As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 42–46 | Summary

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Summary

In these sections, the family spends a night with Armstid and then moves on to Mottson, which is a small town on the way to Jefferson.

Section 42: Darl

Anse is feeling low after losing the mules. In Section 42, Darl says Armstid and his wife give them supper, and they give Anse whiskey. Anse takes Jewel's horse and rides to Snopes's nearby farm to see if he can buy a team of mules from him, but Anse apparently has no money. He secretly steals money that Cash has been saving for a record player, mortgages his farm equipment for $40, and, without Jewel's permission, trades Jewel's horse, which he awkwardly confesses to the family after he returns from making the deal. Jewel is absolutely enraged, and Anse tells him he figures that because he has gone 15 years without eating solid food, Jewel can go without riding a horse. Jewel storms off on the horse, and Armstid, who narrates Section 43, assumes Jewel will never come back.

Section 43: Armstid

Now Anse has no mules, Jewel is gone, and Armstid is worried he will have to loan Anse his own mules. Addie's body is drawing buzzards, and her corpse smells awful, so the whole family uses Armstid's team to move the wagon a mile away from his house. Armstid brings them a basket of food and leaves them there, huddled around a small fire. The next morning, Eustace Grimm, one of Snopes's farmhands, shows up with a team of mules for Anse. Someone left Jewel's horse in the barn last night. Obviously Jewel did it, but he does not return to the family.

Section 44: Vardaman

The family goes on to Jefferson without him, stopping in Mottson along the way to buy cement to stabilize Cash's leg. Even though the marshal in Mottson warns them Cash will lose his leg if they put cement on it, they slap the cement right onto his bare skin. Cash directs them to add sand and the right amount of water during the process, and everyone seems to believe it will help Cash endure the jolting wagon ride.

Section 45: Moseley

In Mottson, Dewey Dell secretly tries to get an abortifacient from the local pharmacy. It turns out, the package Dewey Dell has been carrying around contains $10 Lafe gave her, likely when he met her in the barn. The pharmacist, Moseley, is indignant that she even asks for such a drug, and he tells Dewey Dell not only are the abortion pills illegal, but she should marry the father of her baby. Dewey Dell takes her money and leaves, bumbling nervously with the screen door on her way out.

Section 46: Darl

Jewel comes back at the very end of this section, which is narrated by Darl. He climbs into the wagon without saying a word. When they come to a hill soon after, Anse says, "Here's a hill ... I reckon you'll have to get out and walk."

Analysis

This group of sections focuses on Jewel. Whereas earlier Darl focused intently on Dewey Dell, now he seems obsessed with Jewel and his horse. Darl and Vardaman are increasingly depicted together, deciphering the buzzards that circle around them, their mother's status as a fish, and Jewel's mother's as a horse. Jewel is obsessed with his horse; it represents a hard-fought independence he has won from the family. Throughout the novel, both Jewel and the horse have been described in similar terms; both are rare, wild, strong, and beautiful.

With Addie's death, each character must decide how to proceed as a Bundren: whether and how to remain part of the family. Cash seals his fate when he permits Anse to cement his leg. As elsewhere in the novel, Anse pretends to have no part in the decision, repeating "I wouldn't be beholden." But Dewey Dell is the one who has to go get the can to mix the cement in, and Darl, Cash, and Vardaman are the ones to mix it. Throughout, Cash repeats that he can last "one more day," but his instructions indicate his complicity in a decision that will leave him crippled for life.

Likewise, Jewel capitulates, through the vehicle of his horse, and his decision is in some ways the most painful and most tragic among the family. In Section 40, Addie makes it clear she does not have sex with Anse during her affair with Whitfield or for a long period of time after Jewel is born. It is impossible to know for certain whether Jewel or Anse know the truth, but certainly Jewel and Anse spend the time during the novel at loggerheads. Now, Jewel must choose between his horse—his individuality—and what little remains of his family bond. This is his moment to choose whether Anse will continue to be his father, regardless of blood ties. Considering Jewel has just lost his definite parental blood tie with Addie, this is a big moment for Jewel. Jewel's decision to sacrifice the horse speaks volumes about his character, and his climbing quietly into the wagon at the end of the section, vulnerable and on foot, seals his bond with Anse and his brothers and sister.

Moseley is the first character from town to give an outside view of the family. Other outside characters have been country people, like the Bundrens. The first thing Moseley does is size up Dewey Dell based on how much money he thinks she has or will spend in his store, which sets up the stereotype of a dishonest townsperson. He sees her as kind of dumb, standing barefoot in his store and unable to express herself clearly, and he is impatient, mentioning he does not have as much time as "they have out there," meaning in the country. Dewey Dell is not dumb; she is terrified to have to speak out loud of her pregnancy and ask for an illegal drug. She says she does not know it is illegal, but she admits Lafe told her to say she will not tell if Moseley sells it to her. Although these characters come from different worlds, they share many of the same religious and cultural values, especially when it comes to life and death. He contemplates how hard life must be for Dewey Dell and adds, "Life wasn't meant to be easy on folks: they wouldn't ever have any reason to be good and die." Almost every character in As I Lay Dying, including the doctor, Peabody, shares this viewpoint, no matter if they live in town or the country or have enough money or are impoverished. The novel suggests that death is something common to everyone; it equalizes human beings.

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