As I Lay Dying Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


As I Lay Dying: Novel Summary: Sections 56-59

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Section 56 Vardaman
Vardaman walks through a darkened Jefferson with Dewey Dell longing to see the toy train but she takes him toward the drugstore and leaves him outside sitting on the curb. Vardaman attempts to understand how Darl went crazy: "Darl went to Jackson.going on the train to Jackson" (250). Afterwards, as they walk back towards the hotel, Dewey Dell keeps saying, "it ain't going to work" as she tries to talk Vardaman out of going to the store to see the toy train (251).

Section 57 Darl
Darl recalls the armed guards who accompanied him to the mental institution on the train, where he sat by the window laughing, as outside his family sat in the wagon eating bananas. His perspective switches between first and third person and at times he is outside himself-out of his head, so to speak, laughing and laughing-while another part of him listens, saying to himself "what are you laughing at?" (253).

Section 58 Dewey Dell
When he sees Dewey Dell's ten dollars, Anse wants to borrow it for some unknown reason. She says she earned the money selling Cora Tull's cakes but that it belongs to Cora and if he takes it he will be a thief. Anse responds: "I have fed you and sheltered you. I gave you love and care" (256). He takes the money anyway and goes out.

Section 59 Cash
Cash recalls going back to the house where Anse borrowed the shovels to return them and wonders why Anse remains so long inside. They take Cash to the doctor and Anse goes to the barbershop for a shave. That evening he leaves the family and goes into town alone after getting money from Peabody for the hotel. The following morning, he leaves once more as the family is packing up. He will meet them later, he says. They eat bananas as they wait for him on a corner and then watch him arrive with a "kind of duck shaped woman," carrying a gramophone. Cash feels sad that Darl wouldn't be there to enjoy the music but reckons Darl is in a "better place" (260). Anse smiles "kind of hang dog and proud too," showing off his new false teeth, and introduces his family to the new "Mrs. Bundren" (261).

The novel closes with Cash's voice instead of Darl, who had opened the story of Addie Bundren's death and subsequent funeral. With the primary narrator now ranting in the nether world, Cash emerges as the primary and most reliable narrator who all along has been concerned with details. And Cash actually demonstrates some degree of introspection and normal reasoning. He fully realizes that committing Darl to a mental institution was vital to the economic survival of the family and that madness is in the eye of the beholder: "the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it," which posits the blame firmly on society and not on the Bundrens.

It should be pointed out that burning a barn in this time of poverty in an agricultural area was tantamount to stealing a family's livelihood. In short, one would have to be mad to burn a barn that housed a farmer's means of supporting his family. And such a mad person would have to be incarcerated to protect others. However, the Bundrens have only their land left-and it has already been mortgaged to purchase new mules to transport Addie's corpse to Jefferson. A lawsuit would be absolutely ruinous. Darl has to be sacrificed.


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