As I Lay Dying: Novel Summary: Sections 51-55
Section 51 Vardaman
As Vardaman looks at the remains of the barn, the men carry the coffin back under the apple tree. Cash's leg has turned black as a result of the concrete cast and Anse makes a half-hearted attempt to break it apart. Jewel's burns from the fire turn black after Dewey Dell applies some sort of medication and Darl lies on top of his mother's coffin under the apple tree weeping.
Section 52 Darl
From the shops and signs that the wagon is now passing, Darl deduces that the family is approaching Jefferson. Cash is resting on top of the coffin, and Anse decides that they must get him to a doctor. Suddenly, Dewey Dell declares that she needs to head for the bushes. When she returns, she has changed into her Sunday dress. The wagon passes a group of pedestrians, who remark on the odor of the corpse. Jewel angrily confronts one of them. Without admitting his brother is wrong, Darl restrains Jewel and settles the dispute, and they drive on into Jefferson.
Section 53 Cash
The family realizes that Darl must be sent to the mental institution in Jackson because he burned down Gillespie barn. Cash explains that Gillespie is thinking of suing the Bundrens. On the way into Jefferson, Darl suggests they take care of Cash's leg before going to the cemetery but once more the acquiescent Cash insists he can wait. Anse goes to a nearby house, from which Cash can hear a gramophone playing, to borrow a shovel. They wait for Anse who eventually returns with two shovels. Two men from the mental institution show up after Addie is finally buried and, and try to lead Darl away. Jewel then attacks Darl, and when the men pull him off, Darl, In a state of shock, sits on the ground laughing.
Section 54 Peabody
Doctor Peabody takes care of Cash's leg and tells him that because it is shorter he will hobble permanently, if he is even able to walk at all. Once more, Peabody lectures Cash and harshly criticizes him for allowing the cement cast.
Section 55 MacGowan
At the drugstore, a clerk named MacGowan helps Dewey Dell and tells her he is a doctor. He soon realizes she wants an abortion, and she offers him Lafe's ten dollars. He explains that it is not enough money and she will have to do more when she returns later that evening. In the meantime, he gives her a bottle of something to drink and tells her to come back later so he can carry out the rest of the procedure. That night MacGowan waits and Dewey Dell arrives accompanied by Vardaman who waits outside while MacGowan takes Dewey Dell into the basement.
The Bundrens experience and deal with the loss of Addie in different ways. The youngest, Vardaman, seems at first to be hit the hardest. He simply goes off the deep end, so to speak, by transmuting his mother into the fish he caught the morning she died. However, by the end, he is calmer and is no longer intensely grieving. Dewey Dell experienced one brief agonizing moment when Addie died, but returned almost immediately to her concern with her own changing body. Jewel found it impossible to voice his grief and expressed his anguish with restless physical movement, we can assume, he found comfort in saving his mother from the flames. Cash focused entirely on the logistics of constructing and burying the coffin without once showing any emotion. By the end of the novel, he is certainly the most level-headed member of the family. And Darl, the primary narrator who was certainly the most "on top of it" at the beginning, deteriorates during the funeral procession and winds up in a mental institution.
By the end of the novel, Darl has changed the most. It seems that he might want to make contact, however misguided, with his family so he share his grief over Addie's death. Maybe he is the most affected because he intuits full well that Addie never loved him. He has, it will be recalled, always felt abandoned by her. So, when he weeps on her coffin, it is not just because she has died; he weeps for himself because he has never been loved. Did he burn the barn to help his mother or did he burn it to wake up the Bundrens to their real purposes in going to Jefferson? Was that a deliberate intervention of sorts?