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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 49: Vardaman


Addie’s coffin is lying under an apple tree and Darl takes Vardaman over to it. Darl tells him that she is calling to God to help her. Vardaman tries to hear her but cannot. Darl adds that she wants to hide from the sight of man. Vardaman says that she is looking at him, but cannot understand how she can see through the wood; he wants to turn the coffin so she can see him through the holes he drilled.

Vardaman then says to himself that he saw something that Dewey Dell told him not to tell anyone. A few sentences later, while helping Cash, he says to himself again that it was not something Anse, Cash, Dewey Dell, Jewel, or himself.

Vardaman thinks again about the train in the window in Jefferson. The section ends with him thinking again about his secret.


Vardaman’s secret is about Darl, and that secret, we find out shortly, is that he is the one who burns down the barn. With this action in mind, Darl’s comments regarding Addie’s voice from the coffin become more significant. Darl says that Addie wants to be buried, but this trip seems to never end. Darl probably tried to lose the coffin in the river, but that failed. Now he tries another method, fire.

Vardaman acts like he thinks Addie is still in the coffin; he refers to it as "she," listens to her, and even thinks she can see him. More than anything, Vardaman seems not to understand what has happened to his mother or where she is.

SECTION 50: Darl


Darl has just started the fire and left the barn when Jewel arrives. Darl tells him to rescue the horses, hoping to prevent him from saving Addie’s corpse. Everyone else wakes up, comes out, and tries to help. The mules and the cow are rescued, and Jewel wants to go in again for Addie. Darl tries to stop him, and then gets others to stop him. Jewel finally breaks loose and runs into the burning barn, picks up the coffin and struggles out with it.


This episode seems to represent the culmination of the battle conflict between Jewel and Darl. Darl wants his mother buried and the episode concluded. Jewel wants to save his mother and follow her wishes. Darl may also feel antagonism toward Addie because in her section, she said that it was after she was pregnant with Darl that she put this "curse" on Anse. If Darl feels like the unwanted son, he would be most antagonistic towards the "love child." The fact that Jewel is named "Jewel" further accentuates the value that he held to Addie.

Addie had said that "he" would save her from the water and the fire, and Jewel did. If a very biblical sense, Jewel is her savior.

SECTION 51: Vardaman


Vardaman’s section takes place after the fire. No one knows where Darl is. Vardaman tells us that he had been in the barn looking for buzzards before it had burned.

Vardaman’s focus shifts to Cash, whose leg is now black. Cash is awake and Gillespie cannot understand why they put the cement on Cash’s leg without greasing it first. The cement cracks but only comes off with effort and all the skin. Anse blames the cementing job on Darl. Vardaman adds that Cash’s leg looks like Jewel’s burnt back.

Vardaman then states that Darl is under the apple tree, lying on top of the coffin, crying. Vardaman thinks he is trying to keep the cat from sitting on the coffin and is crying because she was almost destroyed.


We now know how Vardaman knows that Darl did something: he was looking for the buzzards and saw Darl in the barn. However, Vardaman probably does not know what he did. Dewey Dell is the one who most likely figured out that if Darl was in the barn before it burned, then he did it. She also knows that if anyone else knew he was in the barn, they would figure it out too. She needs to protect Darl’s secret because he is protecting hers.

Anse is becoming less responsible. Even though most, if not all, of the problems which happen on this trip can be traced to him, Anse tries to blame others, namely his children. It is not Darl’s fault that the cement was misapplied. Anse did not stop for a doctor and there is no reason that Darl should know how to properly apply cement to a bleeding and broken leg (if there even is a proper way).

When we find out that Darl is lying and crying on top of Addie’s coffin, we know that he is feeling utterly defeated. He has tried to get rid of the body in the river, and now in the fire, but it keeps coming back. This trip for Darl is one into madness. He is haunted by his mother, who has despised him since his conception, even after she has died. The fact that Darl tried to burn the coffin less than a day before they were to arrive in Jefferson suggests one of two possibilities: either Darl does not expect this disastrous journey to ever end, or, he wants to deny his mother the promise that she exacted from Anse when she found out she was pregnant with Darl. Darl is convinced that his mother, with the help of Jewel whom she loved, has defeated him.

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