As I Lay Dying: Novel Summary: Sections 1-5
Section I Darl
This opening section of As I Lay Dying is narrated by Darl Bundren. He and his brother Jewel walk toward their house and come to an abandoned cotton house. Darl walks around the house but Jewel "steps in a single stride through the window" (4). They also pass their neighbor Vernon Tull who is loading a wagon, and their older brother Cash, a carpenter who is making a coffin for their dying mother, Addie Bundren.
Section 2 Cora
Cora Tull, Tull's wife, has just had a cake order cancelled. She's not upset but her daughter Kate is angry: "she ought to taken them" (7). Cora remembers the wonderful cakes Addie, who lies nearby dying, bakes. Darl walks through to the back of the house.
Section 3 Darl
On the back porch, Darl sees Anse Bundren, "tilting snuff from the lid of his box into his lower lip," with Vernon Tull (10). Anse asks Darl the whereabouts of his brother Jewel. Darl takes a drink of water and replies that Jewel is in the barn. Meanwhile, Jewel jumps on a horse's back and rides it up and down a hill before dismounting and feeding the animal.
Section 4 Jewel
Jewel is angry because his brother Cash insists on building their mother's coffin right outside her window as she lies dying. He also feels anger toward the rest of the family for allowing it: "and now them others sitting there, like buzzards" (15). He wishes he could be alone with his mother as she approaches death.
Section 5 Darl
Darl and Jewel prepare to make a delivery for Vernon Tull for three dollars but their father Anse is worried that their mother Addie will die before they return with the horses. Jewel gets angry with their neighbor Tull when he intrudes. He is also angry at the rest of the family for being eager to bury Addie almost before she is dead. Anse preaches that all he is attempting to do is carry out his wife's request to be buried in the town of Jefferson and tells Cash and Darl they can make the delivery but to be back the next evening: "I promised my word me and the boys would get her there quick as mules could walk it" (19).
Readers might find Faulkner's stylistic methodology difficult but a close reading is well worth the effort. The author uses short interior monologues for each character, mainly family members but also neighbors and others. If the narrating character is with another character, then another conversation may stream into and out of the primary character's thoughts.
The novel's primary narrator is Darl, Addie's intensely thoughtful and highly perceptive son. For instance, Darl notices his father's feet as "badly splayed, his toes cramped and bent and warped, with no toenail at all on his little toe from working so hard in the wet in homemade shoes when he was a boy" (11). From this one description readers gain a myriad of information about Anse Bundren.
Another son, Jewel, who is described by Darl in terms of wood throughout and thus connected to his mother's wooden coffin, is filled with anger. Darl preternaturally imagines what is happening with Jewel. Jewel is taller than his brothers and this provides a clue as to his place in the family, which will be explored later on.
Also, Jewel's interactions and feelings toward the horse should be closely observed. Section 4, Jewel's only monologue, reveals his love for his mother and also the fact that the oldest brother Cash is clueless about the effect of the noise he makes constructing the coffin.
The novel's multiple points of view force the reader to make choices about which characters to believe because the sections contradict each other. For instance, Cora's section, which expresses a deeply religious point of view, sheds light on the Bundren family from an outside, and thus, more reliable source.