The Bundren Family Addie Bundren – As the matriarch of the Bundren family, Addie is the absent protagonist of the novel. A former schoolteacher, she married Anse Bundren after a brief courtship and bore him four children: Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell and Vardaman. As the result of an affair with Whitfield, Addie is also mother to an illegitimate child, Jewel. At the outset of the novel, Addie is gravely ill, and dies soon thereafter. Her dying wish to be buried with her relatives in Jefferson, the capital of Yoknapatawpha County, provides the impetus for the novel’s action.
Anse Bundren – Anse, the patriarch of the Bundren family, is a poor farmer who feels duty-bound to honor his late wife’s burial request. But his unhalting ambition to deliver Addie to rest in Jefferson at any cost and despite all hardships serves to cast doubt on both his intelligence and his motives. Upon finally arriving in Jefferson, Anse quickly makes good on his promise to Addie, and then proceeds to acquire a new set of false teeth and a second bride. Cash Bundren – The eldest of the Bundren children, Cash is an aspiring carpenter who occupies himself with the construction of his mother’s coffin during her dying days. After previously enduring a broken leg when he fell from the roof of a church, he re-injures the same leg in the journey to bury Addie while attempting to cross a river with a wagon in the face of flood conditions.
For the rest of the novel Cash is incapacitated, and as the result of a shoddy attempt to set his injured leg in cement, he is hobbled for life. Darl Bundren – The next eldest of the Bundren children, Darl delivers the largest number of interior monologues in the novel. An extremely sensitive and articulate young man, he is grief stricken by the death of his mother and the plight of his family’s burial journey. After he sets fire to the Gillespie barn in an attempt to incinerate his mother’s corpse, his family commits him against his will to a mental institution in Jackson. Jewel – The bastard child borne of Addie’s affair with Whitfield, Jewel lives with the Bundren family as though he were completely of it.
However, his unique antecedents inspire within him a fiercely independent turn of mind. As an adolescent, he secretly earned enough money to purchase his own horse, and his self-sufficiency leads to frequent clashes with Anse. A large young man, younger than Darl but older than Dewey Dell, he is as physically active as he is imposing, hauling Addie across the flooding river and rescuing her from the burning barn. Dewey Dell Bundren – Dewey Dell, the only Bundren daughter, is a seventeen year-old with a libidinous streak. She becomes pregnant after an affair with Lafe, and seeks an abortion in Jefferson.
Vardaman Bundren – Vardaman is the youngest of the Bundren children. The fish he catches on the day of his mother’s death comes to stand as a symbol of her life and her passing. Vernon Tull – Vernon tull is a wealthier farmer who lives near the Bundrens. He visits the Bundrens frequently during Addie’s last days, and assists them in their river crossing during the funeral journey. Cora Tull – Cora, Vernon Tull’s wife, is a reverentially pious woman who, along with her daughters Kate and Eula, helps Dewey Dell to care for Addie in her final hours. Whitfield – Whitfield is a local minister who carries out an illicit affair with Addie Bundren, resulting in the birth of Jewel.
Peabody – Peabody is an overweight rural doctor who attends to Addie and later to Cash. Samson – Samson is a local farmer who puts up the Bundrens on the first evening of their funeral journey. Armstid – Armstid is a local farmer who puts up the Bundrens on the second and third evenings of their funeral journey. Moseley – Moseley is a druggist in Mottson who refuses to help Dewey Dell in her search for abortion medicine. MacGowan – MacGowan is an employee at a drug store in Jefferson who poses as a doctor in an attempt to seduce Dewey Dell when she inquires after abortion medicine. Part 1 Summary Darl describes his approach with Jewel from the field toward the main house.
They pass a dilapidated cotton house and then reach the foot of a bluff, where Tull’s wagon sits holding two chairs. At the top of the bluff, Cash is working on a coffin for Addie, dutifully chopping and sawing. Darl leaves him there and enters the house proper. Inside, Cora is thinking about some cakes she recently made to order, only to see the order cancelled after she had baked the cakes. Kate rails at the injustice of this twist, while Cora is more inclined to take it in stride. Addie lies nearby, frail and silent, hardly breathing, as Eula watches over her.
Outside, the sound of Cash’s chopping and sawing continues. Cora recalls Addie’s talent for baking cakes. Addie appears to be asleep, or else watching Cash hard at work out the window. Darl passes through the hall without a word and heads for the back of the house. Darl encounters Anse and Tull on the back porch.
Anse asks after Jewel. Darl takes a deep drink of water, and recalls other drinks of water he has taken. Then Darl explains that Jewel is at the barn, attending to the horses. Jewel struggles violently with one horse in the mounting, the riding and the dismounting, and feeds him quickly before taking his leave. Jewel thinks with bitterness and resentment about Cash’s insistence on constructing Addie’s coffin right outside of the window where she lays dying.
He is angry at Cash’s pride in his craftsmanship, and at the other members of the family for their complicity in allowing such a situation to occur. He expresses a wish to be alone with his mother in her final days. Darl is prepared to accept a job for Vernon, but then hesitates. Rain seems to be in the offing, and there is concern about Addie expiring before he and Jewel would be able to return with the team of horses. Tull reassures them, and Jewel lashes out at Tull for his intrusiveness.
Jewel then proceeds to voice his anger toward Cash and the rest of the family for their seeming eagerness to hurry Addie to her end. Anse responds by defending the family’s fortitude in following Addie’s last wishes. Finally, Darl decides to take the job on the condition that he and Jewel will return by the next day at sundown. As Darl passes back through the hall to leave, he hears voices floating all around him. Cora observes Darl re-entering the house, and is touched by the emotion with which he bids Addie farewell. She contrasts Darl’s sweetness with what she feels to be the callousness of Anse and Jewel. As Darl stands in the doorway, prepared to depart, Dewey Dell asks him what he wants. He ignores her, and instead stares at his mother, his heart too full for words.
Commentary Form the very beginning, Faulkner balances the intensity of his character monologues and the expansiveness of visual descriptions with admirable control. Each voice is uniquely subjective, but each voice makes observations about objective details which help to give fullness to the scene and to maintain a continuous narrative. For instance, Darl focuses on the quality of light in his walk toward home. He sees the cotton house as it leans in empty and shimmering desolation in the sunlight and later the boards of Addie’s coffin sit between the shadow spaces and are yellow as gold, like soft gold. The attention given to climate and landscape provides a strong atmospheric effect which tends to function at the expense of the people themselves. They are less simply people than they are people in a place with specific things about them that make them specific people.
So, before we meet Tull himself, we encounter his wagon holding two chairs beside the spring; before we meet Cash himself, we hear the roaring of his saw and the chucking of his adze; before we meet Addie herself, we see her coffin being assembled. These things about these people come to stand for the people themselves, as symbols of their identity. Thus, Tull is a detached man of industry via the fact of his wagon; Cash is a builder and a craftsman via the sounds of his labor; Addie is a corpse- in-waiting via the assembly of her coffin. Often the intensity of these symbols, coupled with the experimental structure of the novel, serves to sap the energy out of any potential interactions between the several characters in the novel. Darl comes upon Cash at work on the coffin, but no words are exchanged. Instead of remembering any dialogue that Darl and Cash might have shared, the reader is left to ponder the strange silence of the words on the page that stand for the sounds made by the Chuck. Chuck.
Chuck. of the adze. If the reader is able to find out any information about the characters independent of the interior monologues, it is generally through the thoughts or attitudes expressed by other characters in their own interior monologues, rather than through the any revelations of dialogue occurring between characters. In this way, the structure of the novel becomes a self-referential web of increasing psychological complexity. The reader has no objective narrator to lean on, but also lacks the simple comfort of a single subjective narrator. This forces the reader to make decisions about which voices to trust, encourages the reader to select good characters and bad characters, and generally makes for confusion when different voices present the same character in a different light.
Even the little pieces of dialogue that are provided are always revealed in the context of a larger interior monologue, leading to a further indeterminacy of meaning. Is that really what Jewel said, or is that just what Darl remembered Jewel saying? Did Cora actually say that to Kate, or does she just choose to present it that way in her description? Paradoxically, the psychological nature of Faulkner’s approach serves to prevent the reader from feeling as close to understanding the characters as he or she might in a more traditionally structured prose narrative. They take on a life of their own to some extent, but as the creator of each of them he looms more self-consciously above the action than a more conservative author would seem to. But to be sure, there are many benefits to Faulkner’s approach. Though harder to execute, the elastic approach to a narrative which accounts for thought as well as speech and objective experience provides a more fully realistic paradigm of consciousness than a more simplistic approach could hope to. Rather than just I-do-this, I-do- that, or I-do-this, I-say-that, Faulkner elects for I- think-this, I-do-that, I-say-this, I-think-that.
For instance, when Darl encounters his Anse and Vernon on the porch, an eternity of thought passes in Darl’s mind during the pause between his father’s question about Jewel’s whereabouts and Darl’s reply to that question. And in the ultimate consideration of lived experience, which is sticking closer to the heart, what you said or what you were thinking in between the times when you were saying things? As Darl lingers in Addie’s doorway, it is that heart-too-full-for-words effect that shines, rather than any explanation of what is happening in verbal or visible terms. Part 2 Summary Dewey Dell remembers a time when she went harvesting with Lafe. She was heading toward the secret shade with him, but wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She said that if the sack was full, then she wouldn’t be able to help it.
Lafe helped her to make sure she couldn’t help it by helping her to fill her sack, and then they were together. Later, Dewey Dell realizes that Darl discovered them together. She is remembering all of this in the present as Darl stands in the doorway taking his leave of Addie. A brief exchange ensues between Dewey Dell and Darl about Darl’s imminent departure with Jewel. Tull tries to relieve Anse of his lingering reservations about taking the job. Anse is resigned to the fact of Addie’s approaching death.
Vardaman appears, climbing up the hill with a large fish which he is planning to show to Addie. Anse, unimpressed, orders Vardaman to clean the fish before taking it inside. Cora and Tull prepare to depart for the evening, as Anse stands dumbly in the same room with Addie. Cora and Tull restate their offer of help in any manner, and take their leave. As they approach the wagon, Cora and Tull speak with Kate and Eula about the Bundren situation. Kate is especially vocal and speculative about the Bundren fortunes. Anse, in a crude diction, begins complaining about the weather, his sons, and the commotion of the road.
He curses his luck for living near the road, and blames the road for Addie’s falling ill. As Anse thinks on his bad fortune, Vardaman reappears, full of blood from having dealt with his fish. Telling Vardaman to go wash his hands, Anse rues the hardening of his heart. Meanwhile, Darl is in the wagon with Jewel, on the job. He recalls confronting Dewey Dell about her encounter with Lafe.
The sun is about to set. Darl is still getting used to the idea that Addie is about to die, voicing the likelihood over and over to a silent Jewel. Peabody, having received the call from Anse to come and attend to Addie, makes his way to the Bundren land. He can hear Cash sawing from a mile away. It is sunset.
A cyclone is afoot. Being overweight, Peabody needs help to climb the ridge. Vardaman gets the rope to help him scale the mountain. After some struggle, Peabody arrives at the house. He enters Addie’s room and she is perfectly still, except for the movement of her eyes.
Outside, Peabody asks Anse why he didn’t send for him sooner. Dewey Dell interrupts their conversation and they return to Addie’s room. Dewey Dell tells Peabody that Addie wants him to leave. Cash continues to saw away, and Addie calls out his name loudly. While Darl and Jewel continue on their journey, back at the Bundren household the rest of the family surrounds Addie at her bedside.
Addie calls out again to Cash, who continues to labor. Dewey Dell calls out to Addie, and then flings herself upon her, clutching her tightly. Vardaman and Anse look on in silence. At this moment, Addie dies. Cash enters the room, and Anse gives him the news, telling him that he needs to finish up the coffin as quickly as possible.
Cash stands and stares for a time, and then leaves to return to work, taking up the saw again. Anse tells Dewey Dell that she should begin preparing supper. Finally Dewey Dell rises and leaves the room. Anse stands over his dead bride’s body, newly a widower, and strokes Addie’s face awkwardly before returning to the business of the day. Commentary With the introduction of several new voices, Faulkner begins to widen the range of registers at his disposal.
Because he appears so frequently as a narrator, Darl must be considered as the default, standard voice by which all others must be judged in comparison. Indeed, Darl’s mode of speech deviates least from Faulkner’s expository prose style, and it is through Darl’s voice that Faulkner most frequently draws his own conclusions as an author. Addie dies during Darl’s monologue, but Darl is not present at the time. In this key section, Faulkner gives as close to an objective account as occurs in the entire novel. The only portions of the section which are actually Darl’s voice are those which occur in italics.
It is as though Faulkner didn’t trust Darl enough to describe Addie’s death, but didn’t trust any other character enough to stick the account in their section either. Compared to Darl, Anse seems positively uneducated and unthinking. While studied in thought, Anse is in fact more studied in deed. Though his diction is extremely colloquial, and his words are peppered with Biblical allusions, all is ultimately in the service of his business interests. Dewey Dell is perhaps the least sophisticated of all, with her monologues among the most hysterical and muddled in the entire novel.
Toward the other end of the spectrum, Tull, while just as business- minded as Anse, is less coarse in his consideration. His cunning, however, is no less the callous for its elevation. As a doctor, Peabody naturally holds forth at a higher level, using a wider vocabulary and employing more elaborate sentence structures. Regardless of their level of sophistication, each speaker has a pettiness that characterizes his or her interior monologues. This pettiness is especially clear in the characters who are not members of the Bundren family. Peabody’s thoughts center not on Addie herself but on the inconvenience of being an overweight doctor who must climb a mountain to attend to a dying patient.
Cora and Tull repeatedly offer to help the Bundrens in any way they can, but nevertheless their narratives are peppered with mundane passing thoughts that seem trivial in the face of life and death. Yes, Cora attends dutifully to Addie, but all the while she thinks only of her unsold cakes. Tull’s presence is ostensibly out of a sense of neighborly duty, but his concern for Addie is overridden by his concern the job that he sends Darl and Jewel on, and by his interest in the barn that he is recruiting Cash to work on. Peabody, Cora and Tull are constantly aware of the matter at hand, but they are not constantly thinking of it. However, they may be forgiven their wandering thoughts; as outsiders they are inevitably less invested in the tragedy than members of the immediate family. Within the family itself, where Faulkner’s main interest lies, each character has his or her own complex relationship to the situation.
Anse seems the most absorbed in their own concerns at the moment of tragedy. ‘God’s will be done,’ he says. Now I can get them false teeth.’ Dewey Dell is a mixed case, focussed as she is on her sexuality, but also intensely invested in her role as her mother’s nurse, as borne out by the unexpected violence of their last embrace on Addie’s deathbed. Darl and Jewel are more thoroughly and constantly preoccupied with the loss of their mother, and in this sense it is ironic that they should be on the road at the moment when Addie expires. Let’s look more closely at the case of Jewel.
Cora sees him as an insensitive money-grubber who is indifferent to the death of his own mother. Kate sees him simply as a hunk of meat, as marriageable as he is prepared to stray from marriage. But Jewel himself is filled with hurt at what he sees as the insensitivity of his own family in relation to Addie. Faulkner is not attempting to give more credence to one view of Jewel than to another; the reader may do so at his or her own peril. The benefit of Faulkner’s approach is that over time the reader begins to gather a composite picture of Jewel, which is the richer for its variety of perspectives.
Jewel may in fact exist simultaneously as a sensitive person in his own right who comes across callously or coarsely to others. The sense of omniscience that the reader derives from knowing what everyone thinks about everyone else is augmented by Faulkner’s penchant for foreshadowing. Because everyone is so convinced that Addie will die, and because Anse and Darl voice their convictions so explicitly, it begins to seem inevitable. At other points, Faulkner is more subtle with his hints. Kate is one of the few voices to strongly doubt Addie’s imminent death, predicting that she’ll be at Anse’s side for another thirty years.
In the face of the evidence such a claim seems outrageous, but it certainly catches the reader’s attention. Her next remark, a slight revision of her first opinion, is equally striking. Or if it aint her, Kate says, considering Anse’s predicament if Addie were to die, he’ll get another one before cotton- picking. It is the most explicit criticism of Anse’s coldness yet, and one the reader would do well to remember. Part 3 Summary Vardaman runs out of the house, crying violently.
He sees the fish he has caught all chopped up into little pieces. He curses Peabody. He jumps off the porch and runs into the barn. Still crying, he takes up a stick and begins beating Peabody’s horses, cursing them and blaming them for Addie’s death. He shoos away a cow who wants milking, and returns to the barn to cry quietly. Cash passes by and Dewey Dell calls out, but Vardaman is …