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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 15: Vardaman


Vardamanís section begins with his interest in Addieís coffin; however, he can only refer to the coffin as "it." He then asks Cash if they will nail her in it. With any real segue, Vardaman switches to a discussion of a toy train in a store window and the trip to town. The narrative is fragmented, jumping from one idea to another without necessarily evincing a clear connection: from train to flour and coffee to bicycles to bananas to the difference between country boys and city boys.

Vardaman then thinks he sees his mother, only to discover it is not she. He asks if Addie went further away than town. Vardamanís narration becomes more associative again. He knows that if Cash nails up the box then she is not a rabbit. He also knows that she will not be able to breathe. He also knows that she is not his mother because he had seen his mother lying in the dirt (the fish). Vardaman then states that tomorrow they will eat the fish and then she will be able to breathe and there will not be anything in the box.


This section is one of the best examples of stream of consciousness writing in the novel. Faulkner tries to accurately represent a boyís scattered thoughts after his motherís death.

From Vardaman, we get a sketchy comparison between the country life and the city life. Vardaman tells us that the city life is better, mostly based upon the availability and price of certain goods. The bananas signify Vardamanís purpose for going to town. Since he does not really understand death and burial, Vardaman can only be enticed by something completely different.

The part of this section which follows the point when Vardaman thinks he sees Addie is an attempt to portray the denial and hope in a young child who is first experiencing the death of a close family member. He has so separated Addie from the corpse that she is the fish and the corpse is no longer existent. When they eat the fish, Addie will once again be part of them.

SECTION 16: Tull


Tull and Cora are at their house when Peabodyís team runs up. Cora assumes that it means Addie has died and they should head over to the Bundrenís place. Tull is quite willing to wait until their help is requested. Vardaman then shows up, drenched from the rain, and says only, "You mind that ere fish."

Tull begins thinking about how odd Vardaman, and moves to the nature of thinking itself. Tull states that the brain should not be overworked. That is what Tull believes is Darlís problem: "thatís ever living thing the matter with Darl; he just thinks by himself too much." He adds that Cora thinks that Darl needs a wife to straighten him out.

Tull and Cora prepare to go the Bundrenís and take Vardaman home. Cora claims that Vardaman, Addieís death, and the other problems of the Bundren's are a judgment on Anse, although she does not specify which sin.

Tull tells us that after Addie was placed in the coffin, Vardaman twice opened the window to the room so that she could get air. After the family nailed the window shut, he bored two holes through the wood of the coffin and into her face so that she could breathe.


Mostly this section forwards the plot, but the final section is important symbolically. Vardaman sees that the body has been put into the box and sealed. He first tries to open the window for her to get air, but since the wind and rain are coming in, Cash nails the window shut. Vardaman becomes fretful that she will not have any air, so he drills holes for her to breathe. The violence with which he cuts up the fish, which he associates with Addie, is repeated in the violent act of drilling through the coffin and into her face. The two holes symbolize eyes and recall the "eyes like wood" of Jewel.

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