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As I Lay Dying:
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The following editions of As I Lay Dying are available for purchase online:

As I Lay Dying (Vintage Paperback Edition) As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text

Vintage International


ISBN: 067973225X

Published 1990

Novels, 1930-1935 Novels, 1930-1935: As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, Pylon

Library of America


ISBN: 0940450267

Published 1985

William Faulkner Reads: The Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Selections from As I Lay Dying, A Fable, Old Man

Read by William Faulkner

Caedmon/Harper Audio

Audio Cassette

ISBN: 1559945729

Published 1992

Published October 6, 1930, by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith.

Faulkner’s first novel published after The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying has been acclaimed as one of Faulkner’s greatest novels as well as a self-proclaimed “tour de force” by Faulkner himself. Like the novel before it, it is told in stream-of-conscious fashion by fifteen different speakers in some 59 chapters. In its depiction of the Bundren family’s quest to Jefferson to bury their dead matriarch, Addie, among her “people,” against the threats of flood and fire, the novel explores the nature of grieving, community, and family.

The Story

As the novel opens, Addie Bundren lies dying in her bed in her family’s farmhouse in southeastern Yoknapatawpha County. Neighbors come to visit, while outside her oldest son, Cash, is sawing and hammering together her coffin. Her second son, Darl, convinces his brother Jewel (Addie’s third son) to go with him to pick up a load of lumber. Though he realizes Addie will probably die before they return, he convinces his father, Anse, that it is okay because “It means three dollars.” Darl’s apparent goal is to make sure that Jewel, Addie’s favorite son, will not be at her side when she dies.

While Addie’s daughter, Dewey Dell, stays with her, her youngest son, Vardaman, goes fishing and catches a very big fish, which Anse tells Dewey Dell to cook for their dinner. (Later, Vardaman begins to confuse the fish with his dead mother, resulting in Faulkner’s shortest, and one of his most famous-or infamous-chapters: “My mother is a fish.”)

Dr. Peabody arrives at the Bundrens’ house just in time to watch Addie die, and in outrage Vardaman chases away his horse and wagon. They are later recovered by Lon Quick. Just after Addie’s death a violent storm breaks, and Darl’s and Jewel’s lumber-laden wagon loses a wheel in a ditch. Meanwhile, young Vardaman drills holes into the coffin lid (so his mother can breathe), and inadvertently drills into her face. By the time the coffin and the wagon’s wheel are repaired, three days have passed, but finally, the family can set off on their journey to bury Addie.

The Journey

Years earlier, shortly after Darl was born, Addie had asked her husband to bury her in Jefferson, where her “people” were from, when she died. So to keep the promise he made to Addie, Anse sets off with his children toward Jefferson.

As the novel’s plot proceeds in stop-start fashion through the discrete monologues by the various speakers, more and more information is revealed about the Bundrens, their grief, and their society. The most conscientious Bundren, as well as the most detached, is Darl-who, it turns out, has always been regarded as odd by those who know him. Nevertheless, he is near-omniscient in his knowledge about his family: he knows, for instance, that his sister Dewey Dell is pregnant, and he also intuits that Jewel is only his half-brother-that he is not Anse’s son.

All of the Bundrens except for Darl and Jewel have ulterior motives for wanting to go on the long journey to Jefferson. Anse, the most selfish of them, wants a new set of teeth. Cash wants a phonograph (or as he calls it, a “graphophone”), and Vardaman wants to get a toy train. Dewey Dell wants to get an abortion (with the ten dollars that Lafe, the would-be father, has given her).

The First Threat: Flood

Their first major hurdle in their journey is the flood-swollen Yoknapatawpha River. They go well out of their way to one bridge, which has been swept away, then return to a bridge closer to home, which is likewise damaged by the flood. They nonetheless decide to chance crossing-which turns out to be a mistake. In the process, Cash’s leg is broken and their mules are drowned; it is only by sheer strength (or rage) that Jewel is able to keep Addie’s coffin from being swept away as well.

Now that the Bundrens are muleless, neighbors of the Bundrens believe Anse will want to borrow their mules, but he has something else in mind. He makes an arrangement with a kinsman of Flem Snopes to trade Cash’s eight dollars (which he had planned to use to buy the phonograph) and Jewel’s beloved horse, for which Jewel had worked many nights to obtain and which he treats more kindly than most human beings, for a new team of mules.

To continue their journey, the Bundrens had to go south to “Mottson” in the neighboring county and then head north along the main road to Jefferson. While in Mottson, they are treated with ever-increasing outrage: Addie’s decomposing body is beginning to smell and to attract buzzards. Dewey Dell tries to get an abortion but she is rebuffed by a morally upright and law-abiding pharmacist. To doctor Cash’s broken leg, Anse buys some cement and uses it to place a cast on Cash’s leg.

The Second Threat: Fire

About midway between Mottson and Jefferson, the Bundrens spend a night at Gillespie’s place. During the night, the barn where Addie’s coffin was being stored catches fire, and again it was saved only by the ferocity of Jewel’s efforts. Vardaman reveals that he had seen something, but Dewey Dell tells him not to repeat it.

The Journey Complete

Nine days after Addie’s death, the Bundrens finally arrive in Jefferson. Anse borrows some shovels from a “duck-shaped” woman to dig her grave, and finally, his promise to her has been fulfilled. Cash is sent to the doctor, and Darl-whom we discover set the fire in Gillespie’s barn to put their outrageous journey to an end-is sent to the mental asylum in Jackson to avoid the Bundrens being sued by Gillespie.

Vardaman looks in the store windows for the toy train, but it was nowhere to be found. Dewey Dell finds a pharmacist who says he will help her, but instead he tricks her into granting him sexual favors. Anse convinces her to give him the ten dollars (that Lafe had given her), which he uses to buy a new set of teeth. As the novel ends, he re-appears before his family with the duck-shaped woman-who happens to own a phonograph-and introduces her by saying, “Meet Mrs. Bundren.”

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How to cite this page (MLA style):

Padgett, John B. “As I Lay Dying: Commentary.” William Faulkner on the Web.

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Copyright © 1995 – 2008 by John B. Padgett.

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