As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Course Hero. "As I Lay Dying Study Guide." January 19, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2023.


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As I Lay Dying | Plot Summary

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As I Lay Dying is divided into 59 sections, each named for the character narrating that particular section. There are 15 narrators in all. The novel begins with Darl, the second of Addie Bundren's children, describing how Cash, Addie's oldest son and a skilled carpenter, is outside building her coffin. Addie has been dying in her bed for 10 days, looking out the window while Cash makes her coffin. Darl realizes that if he leaves to make a delivery for his neighbor, Vernon Tull, his mother will likely die while he is gone. Addie's husband, Anse Bundren, finally calls the local doctor, Peabody, who realizes Addie has intentionally lain down to die, and he wonders why Anse did not call him earlier.

Meanwhile, when Darl and Jewel, who is Addie's middle son and favorite child, come back and see buzzards circling the house, they know their mother is already dead. Vardaman, the youngest son, arrives with a fish he has caught and killed. Vardaman has no previous experience with death, and he thinks the doctor has killed his mother. Dewey Dell, Addie's only daughter, along with neighbors Cora Tull and her daughter, Kate, prepare Addie's body for the coffin, and they sing funeral songs for her.

Addie's dying wish is to be buried with her own ancestral family in Jefferson, 40 miles away, and Anse complies. He thinks he might finally get a new set of teeth while he's in Jefferson. When Cash finishes making Addie's coffin, Anse and the boys put Addie in it backward to make room for her wedding dress, and they load the coffin into the wagon. That night, Vardaman drills holes into the coffin because he worries his mother can't breathe. He accidentally drives a couple of nails into her face, so the family covers her face with mesh for the funeral.

The family sets out the next day for Jefferson, though they have been warned the weather will be terrible. Dewey Dell carries a package containing her dress clothes and $10 from Lafe, a boy with whom she had sex, so she can get an abortion drug in town. The rest of the family does not know she is pregnant, so she tells them the package contains cakes. Jewel refuses to ride in the wagon with the coffin, so he rides his horse alongside.

The bad weather has caused the river to swell and washed out two of the local bridges, forcing the Bundrens to make a long, pointless voyage and spend their first night away from home on Tull's farm. The next morning, they decide to cross the river. The wagon tips over and dumps everything into the water, including Addie's coffin. Jewel's horse kicks Cash as he tries to right the wagon, breaking his leg. The mules drown, but Jewel and Tull save the coffin and the wagon. Everyone searches the riverbed for Cash's carpentry tools. Vardaman decides his mother is a fish, not the reeking corpse in the coffin.

Back home, Tull's wife, Cora, reflects on Addie's life, determining it was not a life well lived. Meanwhile, Addie's spirit reflects, too. She thinks about her disillusionment with marriage and her affair with Whitfield, the minister. She believes the two children she had after Jewel absolved her of her adulterous sins. She feels ready to die; she was ready back when she gave birth to Darl, her second child. Whitfield chimes in, saying he must confess his sin to Anse. By the time he arrives at the Bundren house, however, Addie is already dead, so he does nothing.

The family goes to stay with Armstid and Lula the next night. Anse decides to take the money Cash is saving to buy a record player, mortgage his farm equipment, and trade Jewel's horse, all for a team of mules to replace the ones that drowned in the river. The family continues to Mottson, where Dewey Dell tries to get the abortion drug from the pharmacist. He refuses to sell it to her and insists she should marry the father. Meanwhile, the townspeople and the marshal complain about the smell coming from the coffin, and the marshal is horrified to hear that Anse has bought cement to patch up Cash's broken leg.

The next night, the family stays with Gillespie at his farm. They put the coffin in the barn for the night. Darl, who is disgusted by now because they still have not buried his mother, sets fire to the barn. The other men save the animals and the coffin, but not the barn.

Anse, Jewel, and Cash, fearful of retribution from Gillespie for the barn-burning, decide to commit Darl to an asylum in Jackson. They realize that they are going to have to take Cash to a doctor, and they will also need spades to dig the grave. They stop at Mrs. Bundren's house and Anse borrows two spades. Then two men show up to take Darl away. The family goes to dig the grave for Addie and comes back to return the spades. Anse spends quite a long time in the house but finally comes back, and they all take Cash to Dr. Peabody.

Dr. Peabody is also appalled Cash's leg is in cement; he accuses Anse of doing it just so Cash will not inconvenience him. Meanwhile, Dewey Dell has gone to the pharmacy in Jefferson, where Skeet MacGowan, the clerk, gives her turpentine and pills, taking sex as payment. She soon realizes he has tricked her.

The children stay in a hotel that night, but Anse tells the children he has business to attend to and goes out, taking Dewey Dell's money. He gets a haircut and a shave, clean clothes, and new teeth. He also leaves in the morning and comes back with a "duck-shaped" woman, her suitcase, and a graphophone. Anse introduces the woman as Mrs. Bundren, his new wife.

As I Lay Dying Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Addie is dying, while Cash makes her coffin.

Rising Action

2 Vardaman cleans a fish; the doctor comes; Addie dies.

3 Tull and Cash finish the coffin, and the funeral is held.

4 Family leaves for Jefferson, stays with Samson, fords river.

5 Mules drown; Jewel and Tull save the coffin and wagon.

6 Cash's leg is broken; Jewel finds Cash's tools in the water.

7 Addie admits to infidelity; Whitfield admits nothing.

8 Family stays with Armstid; Anse sells Jewel's horse.

9 Dewey Dell tries to get an abortion; Anse buys cement.

10 Anse wraps Cash's broken leg in cement.


11 Family stays at Gillespie's; Darl sets the barn on fire.

Falling Action

12 Family goes to Jefferson; Anse borrows shovels.

13 Family buries Addie; Darl is sent to Jackson insane asylum.

14 Peabody treats Cash; Dewey Dell has sex for fake abortion.


15 Anse buys teeth with Dewey Dell's money and gets married.

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