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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 17: Darl


Darl narrates again from a position of absence. He and Jewel are still away, but Darl is the one who is giving us these details. This section takes place between when the Tulls and Vardaman return and when Vardaman drills the holes in the coffin.

The only action in this section is Cash and Vernon finishing the coffin and Cash deciding that it needs to be beveled.

The section ends with the most famous section of the novel, Darl’s mediation on being. Darl states, "I do not know what I am. I do not know if I am or not." Darl does not know who he is. He adds that Jewel "knows he is, because he does not know whether he is or not." After a wandering discourse on the being and non-being of animate and inanimate objects, Darl decides "if I am not emptied yet, I am is."


This section is used by those who argue that Darl is the protagonist to show that he is Faulkner ’s Quentin-type (one who thinks too much about things). Darl separates himself from Jewel, and arguably the others as well, by his contemplation. He states that Jewel "knows he is" because he does not think about the question to begin with. Darl’s problem is that uncertainty about his identity is troubling to him. He wants definites, but as Faulkner ’s narration shows us, nothing is definite; if we cannot even agree on something as relatively simple as a narrative, how can we be definite on something complex like identity.

SECTION 18: Cash


Cash’s section is a list of thirteen sentences why he constructed the coffin on the bevel. While some are reasons why the bevel is better, others are lines which seem to have little significance in themselves.

The first three are reasons that involve surface gripping space, nailing, and water runoff. The next two relate the bevel itself with people’s uprightness or the way they lay down.

The six line is merely the word "except."

The seventh reason undermines the fourth and fifth.

The next two lines are animal magnetism and its definition.

The tenth and eleventh reasons deal with what a beveled coffin looks like after it has been placed in the ground.

The final two lines are his conclusion: beveling is better so I did it.


The list itself reveals Cash’s orderliness. However, the items on the list reveal Cash takes into account more than merely the rational. The key to this list is number eight and nine: animal magnetism. Animal magnetism is the attraction between animate objects as well as between animate and inanimate objects. Cash is making the coffin so that Addie will be in harmony with her surroundings.

SECTION 19: Vardaman


The entire section is one sentence: "My mother is a fish."


This represents the extent to which Vardaman has hidden from reality. No longer is the relationship between Addie and the fish associative, it is definitive. In order to deny that it is his mother being buried in the coffin, he redefines Addie as the fish which they have eaten, thus making Addie part of themselves.

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