As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying Summary and Analysis of Section 5

Fifth Section (Tull, Darl, Cash, Cora, Addie, Whitfield, Darl, Armstid; pages 140-82):

Tull narrates. He sees Darl leap from the wagon. Vardaman, excited, runs ahead of him, Dewey Dell trying to restrain him. Cash loses hold of the coffin, but Jewel still has the rope. Wagon, horse, and the men get mixed together in complete chaos; in the end, the horse comes ashore, Cash in tow, and deposits Cash on land.

Darl narrates. Cash is unconscious, a pool of vomit by his head. The others are continuing the complex underwater salvage: the wagon bed and coffin are onshore, but they are now diving in search of Cash's tools. Cash comes to briefly, only to vomit again, but Dewey Dell tends to him. Anse babbles platitudes, insisting that he is doing his duty by Addie. The other men continue to look for the saw.

Cash narrates. He is saying to himself that he warned everyone what might happen if the coffin wasn't on a balance. . .

Cora narrates. She remembers arguments she had with Addie about religion. She considered Addie too proud; Addie insisted she knew her sins and did not begrudge the punishment she merited, but Cora said that judgment and deciding what constitutes sin were God's domain. Cora considers Addie's sin to be partiality to Jewel, especially since Cora thinks that Darl was touched by God himself. Addie spoke of trusting in "him" to be her cross and her love and her salvation, and Cora realized with horror that Addie was talking about Jewel. She fell to her knees, praying for Addie, who loved her selfish son more than the Lord.

Addie narrates. She remembers her days as a schoolteacher. She hated her pupils, and looked forward to beating them when they misbehaved. She was courted by Anse, and went to live with him. She gave birth to Cash. She was beginning to feel more and more like words were made up by those who did not understand them. She reacted to words like "motherhood" and "love"; words were meaningless to her. She felt like her aloneness had been violated. She gave birth to Darl, and hated Anse for it. But she did her duty to Anse, by never asking him to be more than he was, that is to say, by never asking him to be what she needed. She had an affair, with a holy man, and she remembers how beautiful he seemed, coming to her in the woods, "dressed in sin" (163). By this man, she gave birth to Jewel. Something about the child calmed her, made her feel love. She gave birth to Dewey Dell and Vardaman afterward to atone for Jewel. Listening to Cora talk about sin, she could not take her neighbor seriously: "because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too" (165).

Whitfield narrates. He is the minister who fathered Jewel. When he heard Addie was dying, he struggled "with Satan, and . . . emerged victorious" (166). He resolved to tell the Bundrens what he had done before Addie herself did. He braved the flooded river to reach them on time, but when passing the Tulls he learned that Addie had already died. He took the early death as a sign that he need not tell the truth: the will was as good as the deed.

Darl narrates. They lay sickly Cash on top of the coffin as Jewel fetches Armstid's team. At the Armstid home, they carry Cash inside and the women care for him. Armstid offers them food and shelter, and Anse accepts the meal. Jewel does not go inside with the rest of the family. He cares for the horses in the barn.

Armstid narrates. He and Anse discuss buying a new team for the wagon; Armstid offers to lend his team, but Anse declines. Jewel rides off to get Peabody for Cash, but Peabody is gone and Jewel brings the horse doctor instead. Cash's leg has been broken; it's the same leg he broke last year. Cash, barely conscious demands his tools. Darl brings them in and shows them to him. The next morning, Anse rides off on Jewel's horse, to go to Snopes' place and try to buy a new time. It is probably the first time someone other than Jewel has ridden the horse, and Jewel is clearly unhappy about it. As the day heats up, the stench of Addie's body is noticeable from far off. Armstid sees Vardaman chasing off buzzards, but the effort is in vain; the birds lift off just enough to escape him, but then return near the coffin. Anse returns. He has bought a team. But he has sold Jewel's horse to get it. Jewel, infuriated, rides off on his horse. But the next morning, the team from Snopes' place arrives; someone left the horse there. Armstid thinks Jewel has taken off for good; he sympathizes with him, because Anse is so despicable.


The voyage to Jefferson has been incredibly difficult. They logistical challenges are amplified by the increasing stench of the body.

But in the middle of this most difficult stretch of the voyage, we pause for three interior monologues that take place outside of the central action. We have Cora, urging penance and humility; Addie, defiant and full of venom; and Whitfield, full of hypocritical self-righteousness. These three voices flesh out our view of Addie, who has been a completely enigmatic figure until now. Cora's monologue comes first, and the following two monologues make many of Cora's statements ironic, as well as revealing Cora as limited and naïve. Cora tells Addie, "Just because you have been a faithful wife is no sign that there is no sin in your heart" (154). She also says that Brother Whitfield is "a godly man if ever one breathed God's breath" (155). We soon learn that Addie, in fact, has not been faithful to Anse, and that the other man was Brother Whitfield himself. Cora's talking about faith and sin and salvation sounds ridiculous to Addie.

Cora's worldview is incredibly simplistic, controlled completely by giving herself over to God. But we have seen also that she ignores inconvenient facts. Tull points out that her criticisms of Anse are riddled with contradictions; when Tull calls her on it, she ignores him and sings (140-1). After her conversation with Addie, she seems more off-track than ever; in effect, she loses credibility as a narrator. Tellingly, it is the last time she narrates in the novel.

Addie, in the few pages that we see her, seems to have a dark and honest interior life. She is not afraid of her emotions; to herself, at least, she admits that she hated her pupils. And she speaks honestly of her relationship with her children, which was not characterized by an abundance of love. With Jewel, all was different. Jewel was her own, not Anse's; Addie's distance from her other young seems to be connected to a contempt for Anse. But despite her infidelity, she remains faithful to Anse in many other ways. The theme of duty is important in the novel. She never demands that he be a better man than he is; she accepts his failings. And she gives him children.

She is supremely disillusioned by her marriage to Anse. She speaks of words and their limits, but she is also speaking of the emptiness of certain ideas. To her, motherhood and love are often just words, employed by those who are afraid that they don't have them. She sees a separation between words and the ideas that they represent. It is part of why she does not seem to respect Cora. From Addie's perspective, her sin makes her more capable of understanding salvation, while both concepts remain abstract for Cora. In a memorable line, Addie says "people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too" (165). From these few pages, Addie emerges as a woman who has little faith in platitudes or empty ideas.

She stands in sharp contrast to both Cora and Whitfield. Whitfield clings hypocritically to his status as holy man. While Addie full admits her sin, and seems to even revel is the part of sin that gives her back her independence, Whitfield still talks like a simple-minded minister. He claims to have wrestled with Satan and won (166), because he has decided to confess his union with Addie. He sees his trip to the Bundren home as some kind of mighty spiritual journey, the difficulties proving that God is testing him. He welcomes the tests with ridiculous bravado. This event is outside of the chronology of the main action; remember that Whitfield arrived shortly after Addie died. We hear about Whitfield's crossing of the river right in the middle of the Bundrens' difficult crossing, and the juxtaposition makes Whitfield look ridiculous. If a rickety bridge is a test of God in his eyes, it cannot be seen in the same way by the reader, who has just watched the Bundrens cross, with a wagon and coffin, with no bridge at all. And of course, the minister conveniently interprets Addie's death as God letting Whitfield off the hook. Especially after Addie's blasting of empty words, the minister's religious talk seems foul and empty. The theme of religion, touched on often in this novel, takes a critical turn. Faulkner often shows the comfort and beauty of simple religion, but here he blasts the hypocrisy and simplistic worldviews with which some religious people arm themselves.

The two crossings also juxtapose two very different perspectives on mortality. Through these two perspective, Faulkner explores the theme in a way that does not flatter Whitfield or his beliefs. Whitfield deals in a kind of tidy spiritualism. His journey across the river, with all of its supposed hardships, resembles a children's story for Christians. He wants to make peace before Addie's death. But her death, as a problem, seems to take care of itself. In reality, the Bundrens have to deal with the nasty physical side of death. The now soaked body has begun to stink, and the buzzards suggest a side of death quite different from the hymn-filled heaven evoked by Cora and Whitfield.

Cash is hurt badly once again, but he clings to what he is. He demands to see his tools, with the sad irony being that with a newly broken leg it will be some time before he works again. And as he lies, barely conscious, he keeps repeating to himself the expert advice he gave the others before the crossing; he is repeating the advice that the others, particularly Jewel, ignored. Arguably, listening to Cash might have prevented the accident. But although Cash has taken the worst of the disastrous crossing, characteristically he says nothing.

The selling of Jewel's horse is another atrocious action by Anse. It is the first time in the novel that he makes a dramatic decision on his own, but Anse seems to be doing it for the sake of being cruel to Jewel. Anse could borrow Armstid's team, but he chooses not to. The horse, it must be remembered, is not even his to sell. Jewel bought it himself, with money earned from months of backbreaking labor. Anse justifies himself by saying that he's gone without teeth for fifteen years, scraping by as a sacrifice for the family. But the horse is not his, and the one decision Anse has made so far is not one that was his to make; there is an element of suppressed glee when Anse announces what he has done: "Like he had done something he thought was cute but wasn't so sho now how other folks would take it" (177).