As I Lay Dying: Novel Summary: Sections 46-50
Section 46 Darl
Cash's leg continues to bleed so Darl asks Dewey Dell to borrow a bucket of water from a farmhouse so he can mix the cement in the bucket to make a cast for Cash's leg. Anse worries about being "beholdin." He insists he can "last it," until tomorrow when they plan to arrive in Jefferson but Darl mixes and applies the cool cement. Jewel returns, "wooden-backed, wooden-faced," and climbs into the wagon (209). At the bottom of a hill, Darl, Dewey Dell and Vardaman leave the wagon to walk up.
Section 47 Vardaman
As they ascend the hill, Vardaman remains concerned with the buzzards and wonders where they disappear to at night. Tonight, he tells himself, he will try to find out. He remembers the toy train tracks in the store window in Jefferson. He plans: "tonight I'm going to see where they stay while we are in the barn" (211).
Section 48 Darl
Darl places the coffin beneath an apple tree for the night. Cash's leg has begun to swell, the pain becomes even more intolerable and so they pour water over it. Darl asks Jewel over and over, "whose son are you?" (213). Jewel calls Darl a son of a "lying son of a bitch" (213).
Section 49 Vardaman
By the apple tree that evening, Darl tells Vardaman that Addie is speaking to God, and Vardaman places his ear on the coffin to hear. She wants to be hidden from the sight of man, Darl tells him. Dewey Dell tells Vardaman not to worry about the train and assures him it will still be there waiting for him in Jefferson. They are to sleep on the Gillespies' porch. That night Darl, Jewel, Anse and the farmer's son go around the house to the apple tree and move the coffin into the barn. Vardaman follows through on his plan and goes to find the buzzard and spies Darl setting fire to the barn: "I saw something Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody" (217).
Section 50 Darl
Against the dark barn door, Jewel's eyes reflect the fire and he runs with Gillespie and his son in nightshirts inside the burning building to save the animals and the coffin. The farmer strips naked at his command and puts his nightshirt over a mule. Jewel single-handedly carries out the coffin "until it crashes down and flings him forward," as the burning barn falls around him and his undershirt catches fire (222).
Darl places the cement cast on Cash's broken bleeding leg in an effort to help his brother, but inadvertently he damages the leg even more. In the heat, the leg swells in its cement casing. Vardaman remains locked in the mental puzzle of where the buzzards go at night. His concern leads him to the barn where he views Darl setting the fire.
Once more, prophesy rings true. Addie told Cora Tull that Jewel would be her salvation because he would rescue her from the water and the fire. Jewel has already fulfilled part of the prophesy by saving Addie's coffin from the river and now he charges without heed into the burning barn to save the coffin from the fire. He saves the mules first because he realizes that without them, Addie's body will never get to town. In addition, the mules have come to substitute for his much beloved horse that represents his mother.
Darl's continual teasing of Jewel about his father seems childish. Although it makes the men appear like ten-year-old boys, it also demonstrates that Darl indeed knows that Jewel is Whitfield's son and suggests also that Jewel may know this himself. This taunting also intensifies the anger between the brothers and sets Jewel up to act out in retaliation against Darl later on. But what is the root cause of Darl's actions? Does he want to impart to Jewel the knowledge (and comfort?) that Anse is really not his father? Does he just want to break through Jewel's wooden veneer and interact with his brother? Or, is he just cruel? This remains puzzling.
Darl, who doubtlessly loves his mother, burns the barn because, as he tells Vardaman, he believes Addie is asking God to be hidden from the sight of men. However, maybe Darl has just had enough and realizes most of the family are carrying out a charade and have their own selfish reasons for continuing to Jefferson. It is important at this point to be prepared for the Bundrens' retaliation and for that matter the retribution of the entire agricultural community, against Darl.