As I Lay Dying Summary

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

     William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying takes place in Yoknapatawpha county where he often sets his stories. It features the Bundren family, which contains seven members. The matriarch, Addie, opens the book on her deathbed. Her oldest son Cash is outside her window building her coffin. Her husband Anse wants their next two eldest sons, Darl and Jewel, to take the wagon to town to trade what seems to be a load of logs for three dollars. Jewel, the favorite, doesn't seem to mind leaving his dying mother, but Darl is upset that he likely will not be home when his mother passes away. The only daughter Dewey Dell is taking care of Addie, constantly fanning her from the heat. The youngest son, Vardaman, wanders in and out.

     As Cash finishes the coffin, Addie does pass away while her two sons are not around to say goodbye. The next concern is that Addie's last request was to be buried in Jefferson by her family members, but they cannot leave for Jefferson until the wagon returns. Unfortunately, a storm then comes through causing the river to rise and the bridge to be unstable. After the boys return and they hold a short service, the family sets out for Jefferson. Although people try to offer them food and shelter along the way, Anse doesn't like accepting handouts, so he often refuses.

     When they come to the bridge, they eventually decide to let Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, holding the hand of Tull, a friend of theirs, walk across it while Cash, Darl, and Jewel will drive the wagon through the river. Even though they try to cross at a shallow spot, they have trouble, and the mules drown. Cash is kicked by the horse and breaks a leg. However, Jewel is able to rescue his mother's coffin along with all of Cash's tools. They allow Cash to ride atop the coffin, which emits a foul odor, until they are able to buy cement to set his broken leg. While in town buying cement, Dewey Dell tries to find a doctor who will help perform an abortion on her, but the men she encounters are not helpful.

     After walking with the cement, Cash's foot turns black, so the family attempts to break it off only to find it has stuck to Cash's skin; therefore, Cash rides atop the coffin again until they can get him to a doctor. When they stop at Gillespie's barn one night, Darl sets the barn on fire hoping to burn the coffin and end the journey, but once again Jewel rescues it. They tell Gillespie that they will have Darl committed for the destruction of Gillespie's property.

     When they reach Jefferson, they borrow some shovels and bury the body. Anse takes the money that Dewey Dell got from her boyfriend, Lafe, for the abortion, and he uses it to buy new teeth for himself. They have Darl taken away on a train to an asylum. Dr. Peabody tells Cash his leg will never be the same. Dewey Dell is raped in the process of trying to procure an abortion, and Anse shows up with a new wife before they all head home.

     This novel with many different narrators shows how people react differently to grief. It shows the selfishness and selflessness that can emerge when a family comes together in a shared experience.

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