As I Lay Dying Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


As I Lay Dying: Metaphor Analysis

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The Horse
Jewel's relationship with his horse provides insights into his character and into his relationship with his mother Addie. The unusually perceptive Darl teases Jewel by saying his mother is a horse, suggesting that what Jewel feels for the horse is what he feels for his mother. While Jewel acts violently towards his horse, it should be realized that Jewel is after all characterized by violence. Jewel was born as the result of the violence Addie sought in the preacher Whitfield to feel alive. The only monologue given to Jewel provides insights into the violent images in his mind. He walks rapidly around as if in a rage and people fear him. He expresses his love for his mother by standing on a high hill and throwing rocks down at passers by. It is also Jewel who violently and single-handedly saves Addie from the river and the fire, acts which demonstrate his love for his mother. However, beneath the violent outbursts is love and devotion. He simply cannot express his emotions except in symbols of violence, and the intense loving, albeit violent relationship with the horse provides an added dimension to his personality. Thus the half-wild horse that symbolizes the mother suggests the violent circumstances of his birth and illustrates Jewel's own propensity for violence.

The Coffin
The coffin, which all the Bundrens cart forty miles to Jefferson, represents the family's dysfunction-and highly dysfunctional they are. Cash builds the coffin in view of his dying mother. He is vitally concerned to get the measurements right, but the coffin is unbalanced anyway, just as unbalanced, we could say, as all of the Bundrens themselves. Addie herself, who is tellingly placed in the coffin upside down, wants a coffin sturdy enough to insure her body gets to Jefferson, her desired locale for her burial. However, Addie's desire is selfish and she cares little for the trouble it will bring the family to take her there. She wants to be buried in Jefferson so her family will have to go to some trouble for her. On the other hand, the father Anse willingly accompanies the coffin to Jefferson so he can get a new set of false teeth. Burying Addie is incidental to his selfish desires. The youngest child Vardaman drills holes into the coffin and inadvertently drills into his mother's face when he believes she cannot breathe. Cash breaks his leg when he goes after the coffin in the river and suffers untold pain. After eight days, the odor emanating from the coffin is putrid. Thus, the coffin becomes the central symbol of the family's dysfunction. Burying the coffin symbolizes the return to normalcy, even if normalcy for the Bundrens means putting Darl in a mental institution and gaining a new Mrs. Bundren.


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