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The Bundren Family

.. quiet, crying in the dark. Dewey Dell is stuck in her same predicament again, thinking of her union with Lafe, and the incipient pregnancy that has resulted. Her thoughts shift to Peabody, and the help he could give her as a doctor. Cash continues sawing.

Dewey Dell begins to prepare supper, consisting of the fish that Vardaman caught, along with greens and bread. Cash enters the kitchen to announce that Peabody’s team of horses has gotten loose. Dewey Dell invites Peabody to supper. Anse, Cash and Peabody begin eating. Vardaman is missing.

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Dewey Dell has neglected to cook the fish. She leaves the house and runs up to the bluff. The cow wants milking but she tells it to wait. She passes Vardaman in the barn and he kicks the wall. In the dark she is thinking now of Lafe.

It is quiet. Then Vardaman emerges and Dewey Dell shakes him violently. She scolds him and sends him off to supper. Preparing to milk the cow, instead she returns to her thoughts of Peabody, and how he could help her. Vardaman is staring at the coffin. He cannot believe that Addie is going to be nailed shut inside of it.

He cannot believe that she is dead. Tull is roused at midnight by the sound of Peabody’s team. A storm is mounting. Vardaman is knocking at the door, soaking wet and covered in mud. He is speaking of fish. Tull goes out to harness the team, and when he returns, Cora and Vardaman are sitting in the kitchen.

Vardaman continues to speak of fish. Cora, Tull and Vardaman make the journey back to the Bundrens, and Tull helps Cash to complete the coffin. Just before daybreak, they place Addie in the coffin and prepare to nail it shut. Vardaman inadvertently bores two holes into his dead mother’s face. He then falls asleep on top of the coffin.

At dawn, Cora and Tull return home. Darl, in the dark, has returned home to get a spare wheel for the wagon, which he and Jewel have run into a ditch. Darl stands near Cash, assisting him as they work to complete the coffin. It begins to rain. Cash, though soaked, continues working on the coffin.

Cora and Tull arrive. Cash sends Anse away, and Cash, Darl and Tull make a push to complete the coffin. Just before dawn the rain ceases, and Cash finishes the coffin. Anse, Cash, Peabody and Tull carry the coffin inside. Darl and Jewel set out to complete the job, and Darl lies awake the next night thinking of home.

Cash gives thirteen reasons for using the bevel to build the coffin. Vardaman says that his mother is a fish. Commentary The qualities of the Bundren siblings now begin to emerge. Cash is by far the most inscrutable of the five. His only monologue to this point is a dry, technical description of his reasons for choosing to make the coffin on the bevel. It would be easy to write this off as the numbness of the obsessive laborer.

But because Faulkner juxtaposes this with Vardaman’s hysterical reaction that his mother is a fish, Cash’s clinical approach seems more like just another maladjusted way of coping with the trauma of a death in the family. Still, Cash’s character is tough to read as a result of minimal airtime. Dewey Dell and Jewel enjoy only slightly more exposure than Cash. Faulkner may be less interested in them because they are characters who enjoy less richly felt interior lives. Dewey Dell understands her own limits quite clearly. As she says of herself, I try to but I can’t think long enough to worry.

Darl sizes up Jewel’s character in a remarkably convoluted fashion, saying that Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. Jewel is certain not because he knows, but because he is ignorant, and thus not uncertain. Darl and Vardaman appear much more deeply tormented than the other siblings. They are given the most frequent attention in the novel, and have the most interesting monologue styles. Darl, ponderous and searching in his thoughts, is as much of a protagonist as the novel has.

He is prone to daydreams and philosophical abstractions. For instance, at one point he initially claims I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not, and then goes on to assert that if I am not emptied yet, I am is. In this spiral of thought, Darl is only capable of understanding himself by understanding what he is not. Vardaman has a different, but equally penetrating, understanding of is.

As the youngest of five children, it comes as no surprise that Vardaman is sensitive and wise beyond his years. But his articulateness is more fiercely poetical, as opposed to Darl’s more intellectual style. In coming to grips with the initial pain of his mother’s death, Vardaman has the realization that there is an is different from my is. That is, there is Vardaman’s way of seeing things, and then there is the way that things are. And these two things may have very little in common. Once one realizes that his or her is can differ from the is of reality, the results can be disastrous.

Vardaman certainly seems on the edge of a mental breakdown after Addie’s death, running around and blabbing about fish as he is. Here Faulkner uses the fish as a symbol which Vardaman invests with meaning, associating it with his mother’s death. Because he caught the fish when his mother was alive, and because he then cut it up, and because she then died, the fact of the fish and the fact of his mother’s death have become inextricably linked. In the same way, Vardaman arbitrarily blames Addie’s death on Peabody, just because he happened to show up when she was on her deathbed. In the same way, Vardaman lashes out against Peabody’s horses and blames them just because they serve as an extension of Peabody’s character, and are there at a moment when he needs someone to blame.

Vardaman is in denial over his loss, and is projecting the meaning of his interior experience on to exterior encounters and events. An elegant example of such projection occurs when Dewey Dell encounters Vardaman out at the stall. Dewey Dell assumes that Vardaman has been spying on her in hopes of catching her in a compromising position, and Vardaman assumes that Dewey Dell has come to punish him for lashing out at the horses. Both of them are so preoccupied with protecting their own innocence that neither takes the time to suspect the other of any wrongdoing. Faulkner’s narrative technique works particularly well here, as Dewey Dell passes by Vardaman twice, first in his recollection, and then in hers.

We can reconstruct the events as having happened contemporaneously thanks to the presence of the eager cow, which Dewey Dell and Vardaman both foist off. The detail of a cow left unmilked, rather than serving as a superfluous incident, serves to link the action and unify it into a single moment. The storm described by Tull and Darl serves the same function, allowing nature to create an umbrella of reality observable to all. Such objective occurrences within the individual monologues create a set of reference points that the reader can use to establish a common ground. Part 4 Summary Tull returns to the Bundren household with Peabody’s team at ten the next morning.

He discusses the high level of the river with Quick and Armstid. Anse comes to the door and greets them. The women repair to the house, the men to the porch. Cash is getting ready to nail the coffin shut for good. They lay Addie into the coffin reversed, so as to protect her wedding dress.

Whitfield arrives to perform the funeral as Tull is about to leave and announces that the bridge has been washed away. Cash emerges cleaned and dressed, and discusses his fall with Tull. Inside, the women begin to sing together. Then Whitfield sings, deeply. Then the women sing again. As they leave, Cora is still singing.

On the way home, they see Vardaman fishing aimlessly in a slough. Because of the ditched wagon, Darl and Jewel return home a couple of days later than expected. Upon arriving, Jewel is angered to find the dead horse of Peabody’s that Vardaman lashed in the stall. Finally, the family is getting ready to leave with the coffin. Cash is trying to explain to Jewel why the coffin won’t balance. Jewel ignores Cash and demands that he help pick up the coffin.

Darl is witness to the confrontation. Anse and Cash and Darl and Jewel lift the coffin and carry it down the hall and out of the house. Cash reiterates his reservation about the coffin being unbalanced as they prepare to carry it down the slope. Jewel continues to push forward, and Cash, hobbling, falls back. Darl is shouldering the entire load on his side, but Jewel picks up the slack, almost single-handedly muscling the coffin into the wagon bed, and then cursing out loud.

Vardaman is preparing to go to town with the rest of the family. Jewel heads for the barn. Vardaman has a discussion with Darl about their mother. Cash is brinigng his toolbox to town. Dewey Dell is carrying a package with her.

Darl sees Jewel heading for the barn. Darl scrutinizes Dewey Dell. Jewel enters the barn. Anse remarks on Jewel’s disrespectfulness. Cash proposes that they leave Jewel behind. Darl suggests that Jewel will catch up to them.

Anse, Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell and Vardaman set out with the coffin in tow. Anse is still thinking bitterly of Jewel, when Darl begins to laugh. The wagon has just passed Tull’s lane, and just as Darl predicted, Jewel is approaching swiftly behind them on horseback. Darl continues laughing. Darl sees Jewel approaching.

They pass Tull’s lot, and exchange waves. Cash notes that the corpse will begin to smell in a few days, and that the coffin is still unbalanced. Darl proposes that Cash mention these observations to Jewel. A mile later, Jewel passes the wagon without acknowledgment. Anse delivers another religious soliloquy. They drive all day and reach Samson’s at dark.

A second bridge has been washed away. The river is higher than it has ever been. Anse takes comfort in the fact that he will be getting a new set of teeth. Commentary Darl and Jewel manifest their grief over Addie’s death in two completely different fashions. Whereas Darl’s anguish is primarily mental, Jewel’s grief is expressed through the physical. The division between mental and physical anguish is a useful dichotomy for examining the other sibling reactions as well.

Of course the two states of discord are linked, but one force may lead the other along more strongly. So, while Darl spends much of his time speculating on the meaning of is, Jewel is more likely to be riding roughshod over an unbroken horse. Interestingly, Vardaman’s anguish is a striking mix of Darl’s mental style and Jewel’s physical style. While Vardaman plays the language game with Darl, he also shares Jewel’s conflict with horses. Cash’s grief, though strictly implicit up to this point, is primarily manifested through the physical.

By absorbing himself in the construction of the coffin, Cash creates an emotional vacuum that allows him to escape from the pain of letting his mother go. However, Cash is unable to completely throw himself into the physical, as a result of the injury he sustained after having fallen thirty feet from the top of a church. Because of his limp, Cash hobbles at times when he might have otherwise pushed forward blindly and brutishly. For instance, when the Bundren men go to transport the coffin from the house to the wagon, Cash is unable to carry his weight at the pace that Jewel’s grief drives him to. With Darl thinking really hard and Jewel muscling really hard, Cash finds himself stuck in the middle, unable to do either. Dewey Dell’s grief is also primarily physical, although of a different sort. As she says, she doesn’t know how to worry, and so her anguish comes out in the form of her promiscuity. Her sexual drive, far from solely the sheer seeking of physical pleasure, is a physical torment to her, and a mental torment as well.

This torment assumes a tangible form with her pregnancy, when her world becomes a tub fullof guts. But her sense of helplessness in matters of sex is specific not strictly to her pregnancy or her sexuality. Her anxiety is a manifestation of the larger problems that plague her as a young woman in her general situation, as a teenage daughter in a poor farming family who has just lost her mother, and finds herself the only female of the lot. Cash’s attempts to subdue boards, Darl’s attempts to subdue logic, Dewey Dell’s attempts to subdue desire, Jewel’s attempts to subdue horses and Vardaman’s attempts to subdue time passing: each of these struggles is intimately related to the struggle which all of them feel in parting with their mother. By projecting their energies into these other things, their focus shifts away from the true pain they feel at the loss of their mother.

It is an subconscious shift, but one which serves to mitigate the trauma. At the end of the 1920s, as Faulkner composed As I Lay Dying, ideas about the subconscious anxieties of man were on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Sigmund Freud had helped to establish psychoanalysis as an increasingly dominant field of inquiry, and Freudian notions of internal conflict, dreams and subconscious sexuality had by then captivated many of the leading intellectual figures of the day. Dewey Dell is one of the most representatively drawn Freudian types in American literature, to the point where she almost appears to be a caricature of Freud’s theories today. Perhaps the fundamental plank of Freudian theory is that thoughts and awareness are entirely separate realms.

How we think and what we do rarely line up, which leads much of the internal and external conflict that we face. By overlapping the action from several points of view, Faulkner is able to illustrate the ways in which what is done and what is thought stay separate. For instance, when Darl sees Jewel approaching the wagon on horseback, Anse observes him laughing. Although Darl doesn’t even mention the incident as having occurred in his monologue, Anse spends the bulk of his monologue dwelling on Darl’s insensitivity for having laughed so casually during his mother’s funeral procession. Because so much of the family resentment remains unvoiced, Darl’s molehill becomes Anse’s mountain. Or, even worse, in this case, Darl remains oblivious to that which consumes Anse. Part 5 Summary Just before sundown, Samson is sitting on his porch with MacCallum and Quick when the Bundren wagon passes by.

Quick catches up to them to inform them that the bridge has washed away, and the Bundrens return to Samson’s. Samson offers to put the Bundrens up for the evening. The Bundrens accept, but refuse an offer of supper and sleep in the barn. Early the next morning, they set out to retrace their steps without a farewell to Samson. Dewey Dell is riding in the wagon on the road back to New Hope.

She is thinking of her dead mother and of the relationships she has with the men in her family. Instead of turning into New Hope, they go back past Tull’s lane again, and exchange waves. Tull takes his mule out to follow the wagon, and catches up with it down by the levee. The Bundrens stand at the river’s edge, staring at the washed-out bridge and contemplating a crossing. Jewel lashes out at Tull for following them down to the river.

Cash hushes Jewel, and announces a plan for a crossing. Jewel asks Tull to help them cross with his mule, but Tull refuses. Darl observes Jewel glaring at Tull. Darl recalls a time during Jewel’s teenage years when he began falling asleep regularly during the day. He remembers how Addie used to cover up his mistakes for him. Initially Cash and Darl suspected that Jewel was spending his nights with a married woman, but one night Cash trailed Jewel on his midnight run and found evidence to the contrary.

All is revealed a few months later when Jewel materializes on a new horse that he has purchased from Quick after clearing forty acres of his land, working at night by lantern. Anse is upset by this gesture of independence, and later that night Darl finds Addie crying beside Jewel, who is asleep in bed. Tull accompanies Anse and Dewey Dell and Vardaman on a treacherous crossing along the washed-out bridge. Eventually they make the other side, and Cash and Darl and Jewel turn the wagon around and drive it down to the ford. Commentary In the world Faulkner creates, where so little is said, so much is communicated through glances and by eyes. When Tull arrives to help the Bundrens at the river’s edge, he finds himself being stared at in three very different ways by three very different Bundren siblings.

Darl’s gaze is knowing, Dewy Dell’s is lustful and Jewel’s is hostile. Leaving aside the simple hostility of Jewel’s vision, let’s examine more fully the nature of the gazes of Darl and Dewey Dell. Tull finds Dewey Dell looking at him like he was wanting to touch her. This may involve an real desire on the part of Dewey Dell to actually be touched, given the content of the monologues that she has delivered. Earlier, when Samson offered to put the Bundrens up for the night, he felt Dewey Dell’s eyes fixed on him as though pistols, blazing at him.

Dewey Dell, checked by propriety against doing, or even saying, to these men, looks right through the standards of decorum and into the deep heart of desire. The intensity of her gaze is not lost on any of those whom she bestows it upon, and she is by no means reserved in applying it. That Dewey Dell should be so wild-eyed is unsurprising in light of her outrageous thoughts. In addition to the fervor of her feeling for Lafe and Peabody, and the strength of her stares at Samson and Tull, she is driven to distraction by her family relationships as well. In a stream-of-consciousness sequence, she imagines being asleep in a bed next to Vardaman when suddenly she finds all of them back under me again and going on like a piece of cool silk dragging across my naked legs. Because Vardaman is pre-sexual, he doesn’t participate, but apart from that, Dewey Dell finds herself unwillingly overwhelmed by abstract incestuous desire.

Because of her sense of seductiveness, even where her family is concerned, Dewey Dell believes that she has a special pull over the Bundren males. In the wagon on the way to New Hope, she meditates on her power over Anse, sure that he will do a she says, that she can persuade him to do anything. However, she isn’t as positive of Darl’s automatic compliance. This frustrates Dewey Dell to the point of hostility, even to the point where she imagines killing him. Darl stymied Dewey Dell because his gaze exceeds hers in degree, and is of a kind that she is powerless to comprehend. Whereas Dewey Dell’s gaze is sexually charged and therefore extremely focused, Darl’s is dispassionate and seemingly all-encompassing. Dewey Dell herself remarks that the land runs out of Darl’s eyes, suggesting that he has an overarching power to observe, process and explain the environment around him.

This superhuman detachment and understanding is what makes Darl seem such a strange creature to other people, and generates much talk over his difference. Again, the eyes have it. As Tull arrives at the river’s edge to help the Bundrens with the crossing, he is paralyzed by Darl, who, as Tull says, looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. As Tull explains, it was never so much as what Darl said or did as the way in which he look at others. The intensity of that gaze makes it seem, Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes.

Darl’s ability to transmit a sense of omniscience is largely due to the richness of his inner life, and especially, of his moral life. In remembering the incident where Jewel earned money by moonlight to buy a horse, Darl reveals the understanding of his gaze in several instances. He perceives Jewel wasting away, and knows that something is wrong; he perceives Addie by Jewel’s bedside, and knows that she is plagued by guilt for the deceit she has employed to cover his tracks; he perceives Cash the morning after Cash trailed Jewel on his mission, and knows that Cash has found out Jewel’s secret. Darl’s eyes are as strong as they are because of the careful scrutiny that they place on the eyes of others, in the above passages and throughout the remainder of the novel.


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