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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary

 

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

Faulkner did not divide his novel up into conventional chapters; instead, he broke it up into brief sections based upon who was narrating.


SECTION 1: Darl


Summary

Darl begins the novel with a short but telling section. He and Jewel are walking up to the house. On the walk, Darl mentions the heat, Jewel’s "pale eyes like wood," Tull’s wagon, and the box that Cash is making for Addie.


Notes

Faulkner uses Darl’s first section to situate him as a reliable, straightforward narrator. The details that Darl includes are all relevant to later events: the heat makes the trip to Jefferson unbearable with a corpse, Tull’s wagon is how they transport the coffin, and the coffin is what Cash is building.

Darl mentions that Jewel’s eyes are "like wood"; this image becomes much more significant when Vardaman drills two holes in the coffin.



SECTION 2: Cora


Summary

Cora’s section begins with a seemingly unrelated discussion with Kate and Eula on cakes, eggs, and God’s watchful eye. It is only until we are halfway through the section that we realize this conversation is taking place in Addie’s room as they are taking care of her. The conversation then turns to Addie, who they say is the best baker in the area. Even though it is clear that they know she is near death, they repeatedly state that she will be up and baking soon. Cora also tells us that Addie just lies there intently watching Cash, but we are still not explicitly told what he is making.


Notes

Unlike Darl’s first section, which is rather straightforward, Cora’s section reveals the duplicitous nature of language. First, she is talking about cakes while dealing with a dying woman. Secondly, she insists Addie will get better while her interior monologue reveals just the opposite. Faulkner is making the reader conscious of the nature of language and truth.

Addie’s eyes are described in this section first like "two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks" and later, Cora says, "When she finds me watching her, her eyes go blank." In these two instances, the eyes reveal how close Addie is to death.


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