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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Online Book Summary


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SECTION 54: Peabody


Peabody is appalled at the condition of Cash’s leg and even more appalled that Anse did not take care of it long before. From Peabody we see how self-centered Anse is. Even while Cash is being examined, Anse is returning the shovels. Peabody does not think the leg will need to be amputated but does say that he will lose most of the skin and will be able to walk with a limp in about a year.

Cash is forced to defend Anse but does so half-heartedly.


Anse is becoming less and less likable. While one son is being sent off to prison and another is being examined for injuries he is ultimately responsible, Anse is returning shovels to the woman he wants to marry. In the process of burying Addie, Cash has had Anse take his money, has risked losing his leg and will walk with a limp; Darl has lost his freedom and his sanity; Jewel has been burned and has had to sacrifice his horse; Dewey Dell has had her money taken as well which forces her to have sex with MacGowan and is still pregnant; and Anse gets a new set of teeth, a well-off city wife, and a new graphophone. Anse sacrifices his family for his pleasure.

SECTION 55: MacGowan


MacGowan is the assistant at a drug store but his job involves selling ice cream and candy, not drugs. MacGowan is told that Dewey Dell is a country girl and does not want to bother with her. After he is told that she is pretty, he expresses interest and peeks out at her. MacGowan thinks that she is pretty "for a country girl" and that she would put a knife in anyone who "two-timed" her. He takes off his soda apron and then goes out to meet with her, answering "sure" when she asks if he is the doctor. She wants to talk to him in private and MacGowan takes her to the back, telling the other clerk to whistle if the owner returns from lunch. The other clerk knows what MacGowan intends, suggesting that he has done this before.

MacGowan has to figure out what Dewey Dell wants. He thinks to himself that country people either do not know what they want or they cannot say what they want. He asks as few questions and she finally says that she has not had the "female troubles," which lets MacGowan know what she wants. She also tells him that she has money and shows him a ten-dollar bill.

MacGowan is a little too obvious with his intentions and the other clerk keeps yelling that he should not be back there. Dewey Dell begins to doubt his claim that he is a doctor, but is desperate and puts up with his excuses. She tells him that she was told she could get something at a drugstore, but he does not know what it is. Finally, so that she does not leave, he says he knows some secret cures that he has learned. She repeats that she only has ten dollars and he says his knowledge will cost more than that. She asks how much and he says that she has three guesses. Dewey Dell now knows what he means, and agrees only after he gives her the medicine.

He finds an unlabeled bottle and pours some, assuming that poison would be labeled, and gives it to her. She says it smells like turpentine and he says that it was the first part of the cure and the rest she would get a ten o’clock that night. She agrees and drinks it.

Dewey Dell returns as agreed and brings Vardaman, who stays outside in front of the store. MacGowan gives her six talcum powder pills that he made up and tells her she needs to take them down in the cellar.


MacGowan represents a city view of country people: they are ignorant and exploitable. Dewey Dell is desperate and naive to urban attitudes but does start to catch on. She assumes that even though MacGowan might lie about being a doctor, he would still help her.

For Dewey Dell, sex was how she got her problem and has been associated with it ever since. Darl most likely made her have sex to keep him quiet. She would have had sex with Peabody had she been able to ask him and had he been willing to treat her. It does not seem surprising that she is willing to use sex to be cured by MacGowan. Unfortunately, sex and her naiveté do not end her pregnancy.

SECTION 56: Vardaman


It is night and Vardaman is with Dewey Dell on the way to the drugstore. He thinks about Darl being sent on the train to Jackson and then thinks about the train in the store window. Dewey Dell tells him that he will get it for Christmas. She tells him to wait outside the store gives him a banana. He thinks again about Darl and how his brother is crazy. A cow then walks down the street, lowing. The cow leaves and then Dewey Dell comes out of the drugstore. She tells him that "it aint going to work." Vardaman does not know what she is talking about and wants to go see the train. She suggests bananas instead and he accepts.


Vardaman has been told that Darl is crazy and that he is going to Jackson by train. Vardaman thus makes the simple association that "going to Jackson" is what one does if one is crazy. Vardaman has looked forward to seeing and having a toy train. The train becomes his connection with Darl. His mother is a fish and his brother is a train. Dewey Dell agrees out of desperation to MacGowan’s treatment. When it is over, she realizes that she was deceived, but there is nothing she can do. She was able to get revenge on her brother, but not on MacGowan. Despite having been hiding the truth of her pregnancy from her family, she now realizes that she too can be deceived.

The cow walking down the street while she is having sex recalls the section (14) where she is in the barn and has the highly eroticized encounter with the cow. The presence of the cow in this scene functions like a bad joke on Faulkner ’s part: he knows that the reader will get that MacGowan and Dewey Dell are having sex, but having the cow walk down the street while it happens offscreen functions like a rocket blasting off or a train entering a tunnel to connote "corny" sex.

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