As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying Summary and Analysis of Section 6

Sixth Section (Vardaman, Mosely, Darl, Vardaman, Darl, Vardaman, Darl, Vardaman, Darl; pages 183-218):

Vardaman narrates. He and Darl discuss the buzzards. Cash is in pain, but denies it, claiming that his leg only hurts when they go over bumps.

Mosely narrates. The Bundrens have reached town. He is a town pharmacist, and Dewey Dell wanders around his store. He approaches her, asking if she needs assistance. After lots of questioning and indirect answers, she manages to get across that she wants a medicine that will make her lose her baby. Mosely refuses. She tries to convince him to give her the treatment, telling him she's got ten dollars from the father, Lafe, but Mosely refuses. Finally, she leaves. Mosely talks with his assistant Albert, who has heard about the Bundrens' doings about town. The town marshal approached them, because of the incredible stench of the corpse. In addition, Darl went to buy cement for Cash's leg, purchasing the cement over the protests of the storekeeper, who said that cement as a cast would cause more damage than no cast at all.

Darl narrates. Cash continues to insist that the pain is fine. The mix the cement and make the cast. Jewel returns.

Vardaman narrates. He thinks of the toy train in Jefferson. He wonders where the buzzards go at night. He aims to find out.

Darl narrates. The Bundrens are staying at the Gillespie farm. Darl asks Jewel who his father was. Jewel is infuriated by the question. Cash is having trouble with his leg.

Vardaman narrates. He and Darl listen to the coffin, attempting to hear Addie. They both seem to think they're communicating with her. Late that night, Vardaman sees some of the men moving the coffin to the barn. He goes to the barn stealthily, hoping to see where the buzzards go at night, and then he sees something, connected to Darl, that Dewey Dell warns him never to talk about.

Darl narrates. The barn has been set ablaze. Gillespie and some of the other men work hard to save the animals. Jewel, in an incredible show of strength and will, saves the coffin.

Vardaman narrates. They've moved the coffin back under the apple tree. The barn has burned to the ground. Cash is in great pain; beneath the cast, the leg has gone black. Anse tries to use a hammer to bust off the cast, but it cracks without coming off, and causes terrible pain to Cash. They did not grease the leg before putting the cast on. Jewel's back is burned red. Dewey Dell applies medicine made from butter and soot; the soot is black, and so Jewel's back is now the same color as Cash's foot. Darl is outside, lying on top of the coffin, weeping.

Darl narrates. They are fast approaching Jefferson. Dewey Dell says she needs to answer a call of nature, and disappears into the woods; when she comes back, she is dressed in her best clothes. On the way in, they come across some people who comment on the stench coming from the wagon. Jewel nearly gets in a fight with one of the men, but Darl intervenes and everyone calms down.


The Bundrens' treatment of Cash's leg and the reactions of townfolks to their family and the wagon's cargo drive home the differences between the Bundrens and "townfolk." Even among farmers, the Bundrens are particularly impoverished. Although members of the family such as Darl and Vardaman show great intelligence, they cement cast for Cash's leg is an act of total ignorance, one that is embarrassing for the family as they encounter the reactions of others: Mosley says damningly, "Didn't none of you have more sense than that?" (210). Anse's leadership seems to be mostly to blame. He's the father, and his habits have left their mark on the children. Always cheap, he does not take Cash to a doctor, despite the clearly horrific state of Cash's leg.

Vardaman thinks of town as a magic place; his obsession with the toy train grows as they approach Jefferson. His family is far too poor to buy the train, but he longs just to see it: "It made my heart hurt" (202). Vardaman's longing touches on the themes of poverty, and of the division between rural and town people.

Town is a place where the Bundrens become vulnerable. At key points, Faulkner allows us to see the Bundrens through the interior monologues of town folk, and the perceptions are not flattering. Dewey Dell wanders into Moseley's store, seeking an abortion treatment but terrified and unsure of how to ask. And the Bundrens have an embarrassing run in with the sheriff of Mottson, who confronts them about the stench emanating from their wagon.

During the events at the Gillespie farm and immediately afterward, we hear only the monologues of two characters: Darl and Vardaman. The choice is not surprising; Vardaman, and to an even greater extent, Darl, have been the dominant narrators of the novel. Both share a strong bond, great sensitivity, and have a strong mystic side. Vardaman, as the younger boy, defers to Darl's interpretations of many events. At Addie's coffin, Vardaman can hear Addie but cannot understand what she is saying. Darl tells him that Addie is talking to God, crying out to him to hide her away from the sight of man (200). Implicitly, Darl is humiliated and disturbed by the travails that his mother's body has had to undergo.

The event Vardaman sees, which Dewey Dell forbids him to speak of, is Darl setting fire to the barn. Various interpretations are offered for Darl's act, but the "he's just gone crazy" interpretation seems unsatisfactory. Darl does seem to think that he hears Addie talking to him, or at least he says so to Vardaman: arguably, Darl might be speaking metaphorically about the body's need to be destroyed or buried, so that it will no longer be a source of disgust and loathing in others. Whether Darl believes Addie is speaking to him in a literal sense or not is really beside the point; his action is not dramatically out of synch with his behavior throughout the rest of the novel. In so many of his monologues Darl seems to transcend the division between literal and metaphoric; there is a powerful mysticism in much of what Darl says.

Undoubtedly, he is rattled by Addie's death in a way that the others are not. The humiliation of bringing the rotting body to Jefferson has clearly traumatized him. He is sensitive, and he believes that this act is an affront to his mother. For all of these reasons, Darl sets fire to the barn. Admittedly, it is not the most reasonable action. But burning the barn seems more the action of a desperate and traumatized man than a man who is simply insane.

Darl's attempt to end the indignities against his mother's body are thwarted by Jewel, who once again expresses grief and loyalty through the physical. His effort to save the coffin is almost super-human.

Note that as Darl becomes more traumatized, his sense of boundaries are diminished. Though he has clearly known about Jewel's fathering for some time, he chooses now to pick at Jewel about it. In part, he may be reacting to Jewel's indifference to the family. His comments allude not just to Jewel's bastard parentage but his lack of love for their mother: "Your mother was a horse, but who was your father, Jewel?" (198). Darl seems particularly obtuse here; we are hearing about the event in his own interior monologue, but even so we cannot guess at his motivations for confronting Jewel now. Certainly, the words seem to hurt. Jewel is furious, cussing at Darl, but Darl's reaction seems so innocent, it seems hard to believe that he is saying this to hurt Jewel.

Especially since Darl arguably saves Jewel's life. When Jewel nearly gets himself into a fight with a man wielding a knife, Darl steps in and calms everyone down. He is the only one in the family capable of doing so: Vardaman is too young, Anse too weak, Cash too sick, and Dewey Dell is a girl. Darl's approach to the stranger is diplomatic, soothing, clever. Hardly the performance of an insane man.

The tone of Darl's interior monologues does at times seem more fragmented, less coherent, but the monologues are marked still by the eloquence and beauty that we have come to associate with Darl's language. While Darl's monologues show increasing signs of trauma and grief, they are not the ramblings of a crazy man. Darl's last monologue in the book is different; more on that in the next section.

An important structural feature is the chiasmus of Darl in relation to the other Bundrens. While Darl establishes himself early as the most reliable narrator, with Dewey Dell and Vardaman nearly mad with grief and Cash totally absorbed in his work, there is an interesting inversion by the end of the novel. Note that with each monologue, Vardaman becomes more sane, more balanced. Dewey Dell and Cash will soon speak, in voices that seem to have made peace with Addie's death; Cash barely mentions it, and Dewey Dell not at all. It is Darl who seems to sliding in the opposite direction. The journey to Jefferson is not a time to make peace for Darl. His betrayal by his family will deal a killing blow to his sanity.