As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 28–32 | Summary

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Summary

These sections relate the first leg of the Bundren family's journey to bury Addie in Jefferson. After passing by their neighbor Vernon Tull's, where the bridge is washed out, they head toward Samson's farm instead, where there is another bridge, passing signs for New Hope along the way.

Section 28: Anse

While they travel, Anse thinks about God, his bad economic situation, and how "it takes them that run the stores in the towns, doing no sweating, living off them that sweats." He comforts himself with thoughts of getting new teeth and a reward from God after he dies. He tells the reader they drive all day, arriving at Samson's at dusk, but find that bridge out, too.

Section 29: Samson

Samson narrates that he, MacCallum, and Quick are outside when the Bundrens go by. They send Quick to flag them down, and he comes back to Samson with the family trailing behind him; Addie's corpse smells foul, but no one mentions it. In his private thoughts, Samson observes how Anse seems proud of how difficult it has been so far: "I be durn if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he made the river rise himself." Samson invites the family to place Addie's coffin in the barn and spend the night with him. He tells them they should go back to New Hope in the morning and bury Addie there. Samson's wife, Rachel, is outraged by the whole ordeal, particularly Addie's corpse rotting in the barn. To Rachel, it is cruel and disrespectful to leave Addie unburied. Samson cannot convince any of the Bundrens to sleep in the house, but he does convince them to join him and Rachel for dinner, saying it would be an insult if they refused.

Section 30: Dewey Dell

The next morning, Samson does not invite them to breakfast, because he figures they will not come in regardless, but Rachel is angry when she discovers he let them leave without eating. In Section 30, Dewey Dell looks for the sign to New Hope again, unsure if Anse plans to give up or drive on to Jefferson. Along the way, she comments that Darl's eyes "begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone." Dewey Dell says she sits naked on the seat in the wagon. She thinks about a time Vardaman kills a fish with a knife. Then she envisions killing Darl with the knife in her imagination. She prays to God as Anse turns the opposite direction from New Hope and heads back toward Tull's farm to check out his bridge and continue on their journey.

Section 31: Tull

Tull describes how agonizing it is to get Anse to make a decision about what to do. The bridge is broken and the river is swollen. Anse stands there for what seems like hours, saying the bridge should not be washed out. The bridge should be up. Eventually, Cash takes charge, deciding Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Anse will walk across the bridge. Jewel will swim his horse across, and Cash and Darl will ride in the wagon. Jewel wants Tull to use his mule to pull them. Tull refuses, and Jewel is furious.

Section 32: Darl

Darl tells the story of how Jewel bought his horse by sneaking out at night and working for Quick for extra cash.

Analysis

This group of sections begins with a deep dive into the true core of Anse's character, which conflicts with Samson's perception of him in Sections 28 and 29. Anse is humble, believing God is chastising him because God loves him, and clearly Anse believes he is doing his duty by burying Addie in Jefferson. However, Samson sees Anse as prideful and lazy. William Faulkner supports Anse's inward character against Samson's outward perception by having Anse refuse at first to eat Samson's food and by having him sleep in the barn with Addie's corpse. If Anse really is an entirely lazy, selfish man, he would take everything his neighbors offer him. None of the children will sleep in the house, either, and this detail is important. The previous group of sections ended with a comparison in Section 27 of Addie with the road "like a spoke of which Addie Bundren is the rim." This brings the image of a wheel into the reader's mind: Addie, the mother, the rim, holds the family together. This image is reinforced in Section 29 (with Samson narrating), when he says, "When I went back down there they were squatting on the ground around the wagon, all of them." Addie's body is the center, and none of the Bundrens will physically leave her; they cannot emotionally handle leaving her—even if they are all looking for a sign of new hope, literally and figuratively.

Faulkner explores the idea of the power of the mother through other characters and situations, too, in As I Lay Dying. The moaning cow in pain because she is full and Dewey Dell's pregnancy are subtle gestures inserting ideas of motherhood into the reader's mind. The way Anse describes Addie, Tull describes Cora, and Samson describes Rachel all harmonize; the men seem confused by the women in their lives, and equally lost without their guidance, which they concede to needing.

Faulkner also explores Dewey Dell's character in depth in this group of sections. In the previous group of sections, Darl sexually objectifies Dewey Dell. In Section 25, when Dewey Dell is climbing into the wagon, Darl says, "her leg coming long from beneath her tightening dress: that lever which moves the world." At this point, the reader may wonder what Darl means, if he is simply being philosophical about women. In Dewey Dell's narration in Section 30, however, a real sexual tension between them is confirmed. Dewey Dell describes how Darl undresses her with his eyes and makes her feel as though she is sitting in the wagon naked. It is no accident that she envisions killing Darl in the section where this sexual objectification is intensified. It is likely Dewey Dell feels hatred and anger toward Darl on a much deeper level than just his discerning that she is pregnant. If the reader still misses the cue, Faulkner plants another in Tull's Section 31, where he describes Dewey Dell's eyes: "She looked around at me, her eyes kind of blaring up and going hard like I had made to touch her." Dewey Dell is angry inside, and there is a reason she is angry.

The last section may seem out of place in the flow of the narrative, causing the reader to wonder why Darl is even thinking about the past—when Jewel tricks the family for several months to make money to buy his horse. Section 32 serves to show more and more how Jewel is different from the rest of the family but still an integral part of it. It also supports the idea of the Bundren family being telepathically linked, explaining the unique, often wordless, communication style they use. In the heart of the section, Darl says, "It was like we had all—and by a telepathic agreement of admitted fear—flung the whole thing back like covers on the bed ... and we all sitting bolt upright in our nakedness ... saying 'Now is the truth.'" This is what family is, the novel seems to suggest, people who know each other so well they can read each other's eyes and minds.

In stark contrast, the family appears entirely submissive in the face of Anse's indecision at the bridge. Anse is so used to everyone fixing his problems that when he is faced with the submerged bridge, he has no idea what to do, and cannot even ask anyone what to do. He just stands there and says what he wishes were true. His sons are losing their minds waiting for him to make up his, and meanwhile, they know their mother's body is just getting more and more decayed and gruesome. The entire situation becomes a travesty, and Darl wishes Jewel would just pipe up and say something, so they can bury Addie right away.

At both the Samson's and the Tull's, Dewey Dell pulls Anse aside and insists they continue to Jefferson. Although she has an ulterior motive, Anse's capitulation situates her as the new moral center of the household. Given the fact that she is pregnant out of wedlock and looking to terminate her pregnancy, unable to mourn her own mother because of worry, the household is in mortal danger.

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