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As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Sections 8–13 | Summary



The next sections of As I Lay Dying revolve around Addie's death. Darl has already narrated, but this is the first time Tull, Anse, Peabody, and Vardaman narrate.

Section 8: Tull

Tull and Cora leave the Bundren house for the evening, taking their daughters Kate and Eula with them. Anse says he is determined to bury Addie in Jefferson, 40 miles away, as she wished—even though New Hope, where his relatives are buried, is much closer, only 3 miles away. Before they leave, Vardaman, the youngest son, arrives with a fish almost as big as he is, and slaps it down in the dirt. Anse tells him to clean it. Vardaman wants Dewey Dell to do it, but Anse makes Vardaman do the job. He had wanted to show his mother the fish but goes to clean it instead.

Section 9: Anse

Anse thinks about having to pay in the past for his sons to learn trades to go earn money when they could be working for him, although he says he is not averse to work. He blames his bad luck on the road being built near his farm. He has sent for the doctor, Peabody, and it worries him how he will have to pay for everything: "Got to pay Peabody now. Got to pay for the need of that three dollars ... for them boys to have to go away and earn it." Anse thinks about God, but muses he is not a religious man. Anse knows the rain is coming, and he senses "same as second sight" it will cause obstacles when Addie dies. Anse is certain Addie will die soon because her mind is set on it.

Section 10: Darl

In Section 10, Darl, even though he is sitting on a faraway road alongside the wagon in a ditch with Jewel, describes the moment: Addie looks at Vardaman, and, "her eyes ... the two flames glare up for a steady instant. Then they go out as though someone had leaned down and blown upon them." In Addie's room, Dewey Dell is wracked with grief and throws herself on her mother's body, crying and wailing. Vardaman draws back, terrified, and then rushes from the room. Outside, he decides Peabody has killed his mother, so he searches for a stick and uses it to beat Peabody's horses. The horses break from the doctor's wagon and run away. Back in Addie's room, Anse says, "God's will be done," and then his thoughts turn to how he can now get false teeth in Jefferson.

Section 11: Peabody

Peabody arrives and narrates in Section 11. He is glad he did not arrive in time to save Addie, but he is also annoyed Anse did not send for him sooner. He worries about the coming storm, and he mentions to Addie she "picked out a fine time to get [him] out here and bring up a storm." Peabody knows she is about to die, and he says Addie shoves him out of the room with her eyes. This has happened in front of Peabody before, the dying trying to hide their "abject nakedness." Peabody goes to the front porch. Addie calls out for Cash.

Section 12: Darl

Pa, Vardaman, and Dewey Dell gather around Addie's death bed. Pa explains the absence of Jewel and Darl, who have gone to make one more load and hoped Addie would wait on them to die. Addie lifts her body, looks out the window, and yells for Cash again, who is in the yard working on her coffin. Addie looks at Vardaman and dies. Cash enters the room and learns of Addie's death. Then he returns to the yard to complete the coffin. Pa instructs Dewey Dell to put supper on, tries clumsily to smooth the quilt that covers Addie, and murmurs something about getting new teeth.

Section 13: Vardaman

When Cash sees Addie's lifeless body, he seems in shock, but he goes back out to try to finish the coffin. Anse tells Dewey Dell to go make supper before Peabody leaves. No one knows where Vardaman is, but he is hiding in the barn, next to the cow, thinking the body in the bed is not the mother he knows, and the cut-up fish is not the live fish he had. The life has gone out of both of them.


This group of sections can be confusing, especially the section in which Vardaman is the narrator, because Vardaman narrates like the small child he is, which does not always make sense to adults. He has just reached the stage where he is a "Vardaman," an "I," and he exists because he is alive. It sounds like he really associates his killing the fish with causing the death of his mother, but as small children do, he associates coexisting losses with each other in his mind. The loss of the live fish and the loss of his mother both feel painful, and they amplify each other.

Death pervades these sections. It begins with Tull's comment about Vardaman's fish, "hiding in the dust like it was ashamed of being dead, like it was in a hurry to get back hid again." This foreshadows what Peabody reads later in Addie's eyes—the pride and shame he sees there—when she "shoves" at him to leave the room. In nature, a storm is brewing, described by Anse as "coming up that road like a durn man, like it want ere a other house to rain on in all the living land." And the section ends with Dewey Dell longing for the doctor to give her an abortion.

Peabody delivers powerful insights about death in this group of sections. He provides the idea that death is better than life because life is hard and exhausting, which will continue throughout the novel. He also says some people (nihilists) see death as an ending, and some (fundamentalists) see it as a beginning, but he sees it as a "family moving out of a tenement or a town." Considering that As I Lay Dying, as a whole, is about one family leaving their home and taking a journey after a death, the novel itself becomes an extended metaphor or allegory for death. Also, most of the characters have a religious response to Addie's death. Even Anse, who says he is not religious, believes, "That Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that falls," which is a biblical reference. So, Peabody's viewpoint, which does not quite fit into either a religious or a nonreligious category, presents a mysterious metaphor that will take the entirety of the novel to unlock.

Peabody demonstrates the same ambivalent attitude toward Anse that is prevalent in the community. Anse is lazy and will not work for himself, but Tull says the neighbors have given him charity for so long, they do not know how to stop. Peabody is annoyed that Anse waits for so long to call the doctor, but he also thinks Addie has borne enough from her husband and has a right to die. Faulkner uses these discrepancies as well as the juxtapositions between what characters think and how they act, to show the profundity of death in a banal world.

In the two sections narrated by Darl, he appears to be preternaturally aware of Addie's death. Dewey Dell previously described him as being able to talk with her without saying anything, so the reader should be skeptical when he "speaks" to his brother. These conversations are perhaps happening in Darl's mind and may or may not be perceived by Jewel. Regardless, the spiritual beliefs expressed by Tull, Anse, and Peabody are more fully embodied in the person of Darl, who narrates Addie's death despite being absent from it. His voice is the closest thing to an omniscient narrator the novel allows, moving from the deathbed to the road, where he and Jewel have lost a wheel in the mud. His description of Jewel standing in the road fixing the wheel could also be interpreted as Addie's body returning to the earth, her soul leaving this plane: "about the shattered spokes and about Jewel's ankles a runnel of yellow neither nor earth swirls, curving with the yellow road neither of earth nor water, down the hill dissolving into a streaming mass of dark green neither of earth nor sky." His narration also establishes a foundation for the spiritual narratives to come.

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