As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 21–27 | Summary



These short sections relate different perspectives on getting Addie into the coffin and loading it onto the wagon, as well as getting on the road.

Section 21: Darl

Darl and Jewel discuss circling buzzards, and Darl comforts Jewel that it isn't his horse that's dead and claims that Jewel's mother is a horse.

Section 22: Cash

Getting Addie into the coffin and loading it onto the wagon is a production, in which Jewel yells at Cash, who tells Jewel the coffin is not yet balanced the way they are holding it. Cash tries to tell Jewel how they can better balance the coffin, but he is cut off.

Section 23: Darl

Jewel tells Cash to get away from the coffin and rushes forward with his end, nearly throwing Darl off the other end of the coffin. Jewel launches the coffin into the wagon as if he were sliding a log onto a pile.

Section 24: Vardaman

Dewey Dell gets into the wagon with a package wrapped in newspaper. She says she is taking cakes to town for Cora Tull. This, of course, is a lie. As they move along the road, Vardaman talks with Darl about who his mother is, and Darl says Jewel's mother is a horse, but Darl has no mother because she is dead. Vardaman thinks he should change his mother to a horse if that's who Jewel's mother is, but they end up discussing what it means to exist, to be an "is" rather than a "was," a concept Darl has been pondering for a while now.

Section 25: Darl

Jewel goes to the barn after his horse, and Pa complains that Jewel's desire to ride the horse rather than the wagon is disrespectful of his mother.

Section 26: Anse

Cash brings his toolbox, so he can work on Tull's barn on the way back. Jewel rides his horse. Anse is angry at both of them because he thinks they are disrespecting the wishes of their mother, so Jewel rides away. But he eventually comes back and follows 300 feet behind, which makes Darl laugh. Anse thinks Darl's laughter is disrespectful, which makes Darl laugh even harder.

Section 27: Darl

Vernon Tull waves at the occupants of the wagon and then Jewel as they pass by because the bridge on his land is washed out. Cash and Darl discuss that their mother's corpse will begin to smell in a couple of days and that the coffin isn't properly balanced for a long ride. Jewel passes the wagon on his horse.


Each family member leaves the house with a plan, more than simply to bury Addie Bundren, except for the simple-minded Darl and the child Vardaman. Dewey Dell, who has been frustrated by Peabody, takes a secret package with her to the city, hoping to pursue an abortion there. Cash brings his toolbox so that he can return straight to the Tull's and finish the barn he was commissioned to build. Jewel has an unexplained chip on his shoulder that he expresses with his angry loading of the coffin and by riding his horse. And Anse has a whole body of complaints about the disrespect his children are showing to him and their mother.

Meanwhile, poor Vardaman is really having a rough time with the concept of what it means to die. He does not understand why Darl says Jewel's mother is a horse and conflates Darl's statement with his own vision of his mother as a fish. Darl's statement is an expression of frustration; the horse appears to be the only thing Jewel cares about. But it is also symbolic of the wild spirit housed in Jewel, the spirit we will later learn that is responsible for his creation and that Darl knows.

Darl's statements are also a reflection on and furtherance of the nihilist and fundamentalist beliefs introduced by Peabody: "If I had one [a mother], it is was. And if it is was, it can't be is." Alternatively, Darl's statement, "Are is too many for one woman to foal," may be an accusation that Addie had too many children, implying he is angry with Addie for loving only Jewel. Darl may feel that without a mother, he no longer has a place in the world, that Addie was the glue connecting the family. It certainly seems as if each family member is now heading in his or her own direction. Alternatively, Darl may feel uncertain of his existence, having grown up without a mother's love.

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