As I Lay Dying: Novel Summary: Sections 11-15

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Summary

Section 11 Peabody
Peabody the doctor comes to help Addie Bundren. A round, overweight man, he struggles and needs help climbing the bluff to the Bundren house. After examining Addie, he asks Anse why he didn't send for him sooner. Dewey Dell intervenes and tells the doctor that Addie said he should leave. Outside the sound of Cash's saw continues as Addie calls out for him.

Section 12 Darl
Darl and Jewel are still on the wagon but Darl knows precisely what is happening at home. He sees Addie surrounded by Anse and Dewey Dell as she calls out to Cash. She wants to see whether he built her a sturdy coffin. Dewey Dell clutches her mother tightly while Anse and son Vardaman look on as Addie dies. Simultaneously, Darl calls out his brother's name twice. Clutching his saw, Cash enters the house and finds that Addie has died. He looks at his mother before returning to work. Thinking all the while of how much Peabody could do to help her, Dewey Dell thinks of supper. Anse stands over Addie's body and strokes her face with a hand that resembles a claw. He thinks, "now I can go to Jefferson and get them teeth." Simultaneously, Darl announces to Jewel: "Addie Bundren is dead" (52).

Section 13 Vardaman
Vardaman is traumatized and runs out to the barn, blaming Doctor Peabody for Addie's death. He looks down at the bloody spot where earlier he had laid the fish. Now the fish is chopped up, he reasons, into pieces "not-fish." The distraught boy runs into the barn and beats the doctor's horses in retaliation until they run away. Vardaman sits in the barn crying in the dark.

Section 14 Dewey Dell
As she searches for Vardaman, Dewey Dell, whose name has strong sexual connotations, continues to think of her pregnancy and how much Peabody could do for her. Cash continues building the coffin and soon after announces the doctor's horses have gotten loose. Dewey Dell prepares a small supper of greens and bread, unable to take the time to cook Vardaman's fish. The men begin to eat and Dewey Dell goes to look for Vardaman. In the barn, repeating Lafe's name over and over, she tells the uncomfortable cow to wait. Vardaman sits in the dark and Dewey Dell becomes angry because she thinks he was spying on her. She shakes him, sends him into the house, and continues to think of how Peabody could help her.

Section 15 Vardaman
Young Vardaman stares at the coffin and is very disturbed with the idea that Cash is going to nail his mother up inside: "are you going to nail it, Cash? Nail it? Nail it?" (65).

Analysis
Each of Addie's offspring responds to her death in ways that provide insights into their very different personalities. The oldest, Cash, seems to be completely withdrawn but he is carrying out his mother's wish-that he build her a sturdy coffin so her body can be moved to Jefferson. Jewel loves his mother but is incapable of dealing with her death. His voice is never heard after Addie dies, and he lashes out violently. Dewey Dell is completely focused on her hidden pregnancy and surprisingly acts with deep, if fragmentary, grief when Addie dies. She communes with animals and resembles the female cow trapped by the functions of breeding. Vardaman is lost, associating his dead mother with the dead fish he killed earlier. Darl by far is the most tuned in and authoritative Bundren, which is odd because at the end he is carted off to a mental asylum.

We cannot look at this family as piously carrying out Addie's last wishes by bringing her to Jefferson. Anse is anxious to go there to get new teeth. Dewey Dell wants an abortion. Even the innocent Vardaman wants to get a toy train.

Faulkner links each narrative together by having characters share the same experience. For instance, Dewy Dell and Vardaman's interior monologues mention the unmilked cow and each experience the incident almost simultaneously but they interpret the experiences in an entirely differently manner.

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