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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 12: Darl


Darl is narrating this section even though he is not present.

Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman are all in the room with Addie, Cash is still outside, and there is no mention of Peabody (towards the end, we are told that Peabody is outside). Dewey Dell says that Addie wants Jewel, but Addie herself never says this. Addie is looking out the window at Cash, and her only words are roughly the same as Peabody has recounted, "You, Cash . . . You, Cash!" Cash comes to the window, shows her two more planks, and gestures how they all will fit together. She then looks at Vardaman, and her eyes are described as "two flames [that] glare up for an instant. Then they go out." This is where Addie dies.

Dewey Dell reacts first and most furiously, throwing herself on the bed. Vardaman looks at Addie from behind Anse, with "round eyes." Anse states "Durn them boys," meaning Jewel and Darl for not being there.

The narrative switches to an italicized section between Darl and Jewel while they are still on the road.

The section begins and ends with the sentence: "Jewel, I say." This phrase can indicate that the previous and following paragraphs are being told to Jewel, that the italicized section in between is being told to Jewel, or it may merely be a phrase of resignation or exhaustion similar to "well Iíll be." The latter is possible because the italicized section reveals that the wagon has broken an axle and has lost its load.

The narrative switches back to the death scene and Cash enters carrying his saw. His response to the death is not a question but a statement: "Sheís gone." He looks at her for a few moments. Anse says that if he needs help finishing the coffin there are people who could help; Anse adds that even Vardaman could help. Cash says nothing, walks out of the room, and begins sawing again. Dewey Dell is sent to make dinner.

When she leaves, the narrative switches again to an italicized section, but this time it is a third person account of Dewey Dellís interior monologue and actions. It is suggested in this section that Dewey Dell asks Peabody for help, but his only response is that she try not to let it grieve her (this part is in the conditional tense and the response comes not from a question but from a look, so Peabodyís response could also refer to Dewey Dellís response to the death of her mother). The scene then jumps to dinner where she looks at Peabody and thinks "You could do so much if you just would. If you just knew." The voice at this point echoes Darlís (section 10) when he states that Dewey Dell knows but will not say it. The preceding quotation is followed by "I am I and you are you," which is another Darl type phrasing. Dewey Dell speaks in broken, simple English; it is Darl who has the philosophical meditations on self and being.

The narrative returns again to Addieís room where Anse is standing over the bed, straightening it, trying to decide how to respond. In the end, all he says is, "Godís will be done, . . . Now I can get some teeth."

The final paragraph is italicized and returns the reader to Darl and Jewel. They are trying to fix the wheel. The last line is, "Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead."


There is no way to explain the narrative of this section logically. Darl cannot know what is happening, but this is his section. The events are close enough to Peabodyís that we assume that Darl is not just speculating (for example, the last words of Addie). Dewey Dellís section is not even presented as having happened, but only as her thinking about what she would like to say. Faulkner is challenging his readerís expectations: the narrative is presented from an impossible source, and yet it seems quite accurate and believable.

Darlís narrative shows us how he sees his family as reacting to the death. Dewey Dell, for whom Darl seems to have an affinity, reacts with the greatest sign of loss. Cash, Vardaman, and Anse all react rather nonchalantly: Vardaman leaves the room; Cash says "sheís gone" and gets back to work; and Anseís response to Addieís death is fatalistic in one breath, "Godís will be done," and practical or even opportunistic in the other, "Now I can get some teeth." Anseís statement that he can now get teeth suggests that Addie has prevented him from the sensuous pleasure of eating. When we get to her section, we will see that her philosophy is death driven and thus eschews physical pleasure. Darl, who is not present, also reacts nonchalantly.

The wagon breaking its wheel and losing its load is further evidence of "Bundren bad luck," as is Addieís dying while Darl and Jewel are away.

Dewey Dellís internalized scene reflects her inability to speak her problems. She has now admitted to herself that she is pregnant, but can still not speak it (of course, she has only admitted it if this paragraph is hers and not Darlís imagining her thoughts). When she thinks "I am I and you are you," it is her philosophy in Darlís language (in Darlís next section, 17, he discusses the ideas of being and not being in similar terms).

The section ends with Darl, from afar, declaring Addie dead. He and Cash, the two not present for the actual death, are the two who make the proclamations. Faulkner is allowing in this novel declarations of fact to be provided by those least competent to make such statements, those who were not even there when the event took place. He questions the idea that the best reporter of an event is one who is present. Since As I Lay Dying and his other major novels, The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom, are about the multiple ways one can see and tell a story, this section is Faulkner ís attempt to expand the category of those who can tell the story. Instead of the limiting the number of possible accounts of a story to the number of people present, Faulkner has made it nearly limitless. Anyone can tell the story (this is how, in Absalom, Absalom, Shreve, a Canadian, can help narrate a story, which took place in Mississippi).

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