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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 39: Cora


Cora provides an account of Addie’s encounter with Reverend Whitfield. Cora describes a period in the past when "Brother Whitfield wrestled with her spirit, singled her out and strove with the vanity in her mortal heart." Cora states that Addie’s only sin was being partial to the son who did not love her, Jewel. Addie says that "he" is her cross and her salvation, and that "he will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me."


Cora describes the relationship between Addie and Whitfield in spiritual terms, but as we will see in the next two sections, Cora’s description is equally valid in physical terms. Although Addie does not specify Jewel, it is clear that he is the one she means when she says "he is my cross and my salvation." Jewel is also the one who will save her from water and fire. Jewel replaces God as Addie’s salvation.

SECTION 40: Addie


Addie’s section begins with her memories as a schoolteacher, and how after the children had left she would hate them. She also recalled how she would enjoy whipping them because it would make them aware of her and make her part of their lives.

More importantly, Addie tells us her father’s philosophy: "the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time."

Addie mentions how she first saw Anse, and discovered that he drove four miles out of his way to drive by her school. After they meet, Anse tells her that he does not have any family. Addie says that she does, but they are all in the cemetery. When Addie gets pregnant with Cash, she realizes that "living was terrible." Addie says that words are no good because they never really fit the situation. She says that Anse’s word is "Love," but that it too is just a shape to fill a space.

After she discovers that she is pregnant with Darl, she thinks she will kill Anse. She then decides instead that her revenge will be that he will not know she is taking revenge: she asks him to take her to Jefferson when she dies.

Addie states, after Darl is born, that Anse is dead, but he just does not know it. After Darl, Addie has an affair with Whitfield that she says she kept quiet for his sake, not for hers. He eventually leaves, but she discovers that she is pregnant with Jewel. Addie then has Dewey Dell to negate Jewel, and Vardaman to make up to the one she had "robbed him of."


Addie lives her father’s philosophy. Her whole life seems dedicated to death. When she watches Cash build the coffin it is because her interests are in being dead. Addie’s desire to be buried in Jefferson represents her feeling that her family is not the Bundren's, but those in the cemetery. From the moment she met Anse, her family was already dead.

Addie claims that Anse is dead as well, but when we consider the end of the novel, it seems much more likely that Addie is preventing him from living. If Anse’s word is "love," then he becomes the opposite of Addie, whose is "death."

As a mother, Addie does not seem interested in her children. They are toils in her life. She has them out of duty or guilt. The only one she loves she must spurn to satisfy her guilt.

SECTION 41: Whitfield


When Whitfield hears that Addie is dying, he decides it is time to confess to Anse and the family his sin of adultery. He crosses the river and Tull tells him that Addie has already died. He goes to the funeral claiming that he intends to confess, but only says, "God’s grace upon this house."


Whitfield speaks like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but his narrative suggests a reluctance to live up to his own standards. Whitfield (and Cora) represents organized religion in this novel, and through him we can see a critique of the hypocrisy of it. Whitfield cannot take responsibility for his own sins and yet expects others to do so.

SECTION 42: Darl


Jewel rides ahead to Armstid’s and brings back a new team. Cash is loaded on the wagon on top of Addie’s coffin. They go to Armstid’s house where Cash is tended to. Addie’s coffin and the team are placed in the barn.

Jewel’s face and eyes are described as "two colors of wood, the wrong one pale and the wrong one dark." He goes into the barn to take care of his horse while Anse leaves to buy a new team and the rest eat.


We now know for sure that Addie’s coffin was rescued from the water. Cash is laid on top of the coffin, symbolizing his own death. Addie’s wish to be buried with her family is literally takes them with her.

Jewel is again associated with Addie. The wooden eyes of the early chapters and the drilled eyes of the coffin are recalled in this section.

Darl’s narrative is split between his thoughts and observations of Jewel which are italicized and his thoughts and observations about the rest, which are in regular type.

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