As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 33–38 | Summary

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Summary

In these sections, a crisis erupts when the Bundren family tries to cross the flooded river. The multiple narrators offer different points of view of the life-threatening incident, beginning with Tull, who crosses the broken bridge, holding Vardaman's hand to keep him safe. Dewey Dell and Anse also cross the bridge, while Darl, Cash, and Jewel try to find the ford, the built-up path across the riverbed where the road ran before the bridge was installed.

Section 33: Tull

Before Tull describes the event, he mentions a conversation he has with Anse. Anse says Tull should have let Jewel, Darl, and Cash add Tull's mule to their team, but Tull disagrees. Anse backs down, saying, "I can always do for me and mine. I am not asking you to risk your mule. It aint your dead; I am not blaming you." While they cross the dangerous bridge, half-submerged in the moving river, with logs rising up out of the water, causing Tull to feel threatened, Tull comments on how strange it is that Vardaman comforts him. As if "I just stayed with him," Tull says, "I'd be alright too." Once across, Tull looks at his mule and his land on the other side of the river as if he cannot believe he just took such a dangerous risk, and he wonders how he will ever have the courage to cross back.

Section 34: Darl

Darl is with Cash and Jewel. They look for the road under the river. Jewel's horse trembles, "its eye rolling wild ... its breathing stertorous like groaning." Cash and Darl exchange a long, wordless, frightened glance before Jewel enters the water on his horse. Then Tull, from the other side, waves them farther downstream. They are in the wrong place. They follow Tull downstream. Cash wants Jewel to give his horse to Tull, walk back over the bridge, and climb in the wagon to help them across, but Jewel tells Cash, "Go to hell." Darl describes how the mules, who are hitched to the front of the wagon, sense the disaster to come. Jewel forces his horse to begin to cross the river while Cash steadily moves the mules and wagon in. Soon after, a log surges up out of the water and stands, "for an instant upright upon that surging and heaving desolation like Christ." The log hits the mules, and a mule goes under the water. The wagon skids sideways, and the log hits it two more times, ultimately knocking the wagon over. Cash shouts to Darl to jump, and he does. Cash tries to hold Addie's coffin, and Jewel punches his horse, trying to force it back to help Cash and Darl.

Section 35: Vardaman

Vardaman tells what he saw from the riverbank. His focus is on Addie's coffin, moving swiftly downstream because "in the water Addie can go faster than a man." Vardaman says Darl must get Addie, so he can bear it. And when Darl comes up empty-handed, Vardaman scolds his brother: "You knew she is a fish but you let her get away."

Section 36: Tull

Flashing into the future, Tull narrates again, describing the argument he has with Cora later about the incident. Tull sticks up for Anse and explains, "They would have made it if it hadn't been for that log." Tull ponders how strange it is that the same log crashes into the wagon three times. He says, "It was like it had been sent there to do a job and done it and went on." He continues to describe how Cash almost drowns, coming up, barely holding on to Jewel's horse's saddle, while Jewel moves downstream to save the wagon. The horse kicks Cash off, and he just floats face down in the water.

Section 37: Darl

"Cash lies on his back on the earth," Darl begins in Section 37. Dewey Dell wipes Cash's vomit with her dress, as Tull, Jewel, and Darl try to retrieve Cash's tools from the bottom of the river. Anse walks away to look at the dead mules in the river. Jewel stays under a long time, and his diving worries Dewey Dell. She gets in the river, too. When she comes out, Darl comments on her breasts showing through her wet dress.

Section 38: Cash

Cash attempts to speak about the balances on the coffin, but he does not finish his sentence.

Analysis

Before William Faulkner sets the suspenseful and threatening tone in this group of sections, which he crafts by using Tull's narrative in Section 33 and the animals' fear in Section 34, he takes the time to first explore the nature of Anse and Tull's relationship and how the country culture operates. Tull and Anse are close friends and like-minded. Anse feels comfortable enough to suggest that Tull should have let Darl, Jewel, and Cash use Tull's mule. When Tull disagrees, however, Anse reassures him whatever happens, he will not blame Tull for it.

This exchange between Anse and Tull has a stronger effect when paired with Tull's later narration in the same section (33). From across the river, Tull looks back at his property and his own viewpoint becomes distant, as if seeing his own life from far away: "When I looked back at my mule it was like ... I could look at him standing there and see all the broad land and my house sweated outen it." Also, seeing his house from a distance makes Tull think about what it means to be a man, to fend for himself, "because you would rather have milk that will sour than to have milk that wont, because you are a man."

The idea of the earth sweating out houses shows an interesting country viewpoint. All the country characters use nature and animals to survive; to them, a house represents something almost oozing out of the earth. Faulkner juxtaposes this ideology with townsfolk. Throughout As I Lay Dying, the country characters feel resentment for town people because they do not have the same relationship with the earth. Tull and Anse do not hold anything against each other—acts of what, if misunderstood, could be considered stinginess, because they understand poverty and just how valuable resources are for their very survival.

Tull's description of Vardaman's sweetness, the unexpected comfort a child provides, reinforces the idea of how the country folk help one another, how truly magnanimous their generosity is, considering their extreme poverty, and how they are able to extend their sense of family loyalty to their neighbors. At the end of Section 33, Faulkner adds a touch of realism to avoid sentimentality when Tull "sees through" Anse and Dewy Dell, and comments on how they both have a selfish desire to get to town: "They would risk the fire and the earth and the water and all just to eat a sack of bananas." Faulkner demonstrates how his characters can have more than one motivation for their actions.

In Section 34, narrated by Darl, Faulkner deepens the sense of foreboding and mystery associated with Darl's character in the long, wordless exchange he describes having with his brother Cash: "He and I look at one another ... looks that plunge ... through one another's eyes and into the ultimate secret place where ... Cash and Darl crouch flagrant and unabashed in all the old terror and the old foreboding, alert and secret and without shame." Darl speaks of himself in third person here, implying a flashback to perhaps something that happened in their childhood. Whatever it is, it is something scary and strange. It could allude to a general terror accompanying childhood.

A little later in the narrative, just as Jewel enters the dangerous river on his horse, both Cash and Darl seem to have the same memory of Jewel being a baby, too short for the pillow their mother holds on her lap. Jewel really could die in the water, and Faulkner shows how this could affect the characters, make their minds wander to Jewel as a baby. Generally, Faulkner uses this group of sections to show many subtle examples of love and deep connectedness between the family members, even if they act rough and gruff with each other on the surface. Examples include Dewey Dell wiping Cash's vomit with her dress and entering the river out of concern for Jewel; Jewel leaving his horse to save the wagon; everyone coming together to look for Cash's tools.

When Tull narrates again in Section 36, the topic revolves around God and religion, and Cora is shown to be hypocritical and illogical. What is clear is that Cora does not like Anse, and she favors Darl. Tull's viewpoint is more balanced, and through the character Faulkner presents a different kind of mystery beyond typical religious viewpoints: the log looks like Christ and hits the wagon three times, "like it had been sent there to do a job and done it and went on." Faulkner is either suggesting something supernatural has occurred or simply demonstrating how people may explain strange events beyond their understanding.

This section closes with an unfinished statement from Cash about how the coffin is not balanced. The statement is unfinished because Cash passes out from the pain of a broken leg. The coffin is not the only thing about this family that is unbalanced.

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