As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 14–20 | Summary

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Summary

These sections encompass the different reactions each family member has to Addie's death, their repercussions, and her funeral, as well as the concerns each character has apart from Addie's death.

Section 14: Dewey Dell

Dewey Dell goes out to the barn, supposedly to milk the cow, but she is actually looking for Lafe, the farm worker. She finds Vardaman, who she thinks is sneaking around spying on her. She yells at him, and Vardaman rattles on about the fish dying. She sends him to supper, but he does not actually go; he runs to Vernon Tull's house instead.

Section 15: Vardaman

Vardaman worries over the location of his now dead mother Addie: "It was not my mother. She went away when the other one laid down in her bed and drew the quilt up." He also worries over Addie's inability to breathe once his family puts her inside the coffin.

Section 16: Tull

Vardaman continues to talk about the fish being cut up and Addie not being herself anymore. Cora Tull knows Addie has died when Vardaman shows up, and she wants to go to the Bundrens' house immediately. She thinks all of Vardaman's fish talk is a judgment on Anse for his sins.

Section 17: Darl

In Section 17, Darl tells this part of the story as if he is omniscient. Tull helps finish the coffin with Cash, who sends his father inside. Anse makes a big deal about how he "don't begrudge her the wet," but Cash insists. Cash bevels the coffin, which takes even longer.

Section 18: Cash

In Section 18, Cash relates the many steps he takes to bevel it and reasons for beveling, in detail. They finish at dawn, and Peabody suggests they eat.

Section 19: Vardaman

Vardaman says simply, "My mother is a fish."

Section 20: Tull

Darl and Jewel have to wait out the rain, come back to the house to get a wheel, and go back to the wagon to put it on, which takes three days. When Tull tells his side of the story in Section 20, he says he offers Anse his team to get Addie to the burial site faster, because she has been sitting in the box for three days now. Anse refuses, saying Addie would want them to use their own team.

Back home, the men place Addie into her coffin the wrong way so that her wedding dress can spread out. They nail the cover shut. Vardaman is overwrought that they are nailing the body into the box because he once got stuck in the corn crib and could not breathe. When they have the funeral, they discover Vardaman has used Cash's auger to drill holes into the coffin and has drilled two of them into Addie's face. At some point, Vardaman hears from Dewey Dell that there is a fish in the slough, because he goes down there to catch it. On the way home, Tull sees him and says it is not a good place to fish, but Vardaman is convinced there is one there because Dewey Dell said so. Vardaman is actually looking for his mother. In Section 19, he says nothing, except, "My mother is a fish."

Analysis

The reaction each character has to Addie's death says a lot about their personalities and the things that mean the most to them. Vardaman, as the youngest, is likely going to feel the most lost without his mother. Vardaman loves his mother and is devastated that her body is going to be nailed shut into the coffin. However, after drilling two holes in her face through the coffin, presumably to give her some air, he decides the body is not his mother. His mother is the cut-up fish. Grief is doing a number on him, and he is in denial, refusing to believe his mother is completely gone.

Anse's refusal to get in out of the rain is weak, because he really does not want to help with the work of finishing the coffin. He also refuses to borrow Tull's team of horses, because he wants to use his own mules. He is being stubborn and unreasonable, which is typical of Anse, and he thinks this makes him somehow virtuous. What it really does is ensure that by the time Darl and Jewel get home with the team and the repaired wagon, any chance the family had for a smooth trip to Jefferson is gone.

Cash's list of all of the steps and reasons why he is beveling the coffin are similar to Anse's complicated plan to bury Addie in Jefferson, except that Cash really is doing this for Addie, not because he wants anything for himself. Anse is doing this so he can buy his teeth in Jefferson. They could bury Addie three miles away, but Anse will not change his mind. Cash makes his list as a way to reassure himself he did the right thing, even though it took him so long that the body had to sit outside of the coffin for longer than it should have, and he had to have his neighbor come over in the middle of a rainy night to help him finish the job.

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