As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying Summary and Analysis of Section 4

Fourth Section (Darl, Anse, Samson, Dewey Dell, Tull, Darl, Tull, Darl, Vardaman; pages 96-139):

Darl narrates. Jewel approaches in the distance. The Bundrens pass Tull's place slowly, waving. Cash observes that the body will stink soon, and that the coffin isn't balanced for a long ride. A bit later, Jewel passes them quickly, giving no acknowledgment, the horse kicking up mud. A gout of mud lands on the coffin; Cash removes it carefully with a tool, and a bit later he grabs some leaves as they pass under a tree and begins cleaning the stain.

Anse narrates. He talks about hard working men never profit; it's the rich in towns. Life is harsh, but God's will be done; the just will be rewarded in heaven. They reach Samson's, but the bridge near there has also washed up. Anse comforts himself with the thought that he will soon get those false teeth.

Samson narrates. He is on his porch with some friends, MacCullum and Quick. Quick goes down to the Bundrens to inform them that the bridge has been washed out. Samson invites them to stay the night; the Bundrens accept but refuse dinner. They sleep out in the barn. That night, Samson's wife Rachel is disgusted by the transport of the body; she lashes out at Samson, for the horrible things men do to their wives, ignoring the fact that it was Addie's wish to be buried far away. Samson thinks he can smell the body, but believes it might be his imagination. The next morning, the Bundrens set out to backtrack, to look for a place to cross the river. They do not say goodbye. Samson goes out to his barn, still thinking he can smell it, and then he realized it's more than his imagination: a fat buzzard squats nearby.

Dewey Dell narrates. She thinks of Addie's death, wishing there had been time to think, time to let Addie die, time to wish she had time to let Addie die. Dewey Dell feels naked under Darl's gaze. She remembers a dream where she killed him. She remembers a nightmare where she did not know where or who or what she was, nor what was happening. The buzzard is in the sky. They pass by Tull's again, Anse waving as before. She keeps insisting that she believes in God.

Vernon Tull narrates. He takes his mule and follows the Bundrens down to the shattered bridge. Anse stares out across the water, unable to come up with any kind of plan or make a decision. Jewel lashes out at Tull, and Dewey Dell looks at Tull with hatred. Cash tries to work out a plan for crossing. Jewel asks Tull if they can use his mule; he refuses, which infuriates Jewel.

Darl narrates. He remembers years ago, when Jewel was always falling asleep at odd times, and losing weight. His mother thought it was sickness, and against Anse's wishes covered for Jewel, doing his chores and getting the other children to do them. Dewey Dell discovered that Jewel was sneaking out at night. Cash and Darl thought it was a woman, but eventually Cash followed Jewel and learned the truth, though he didn't tell Darl. One morning Jewel came home with a beautiful horse. He'd been working nights clearing a field to earn the money. Addie, who'd been worrying sick about Jewel, began to cry. That night, as Jewel slept and Addie watched over him crying, Darl realized that Jewel had a different father than the rest of the children.

Vernon Tull narrates. He accompanies Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman across the bridge, the middle of which is shattered and sinks down into the water. The crossing is terrifying; the waters are fast and thick with debris. Now the others must attempt to cross.

Darl narrates. The brothers argue about the best way to cross the river. They decide on a plan: Cash will drive, and Darl, riding on horseback, will hold a rope tied to the wagon, to stabilize it. The river is treacherous. Darl gets off the wagon, which tilts, threatening to dump the coffin and tools into the water. The mules drown.

Vardaman narrates. Cash loses his grip on the coffin. Vardaman runs back and forth, yelling at Darl to catch the coffin. He thinks the coffin will slip away fast because his mother is a fish. Darl grabs a hold of the coffin underwater, but finally when he emerges from the water his hands are empty.


Logistical concerns dominate this part of the novel. The must difficult part of the journey comes right at the start; the river has to be crossed, but heavy rains have led to the highest water levels in memory, and the bridges have been destroyed. To make these logistical matters worse, the body has begun to stink. The smell of carrion is beginning to attract fat buzzards, heavy with water. The buzzards are a dark and heavy symbol of mortality, and the nasty physicality of death. They will follow the Bundrens all the way to Addie's burial, growing in number all along the way.

Anse never quite manages to be a likable, or even forgivable character, even when he is speaking. His interior monologue is about the inability of the poor honest man to make a go of it, but it's clear that he's lazy and weak. On the banks of the river, his sons have to make all of the decisions. He is not capable of deciding anything; he is too weak and too afraid to take responsibility for even the simplest of choices.

The family displays a strange, often pathetic mix of dependency and pride; this paradoxical combination comes from their extreme poverty. When staying in Samson's bar, they refuse to accept much of the hospitality Samson offers, out of pride. But it is clear from the earlier monologues that the Bundrens have been dependent on neighbors' help many times in the past. The spectacle of the Bundrens bringing the body to Jefferson takes on a whole new dimension when seen from the eyes of outsiders. We see them through the eyes of people who often look down on them, but our sympathy for the characters, and the fact that we have seen things from the Bundrens' perspective, makes this perspective painful. When others condescend to the Bundrens, the reader pities the family even more. Anse is the character who remains farthest from most readers' sympathies. But the others all command our sympathy, even respect; to see them looked on with contempt is painful.

Darl's relationship to his family and his neighbors is paradoxical. He is at once the most connected to and the most isolated from all of the people around him. His incredible powers of intuition take on a mystic dimension; years ago he learned, in a flash of insight, that Jewel's father is not Anse. The leap suggests that Darl knew his mother better than any of the other Bundren children could have. Her favoritism of Jewel had much to do with the fact that he was something that was hers and not Anse's.

But Darl's insights also make him hated. The novel is full of isolated voices, but isolation is often cherished. Dewey Dell says that she feels naked in front of Darl's intuitive gaze: in her dreams, she plays out fantasies of killing him (107-8). Darl is fiercely loyal to her in his own way: she observes that "He'll do what I say. He always does" (108), but his loyalty is not recompense enough for how vulnerable she makes him feel.

Darl's eyes are the most common source of discomfort. Dewey Dell recoils under his gaze. Tull sums up Darl succinctly, "He is looking at me. He don't say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it ain't never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It's like he had got into the inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes" (112). The look into Darl's eyes is the key, for other characters, to knowing that their isolation has been violated. Darl penetrates deeply into the consciousness of others. Despite the powerful loneliness of so many of the characters, with Dewey Dell being among the loneliest of them all, this psychological intimacy is not at all welcome.

Jewel is full of fierce pride, as well as a selfishness and aggression that isolate him from his family in a different way. Earlier in the novel, Dewey Dell insisted that Jewel "don't care about anything he is not kin to us in caring, not care-kin" (22). His fierce temper and pride are sometimes self-defeating. He refuses Samson's offer of feed for his horse (103); he lashes out at Tull and then seems angry a minute later when he asks Tull for help and Tull refuses (113). He is, at times, supremely selfish. He works himself tirelessly for the money to buy his horse, forcing his siblings to pick up the slack around the Bundren farm. But Jewel's isolation might come from a sense that he is not a full sibling to the others; we never hear directly from Jewel if he knows the truth of his parentage, although certainly it is hinted. And living with Anse, Jewel has learned to resent and despise the begrudging generosity with which Anse treats his children. When Jewel returns with the newly bought horse, Anse is angry that he'll have to feed it. Jewel's response is withering and fierce: "He won't never eat a mouthful of yours. . . Not a mouthful. I'll kill him first. Don't you never think it. Don't you never" (123). Pride, often carried to ridiculous extremes, and a determination to do everything for himself and by himself, have been Jewel's reactions to Anse's half-hearted fathering.

Cash and his work continue to be inextricable. When Jewel rides by at a gallop, splattering the coffin with mud, Cash meticulously removes the mud and scrubs out the stain. He works silently, without voicing any complaint to Jewel (97). While a cynical reader might argue that Cash is more concerned about his piece of carpentry work than what is inside of the coffin, a strong case can be made that the coffin is the embodiment of Cash's grief. He is not an emotive person, but there is something tender and gentle about him. At least on an unconscious level, his grief at Addie's passing is wrapped up in the piece of work he created for her.