy himself some time by using the cement. He is so stingy, he feels he has to use the cement just because he paid for it, and Peabody won't make him pay for his services, but another doctor might. Anse keeps on going with his dangerous and selfish treatment of his son for his own benefit.

In Section 50 of As I Lay Dying, why does Darl tell Jewel not to go back into the burning barn?

Darl tells Jewel not to go back into the barn because he will get burned by the fire, but also because he is the one who set the fire in the first place. He wanted to incinerate his mother's coffin because he is upset at his father for dragging his mother's coffin all over the county while the body rots and stinks. Everyone has told Anse to bury her, even the authorities in Mottson (threatening to arrest him), and Darl is desperate to put his mother to rest. If Jewel takes the coffin out of the barn, not only will he get hurt, but Addie will not be put to rest, and Darl can't stand the thought of continuing on the journey without burying his mother. Darl is thought to be crazy, but in this situation, even though he should have thought about the animals in the barn (not to mention the fact that it isn't his barn), Darl is right to want to do something about Addie that doesn't involve heading all the way to Jefferson to bury her.

In Section 51 of As I Lay Dying, how does Gillespie's reaction to the treatment of Cash's leg exemplify the Southern Grotesque tradition?

The Southern Grotesque tradition uses physical extremes to produce an effect that is both violent and comic. In this scene, Gillespie is like the voice of reason, expressing the reader's astonishment that Anse would actually put cement on Cash's leg to steady it. He also finds it unfathomable that Anse would not think to grease Cash's leg first, so the cement wouldn't take off his skin when they remove the cast. Taking the cast off, in fact, tears the flesh from Cash's leg, causing him to lose a great deal of blood and faint. Yet Anse is, as always, willing to harm his children in order to make things more convenient for himself. After Cash faints from the pain, Anse repeats that he just wanted to help Cash, and lies, saying, "It was Darl put it on." His gross lie adds dark humor to the bloody scene.

In Section 52 of As I Lay Dying, why do the men react negatively as they pass the wagon, and why does Jewel try to strike one of them?

The men turn to look at the wagon and react with outrage because the body in the wagon smells so intensely bad. Everyone the Bundren family passes reacts this way, but these men actually say something. Jewel tries to strike the white man in the group because he can't stand their criticism: the smell is coming from his dead mother. Jewel has gone into a kind of a dream state in which he has to protect the coffin at all costs, and he wants his mother to himself. He becomes furious because he thinks the men are insulting his mother, and Darl has to hold him back and make excuses for him. When they finally get going again, Jewel won't ride in the wagon, but rides squatting at the back of it with one foot on the rear wheel as it turns, as if he is daring anyone to say anything about the stench.

In Section 53 of As I Lay Dying, why does Cash feel reluctant to send Darl to an asylum, and how does he know who told Gillespie about Darl?

Cash thinks Darl wasn't insane to have tried to burn their mother's coffin, and that it would have been better if she had been taken in "some clean way" rather than hauled to Jefferson, rotting in the back of the wagon. He knows Darl needs to pay somehow for having burned Gillespie's barn, but he isn't even sure this crime means Darl is crazy. He thought Jewel had acted against God by saving the coffin from the water, and he understands why Darl wanted to incinerate it. Cash thinks Darl should be with them when they bury Addie, but Anse and Jewel decide Darl will go away first. It's also clear to Cash that Dewey Dell had something to do with Darl going away right away. She can get Anse to do what she wants, and she is the first one to have held Darl down so the men from the asylum could come take him. Cash tries to make Darl feel better by saying it will be better for him to be at the asylum, but he is uneasy, and his statement that a man doesn't have the right to say if another man is crazy or not makes it clear he's upset that Darl is being treated this way.

In Section 54 of As I Lay Dying, what is the significance of Peabody's private conversation with Cash?

Peabody is astonished that Cash has not already lost his leg thanks to Anse's mistreatment of him, and the only way he agrees with Anse is that it's lucky Cash broke the same leg he broke before. Otherwise, he'd be unable to walk at all. Peabody is also amazed Cash can act as if none of this bothers him, and that he's not really in much pain. Cash is so used to making light of his own suffering so that Anse doesn't have to deal with it, he continues to do so when Peabody asks him if his leg hurts. Cash is white-faced and sweating profusely, so he's obviously in a great deal of pain, but he tells Peabody it doesn't hurt "to speak of." Peabody thinks Anse should have been buried in the ground with Addie, so the family could be rid of his abusive behavior. He thinks Anse is callous toward Cash's pain and callous to have thrown Darl down in the street to be taken away. Yet Cash's reaction to Peabody's tirade about Anse being a terrible father is met, by Cash, with calm, quiet loyalty. The only comment Cash makes about Anse is, "Hit's what Paw says." Anse's approval is important to Cash, and he really does believe his father has his best interest at heart, even if Anse makes bad decisions.

In Section 55 of As I Lay Dying, how does MacGowan convince Dewey Dell to come back, and why does she believe him?

MacGowan tells Dewey Dell the "hair of the dog," which means the same thing that got her pregnant, will take away the pregnancy if she takes the rest of his treatment, which is just a bottle of medicine and capsules filled with talcum powder. He convinces her to come back because it's the only way she can get the second part of the medication and the "operation," meaning he will have sex with her in the basement. She is desperate to end the pregnancy—so desperate that she is willing to do anything if it will work, even sleep with MacGowan. She brings Vardaman along to sit outside and wait for her, and goes in to get the "treatment" because she is afraid her family will make her keep the baby if they learn about it. She does suspect immediately afterward that the treatment won't work and MacGowan just did this to get her to have sex. However, she decided to have sex with Lafe based on whether her harvest bag was full. Clearly, she doesn't mind having sex and, like her father, relies more on luck than common sense.

In Section 57 of As I Lay Dying, why does Darl's narration shift into third person?

The shift into third person reflects Darl's precarious mental state. His monologue is in third person, as if he is referring to someone else named Darl now—someone who is laughing at everything around him. Darl's mind has been deteriorating throughout the novel, and having his family tackle him and send him away makes him unstable. His brothers don't defend him, Jewel wants to kill him, and Dewey Dell has turned on him. His sister's selfishness and Cash's inability to stand up for Darl make him unable to cope with reality. He ends up on a train, and then in a cell, foaming and laughing, saying "yes yes yes yes yes" and hearing echoes of "our brother Darl."

In As I Lay Dying, why do Dewey Dell and Anse say Darl has the land in his eyes?

Darl has always been "queer." As country people, the Bundrens have a close connection to the land, but Darl is far more intuitive even than they are. In Section 9, when Anse is contemplating how a road being built near his house threatens to take his children from him, he mentions a "they" who "would short-hand me ... just because he's got his eyes full of the land." Anse's statement implies that Darl has perhaps expressed a desire to travel, to wander. When Darl is on the train at the end of the novel he does, in fact, reveal he went to France in the military. Perhaps this is what Anse is referring to, but Darl also sees landscapes as bodies and bodies as landscapes. In Section 30 Dewey Dell says, "the land runs out of Darl's eyes" when he is staring so intensely at her; she feels as though he is undressing her. In turn, Darl describes Dewey Dell's breasts as "the horizons and the valleys of the earth." Darl's land-body confusion gives his eyes their faraway look.

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