As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 52–59 | Summary

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Summary

The last sections of As I Lay Dying focus on the family's arrival in Jefferson to bury Addie.

Section 52: Darl

The family passes advertisements for stores in town, and cars pass on the way in. Dewey Dell says she needs to go to the bathroom in the bushes. When Anse stops the wagon, Dewey Dell takes her package with her. Darl asks, "Why not leave your cakes here? ... We'll watch them." Dewey Dell comes back from the bushes, changed into her best Sunday clothes. On the edge of town, Jewel gets into an argument with a man after hearing some nearby people comment on the awful smell coming from the wagon. At Cash's instigation, Darl cools down the situation and keeps Jewel from getting into a serious fight.

Section 53: Cash

Cash describes how the family comes to a decision about whether they should send Darl to an insane asylum. Jewel wants to "catch him and tie him up" right then and there. "Goddamn it," he says, "do you want to wait until he sets fire to the goddamn team and wagon?" But Cash calms Jewel down. He says if Darl is going away forever, he should have "what pleasure he can before he goes." Anse thinks Darl should be there for Addie's burial. Cash contemplates the situation from a variety of situations: his, Jewel's, Darl's, Gillespie's, and Anse's, finally deciding to commit Darl after Addie is buried. Cash believes Darl may have been trying to do the right thing, but he is angry that he endangered the animals and burnt down Gillespie's property. Darl suggests they take Cash to the doctor first, arguing that it will not hurt Addie to wait a while longer. But Cash and Anse insist on getting the burial done.

Unfortunately, Anse has forgotten a shovel, and rather than spend money on one, he decides to borrow it. He pulls up at Mrs. Bundren's house, where the music coming from her windows makes Cash feel better, even as the long wait frustrates Jewel. The boys have arranged it so that after the burial, the men from Jackson grab Darl, and Cash is surprised to see the vehemence with which Dewey Dell helps them pin him down and prevent his escape. He thinks then that maybe she told Gillespie who burned his barn down. Darl accuses Cash of not telling him, and Cash feels guilt, even as he tries to calm a raucous and laughing Darl.

Section 54: Peabody

Alone with Cash, Peabody tells Cash he might never walk again, and the best he can hope for is to be able to hobble by next summer. Peabody blames Anse, saying, "God Almighty, why didn't Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw? ... Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured a whole family." Later, it comes to light that Peabody gives Cash money so that the family can stay in a hotel.

Section 55: MacGowan

Dewey Dell tries to get another abortion drug at a pharmacy and ends up being seen by a stock boy, MacGowan, who pretends he is the doctor. He looks down on Dewey Dell for being from the country. He gives her a drink of turpentine, telling her it is medicine.

Section 56: Vardaman

Later that night, she comes back for the second part of the treatment, which consists of a few capsules MacGowan has filled with talcum powder. In exchange, she has sex with him in the basement of the store. When Dewey Dell comes out of the store, she tells Vardaman she is sure it will not work. When they get back to the hotel where they are staying, Anse is off on an errand.

Section 57: Darl

Darl narrates from the train. He is with the state workers, on his way to Jackson. He looks out the window and sees the family sitting beside the wagon from afar.

Section 58: Dewey Dell

Anse takes Dewey Dell's $10 from her. They argue, but Anse takes the money anyway.

Section 59: Cash

Cash's narrative is held together by the music of the graphophone, indicating they are back at Mrs. Bundren's house after the burial and Darl's commitment. Pa goes in to return the spades, and again Jewel demonstrates impatience with him. The next morning, Anse goes away again and comes back with his new false teeth in and a duck-shaped woman carrying her graphophone, walking behind him. Anse introduces her to his remaining children as Mrs. Bundren. Anse has gotten married.

Analysis

As could be predicted, Anse is not prepared to bury Addie and has to borrow shovels, but it seems he knows exactly where to get them. He spends a long time there, which probably means he is courting the woman in the house, because when he comes out, he looks like he has been having a good time. Whether Anse knows this woman previously or stumbles upon a lucky moment is a mystery, but the reader will likely wonder what it means. All the characters are driven by different needs in reaction to Addie's death, and here (as Kate Tull predicted in Section 8—Anse will get a new wife by cotton-picking time), Anse's real need is exposed. He wants a new wife, so he takes the first opportunity to fill his need, or he sets it up before he arrives.

In this final section, Darl's break from the family is finalized. Darl's mind has been shaky all along. Many characters, including Cora, have described him as "queer." And Darl himself rebelled when he tried to burn the coffin and foil all of their plans. In many ways, he is the only one with any sense left—he encourages his father to get medical help for Cash, who is in real danger of losing his leg and perhaps his life. He stops Jewel from getting into a knife fight in shantytown and forces him to apologize. His refusal to comply with the new family order is so sane, it's insane; hence, his cynical laughter.

As Darl descends into madness and is ostracized from the family circle, Cash is the only one who continues to feel for him, although Cash knows he has to be institutionalized and helps make it happen. In some ways, lying on top of Addie's coffin, immobilized, the oldest son takes Addie's place in directing the family's activities during and after her burial. Cash acknowledges that the difference between crazy and not is not clear: "Sometimes I think it ain't none of us pure crazy and ain't none of us pure sane." He thinks it might be a matter of balance, which the family never had. Jewel and Dewey Dell, however, are dead sure that Darl has to go. Clearly, Jewel believes Darl is dangerous, and with good reason. Because of Darl, Jewel is badly burned and nearly killed in a fire. Dewey Dell's reasons are more personal. Even little Vardaman repeats his family relationship to Darl, but also that he has gone crazy and is on a train away from them.

William Faulkner juxtaposes the differences between the town and the country throughout As I Lay Dying, differences that become increasingly stark through the final setting of Jefferson. In one sense, Jefferson is their home; it is where their people—Addie's people—came from. But those people are long since dead, and they are foreigners in this land. They see fancy advertisements for miles, cars whiz by, and a more clearly defined road, reminding the reader of Anse's fear of the road. The road leads to Jefferson, which partially represents heartlessness, and the potential breaking apart of the family unit.

Darl suggests several times that Anse could have phoned ahead to have Addie's grave site ready, and perhaps in a sense he has. Anse seems to know exactly where to go to get the shovels, he takes his time both getting and returning them, and he marries the lady he got them from exceptionally quickly. The interaction is not unlike the one that takes place between Dewey Dell and MacGowan: a practical bargain is struck in both. Dewey Dell may not understand his ridiculous back-and-forth banter with his fellow store clerk, which is truly juvenile, but she knows what he wants well enough, and realizes that she "got to do something." She is even keen enough to understand that what he gave her will not do her any good, and just like Addie, she will be forced to bring life into this world whether she wants to or not.

By the end of the novel, Anse takes every material item of value his children had: Jewel's horse, Cash's money, Dewey Dell's $10. However, they still obey him, stay with him, and accept him as their father, even Jewel, the most rebellious and independent. Only Darl refuses, and only Darl had nothing to give.

The new Mrs. Bundren also brings a material sacrifice, a graphophone, the very thing that Cash wanted to buy with the money his father took from him. He thinks about how nice it will be to listen to new music they get by mail when they return home. However, Cash has not been the most reliable narrator; his focus, like Anse's, has tended toward minute and often impractical details. As I Lay Dying explores the value and powerful pull of a family connection, and the ending leaves it open to interpretation whether a family connection is worth the sacrifice.

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