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Fact vs. Conjecture in Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner structures the story of the Sutpen family in Absalom, Absalom! as a Southern myth, passed down from generation to generation. Since we’re hearing nearly the entire story from second and third had narrators, it’s difficult to tell what parts of the story are fact and what parts are fiction.

The first narration comes from Miss Rosa, who is the only narrator we have who has firsthand knowledge and experience with the Sutpen family. But she wasn’t even born yet when her sister married Thomas Sutpen, when her sister gave birth to her two children, so a good deal of her narration is still told as second hand information, what she assumes to be the truth based on what little her sister and father told her, and based on  her own personal prejudice. And her personal prejudice against Thomas Sutpen is so great that it’s hard to say that even  her narration of the pieces of the story in which she was present are even completely factual, or if she may be misremembering after years of festering hatred and rage.

None of the other narrators in the book have first hand experience with the story. Quentin, Mr. Compson, and Shreve can only, at their most objective, tell the story as it was told to them. Naturally, though, they add their own thoughts to the story. As the story exists in Yoknapatawpha County, there are still blank spaces of misinformation. It’s not until Quentin returns to Sutpen’s Hundred with Miss Rosa in 1909 that the entire truth of the story is revealed.

So, with those blank spaces, the narrators insert their own thoughts and speculations about what really happened to the Sutpen family, and their conjectures are clearly based on their personalities and behavior. Mr. Compson, a man preoccupied with the idea of a dark destiny, imagines things like Sutpen meaning to name his daughter Clytie Cassandra, to symbolize the ruin she would bring to the family. Quentin gets distracted and focuses on certain parts of the story more than other, specifically the relationship betwee the siblings Henry, Judith, and Charles. Shreve, who is the furthest removed from the story, approaches the tale from a more romantic and dramatic viewpoint, constructing an entire history for Charles Bon based completely and entirely on conjecture.

In the end, though we have all of the basic facts of the case, the character of Thomas Sutpen is still something of a mystery. We know how other people percieve him, but he’s long dead, so we still have no idea what he was really like underneath it all. We only have Rosa’s demonized version of him, Mr. Compson’s idea of him as a charsmatic and determined man who was cursed and doomed from the start, and the older Sutpen that Quentin has heard of from his grandfather, a man who’s dream dynasty has fallen apart. General Compson’s version of Sutpen is probably closest to the truth, since he was the man’s closest friend, but even then, it’s only second hand information. Sutpen never has the ability to speak for himself.

And, as we never really know for sure what Sutpen is like, we can never know for sure how things really happened, even if we do know the most basic facts. We can only guess what Judith’s reaction truly was when Henry shot Charles. We can only imagine how Henry really felt about knowing that Charles Bon was his brother. If anything, knowing more of the facts simply makes the characters and their personalities and feelings more mysterious.

In the end, people are more complicated than the stories they inspire.

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Absalom, Absalom! Wrap Up

Look at me, finishing things. Okay, I’m finishing them late, but I’m finishing them. Expect Sound and the Fury to be finished by next weekend.

Absalom, Absalom! is probably Faulkner’s most difficult work. Not only does he use several different narrators (a narrative device he actually uses in many of his books), but most of them are telling stories second hand, stories that they weren’t even alive to see. We will sometimes hear the same story told more than once from different perspectives, and it can be frustrtating trying to understand a character and pin down his motivations when we can’t be sure if any of the accounts we’re being given are 100% factual.

Faulkner wants to present the story of Thomas Sutpen as a Southen myth, a legend that’s been passed around and told throughout Faulkner’s fictitious Yaknapatawpha County, where most of his books have taken place. The reader is treated like a resident of Jefferson, as though this is a story we’ve heard before. Some characters are simply referred to as “she” or “he” before they’re even introduced, as though we already know who these people are.

Like other in other Faulkner novels, the fall of the Sutpen family represents the fall of the South. For Quentin, the most present and important narrator of the book, the story is the representation of the South for him, which is something the perplexes his roommate, Shreve. Why would a story of such sadness and violence and doom be the story Quentin tells to explain the South to people in Cambridge? Shreve asks Quentin why he hates the South. Quentin claims he doesn’t, but it’s clear his feelings about his home are conflicted, to say the least. He has a difficult time accepting the death of the old Southern ideals of chivalry and good girls and honorable men, and to him, the story of the Sutpen family is the story of that death.

Quentin, who appeared in Faulkner’s earlier novel The Sound and the Fury is a good choice for the most frequent and present narrator in the story, based on his experiences in The Sound and the Fury (which actually mostly take place after Absalom, Absalom!) He’s a man obsessed with the concept of time and of the past. And that’s what the Sutpen story is all about. It’s about holding onto the past. Just as Quentin tried so desperately to hold onto the Southern past, the idea of genteel and virginal women in relation to his sister Caddy, Rosa is clinging to the past, the idea she has of Thoms Sutpen as a demon, It’s a past she’s unable to let go of.

Of course, there’s a tragedy to Quentin being such an important character. When Miss Rosa tells him that she wants to tell him her story, she says that maybe he’ll grow up, and get married, and have kids, and when he’s older he’ll think of her story and tell it to others. Quentin tells the story to Shreve, but he’ll never tell the story again after that. A few months after the end of Absalom, Absalom, in the spring of 1910, Quentin commits suicide. The very last lines of the book give us a peek inside of Quentin’s head, and we see the beginnings of the inner torture that brings him to his final act. His inability to reconcile his feelings about where he comes from.

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapters 8 and 9

I’m not so crazy about chapter 8, because it’s the least objective and factual chapter of all. Granted, it’s possible that it’s all true, but at this point Quentin and Shreve are so into the story that now they’re simply imagining Charles Bon’s life.  The even completely create a new character, the lawyer who they figure took care of Charles and his mother, who handled the money Sutpen left for them. They figure that his mother raised him with the plan to use him to get revenge on her husband for leaving.

They then imagine Charles meeting Henry, then Ellen and Judith, and that he eventually realized that Sutpen was his father, and his engagement to Judith was his attempt to get his father to acknowledge him. The basically think up scenes for everything – Sutpen telling Henry that Bon was his brother, Charles and Henry at war. They even decide it makes more sense to change the story – that it was Henry who was wounded in the war, and that Charles saves him, not the other way around as it was previously told.

They imagine Henry’s indecision over allowing Charles to marry Judith, and how Henry finally decides not to allow it. Not because of the incest, but because his father tells him of Charles’ negro blood.

They also think about Judith, just after Henry kills Charles. Instead of the picture of herself she sent Charles, she finds a picture of his mistress and child. Shreve looks at this romantically, speculating that Charles knew Henry would kill him, and so he replaced the picture as a way to tell Judith that he wasn’t worth grieving over. Shreve believes that Bon was marrying Judith mostly because he wanted his father to acknowledge him as his son, but he also believes that he really did love her.

These retellings of the story, which are based on little more than Shreve and Quentin’s imagination, are Faulkner showing the nature of a myth or legend, the way people who retell it put their own creative spin on it.

Then they talk about the night that Miss Rosa took Quentin to Sutpen’s Hundred to find what Miss Rosa was sure was hiding there. When they enter, Clytie tries to stop Rosa, in a scene not unlike when Rosa arrived after Bon’s death. But this time Rosa pushes Clytie to the ground

In a bedroom, they find Henry Sutpen, who has returned home in his old age to, as he tells Quentin, die. When he went home that night, Quentin felt the need to bathe, to scrub away what he had seen – the dying, decrepit, depressing remains of a once great family.

Eventually, Rosa sent an ambulance to Sutpen’s Hundred to collect Henry. She hadn’t been able to save Judith, as she’d promised her sister she would, but perhaps she could save Henry. But when Clytie saw the ambulance coming, she thought it was the police coming to take her brother away for the decades-old crime of killing Bon, and she set the house on fire, killing both of them.  The mixed-race idiot Jim Bond is the last remaining Sutpen.

In the end, Shreve wonders why Quentin, when asked about what the South was like, would tell this horrific story. Shreve asks him why he hates the south. Quentin vehemently denies that he hates the south out loud to Shreve, and then continues to deny it even more adamantly in his mind, to himself. “I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 7

Why, hello there, ridiculously long chapter! I’d almost go so far as to call you a novella. But I did manage to finish you in one day, so go me!

Now things get tawdry. Or rather, we learn new information that makes old information tawdry. In this chapter, we get more about Sutpen’s own life, how he came to Yoknapatawpha County in the first place, and more about what happened to him after Miss Rosa left Sutpen’s Hundred.

Though the section is narrated by Quentin, still recounting stories heard from his father and grandfather, we are for the first time hearing something that Sutpen told himself. Most of the information which Quentin relays to Shreve here comes from stories that Sutpen told General Compson.

The storytelling here is pretty jarring. Quentin tells the story of Sutpen telling the story. So Quentin is telling two separate stories at the same time – first of a time when the french architect Sutpen brought to build the mansion tried to escape him. Sutpen and Compson took the slave and dogs out to search for him, and it’s during this time that Sutpen told Compson of his childhood. So Quentin is also telling that as well.

Sutpen was born in a hillbilly log cabin in what is now West Virginia. When he was still young, his father moved the family to Southern Virginia to work on a plantation.  It was here that Sutpen began to understand the difference not just between races, but between the haves and the have nots.  At age 14 he ran away to the West Indies (he never really says how he got there, just that he went), where he learned the language and eventually got work on a sugar plantation. After stamping out a slave revolt, he was promised the daughter of the plantation owner. They were married and had a son, but when he found out his wife had negro blood, he decided that she and their child didn’t fit into his plan, and he renounced them.

The first son that Sutpen had, Quentin learned when he went out to Sutpen’s Hundred that night with Miss Rosa, was Charles Bon.

So Sutpen divorced his first wife and traveled to Jefferson, making arrangements to provide for the woman and the boy, and taking his 20 wild negroes with him.

I have to cut out of the young Sutpen narrative to comment on a part of the book that amused me, during Compson and Sutpen’s search for the architect. I don’t know if Faulkner meant it to be amusing or not. There’s a part where he talks about the wild negroes chasing the man, and later finding him, and whooping aloud as though it was a game and they were now going to be allowed to cook him and eat him. For some reason that just tickled me. Cannibalism = comedic gold.

Anyway, back to the story. About 30 years pass, and Charles Bon shows up as Henry’s college pal. He allowed the friendship and initial courtship to go on, not out of cruelty, but because he truly had no idea what to do. Then, on that second Christmas, he had his talk with Henry, not telling him of the octoroon wife and child, but the truth, that Charles Bon was his brother. Henry refused to believe it (although pretty much every single narrator believes that whatever his father told him, deep down he really did know it to be true).  Sutpen was then unsure of whether or not to play his “final trump card”. He could allow Judith and Charles to marry, which would fulfill his dynasty to the outside world, but on the inside he’d know it was a failure, or he could stop the marriage and surely ruin his dynasty. In the end, he decided to play that trump card, and he told Henry of Bon’s negro blood. This was the thing that sent Henry over the edge on the matter.

Sutpen then came home to a mess, one son dead, the other vanished, and a daughter widowed before she was even a bride. After Rosa’s departure he took to bed with Wash Jones’ granddaughter Milly, without any clear intention of marrying her, though Jones, in his hero worship, believed that Sutpen would “make it right”. But the say Milly delivered her child, it did not turn out the way either Sutpen or Jones wanted it. Milly had a daughter, not the son Sutpen was hoping for, and he insulted her by casting them aside. Jones, who had not even tried to hide his granddaughter’s condition from the town, believing Sutpen would marry her, but growing more and more apprehensive about the situation each passing day, killed Sutpen in a rage. Then, when the cops came for him, he slit both Milly and the baby girl’s throats, and was then killed by the police.

Sutpen’s ending is extremely tragic and also kind of “small” for a man of such myth and legend. Not only is the death tragic, but so is his murderer. I just find it extremely sad that this man, who so idolized and worshiped Sutpen, was so brokenhearted by this one act that he killed him for it. And that it was this slight, probably not even the worst he committed in his life, that brought Sutpen to his end.

This chapter, through Quentin’s brief moments of inner monologue, tie Absalom, Absalom! to The Sound and the Fury yet again. There are only a few very brief moments of Quentin’s inner dialogue, but it’s already a little bit frantic and frayed. This part of the story takes place in the winter. In the spring, Quentin will kill himself.

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 6

Time got away from me yesterday, and I ended up just not having time to read. I’m glad that today’s (or rather, yesterday’s) chapter was short. And I’m glad I have tomorrow off, because Chapter 7 looks like it’s probably around 70 pages.

Anywho, this chapter is a little bit complicated because there are three separate narrators and, in typical Faulkner fashion, the shift between narrators is sometimes really sudden. The three narrators this time are Quentin, his father, and his roommate Shreve.

Shreve’s appearance as narrator and listener is important. Faulkner introduces a new character halfway through the book to represent the reader. Shreve is not from the South, is in fact Canadian, so his wonder with the story matches the reader’s. This idea of the old South is something completely and totally foreign to him, and he’s fascinated by Quentin’s telling of it.

Early on in the chapter we get the story so far, summarized rather quickly by Shreve, and I find this part kind of amusing and charming. What’s taken Quentin, Mr. Compson, and Rosa half a book to tell in their flowery Southern way is told in less than a few pages by Shreve.

But we do get new info in this chapter. For one thing, we learn that Miss Rosa has died. He gets a letter from his father telling him the news, and he has to explain to Shreve that Miss Rosa was not a relative.

This chapter is about the last few years of Sutpen’s life, but it’s mostly about what happened to the family after he died. The legend may be Thomas Sutpen, but the story goes on long after he’s gone.

Sutpen realizes he cannot rebuild his plantation, so he opens a shop selling  supplies to freed slaves. But he spends most of his time getting drunk with Wash Jones, and then spending his evenings *ahem* with Jones’s granddaughter Milly.  Milly give birth to Sutpen’s child, but he insults both Milly and the child by casting them aside (presumably because the child was a girl). Wash Jones then kills Sutpen with a rusty scythe, the very scythe Sutpen had given him years before to do his chores.

Quentin remembers going to Sutpen’s Hundred and seeing the graves of the family. Not just Ellen, Thomas, and Charles Bon, but other’s. Judith has died by this point as well, and there is also a grave Charles Etienne St. Valery Bon, Charles’ son with his French-Negro wife/mistress (new word, “wifestress”). After her father’s death, Judith contacted the woman to come up and see Charles’ grave. The woman stayed at the house mourning for several days, in which time Clytie took care of the child. A year later, when the mother disappeared (it’s never stated whether she died or simply abandoned the child) Clytie went to New Orleans to recover the boy, and she and Judith raised him. Clytie kept him from socializing with anyone in the town, and the rumors about who he was flew. General Compson at first assumed that Sutpen had had a son with Clytie, his own daughter.

After getting into a violent fight, young Charles was arrested, and Judith brought General Compson to get him out of trouble. Compson then gave the boy money and sent him away. Charles returned a year later with black wife, who gave birth to a son, Jim Bond, who was a “big, saddle-colored idiot”.

Quentin imagines a scene between Judith and young Charles, where she tells him he should leave town, that they’ll say he’s Henry’s son (so that he can deny is negro blood) and that she’ll raise the child herself. Quentin’s imagined scene ends with Judith telling Charles to call her “Aunt Judith.”

Charles defiantly stays, and two years later catches yellow fever. Judith devotes herself to nursing him back to health, and they both eventually die of the illness. Clytie stays on at Sutpen’s Hundred to raise Jim Bond herself.

We get another bit of a tease at the end of the chapter, with Shreve recounting Quentin’s visit to Sutpen’s Hundred with Miss Rosa, how Miss Rosa, though she hasn’t been there in over 40 years, knows that something’s different, that something is hiding there. When they went there, they found Jim Bond and Clytie, but Miss Rosa still knew someone else was there.

This section brings the story out of “town fable” and into reality for Quentin. Jim Bond is only a few years older than he is, and Quentin remembers, as a child, sneaking up to Sutpen’s mansion with his friends, daring each other to go into the house, and seeing Jim Bond. The story becomes less magical and mythic as it slides into the territory of Quentin’s actual memories.

The most interesting thing about this chapter is the relationship between Judith and young Charles. It’s hard to tell why she wanted to boy with her at Sutpen’s Hundred, why she wanted to raise him, and why she was so set on raising his son. There are two reasons. One being that she loved Charles Bon and wanted his son with her, since it would be the closest thing she’d have to having been married to him. The other is that she somehow discovered her true relationship to Bon.

Young Charles’ problem, other than being raised by two women who weren’t his mother, and being brought into a world where he didn’t even speak the language, is his issue with his race. While he was mostly white, the fact that there was any “negro” blood in him drove him to hate himself. He’d spend time in negro bars, but he’d end up getting into fights. He took a negro wife, but it seemed to be done more out of defiance than anything.

The Sutpen story has been brought up to the present time of the book. But there are still so many pieces to the puzzle.

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Absalom, Absalom! Pages 107-140

I’ve decided to do this in chapters instead of 50 page chunks because, unlike the other books I’ve read so far, the chapters are all distinctly about separate things, so it doesn’t flow as well to cut out in the middle of a chapter. And some days I just don’t have time to read 80 pages just so that I can finish both chapters.

Miss Rosa has finally picked Quentin up for their mysterious after-dark errand, so this section is narrated by her. We get yet another view of Henry’s slaying of Charles Bon. Since Miss Rosa was actually alive at the time, we can assume it’s more factual than Mr. Compson’s imaginings. But she wasn’t there during the actual murder, so tells it mostly from the point when she arrived.

Rosa arrives at the house after being summoned by Wash Jones – who lived with his granddaughter on Sutpen’s property – after Bon has already been killed and Henry has already fled. She’s met inside the house by Clytie, Sutpen’s eldest daughter, by a slave woman. Rosa dislikes Clytie intensely. She tells stories about how she would have to play alongside her with Judith and Henry – who both seemed to be completely aware that Clytie was their sister and had no problem with it. Rosa sees Sutpen completely in Clytie. Rosa tries to run up the stairs to the room where Judith is with Bon’s body, but Clytie stops her, grabbing her wrist and saying, “Don’t go up there, Rosa.” Rosa’s pretty pissed about the whole situation, not least of which a slave girl giving her orders, and an EPIC staredown ensues before Judith comes out and calls it off.

Rosa is disturbed by Judith’s calm. She merely says, “Yes, Rosa?” as if it’s any other day and tells Clytie to prepare more food for dinner.

Jones and another white man take a few hours to build a coffin and then the put Bon in it, and they and the three girls carry him out to be buried. Rosa never once sees Bon, alive or dead, and has a difficult time even comprehending the notion of him now that she’s carrying his body off to be buried.

Judith continues to show no emotion over the murder, even after Rosa moves into the house. The only indication she give that she even cares is when she goes out to clear off the grave.

Judith, Rosa, and Clytie then live together in the house, alone, working hard to keep the house resembling something Sutpen could come home to. Rosa remembers the time as being a blur, the there was never any joy nor particular friendship between the three women. They were just doing what they had to survive.

Sutpen finally returns. He greets Judith with his gruff form of affection (a kiss to the forehead) which she accepts stiffly. They have a quick four sentence exchange about Henry and Bon, and Judith finally bursts into tears. But as soon as they appear, they’re gone. Sutpen then greets Clytie. However, he doesn’t recognize Rosa. Judith has to remind him of who she is.

The four live together not too unlike the way the three women lived together before Sutpen’s return for several months. Then, one afternoon, while in the garden, Rosa looks up to see Sutpen looking at her, not with love, but as though he’s seeing her for the first time. He proposes later that night, in front of Judith and Clytie, and Rosa accepts.

Nothing happens for a long while, Rosa thinking that Sutpen wouldn’t even be sad if she left. Then he insults her honor with his request that she bear him a child before they marry. The insult leads her to quit the mansion and return to her home in town, where she has to depend on the food she steals from her neighbors to live.  She doesn’t think about Sutpen again until she’s told of his death.

At this point Quentin kind of zones out because he, predictably, is stuck on the idea of Henry and Judith, brother and sister. He imagines the scene of Henry rushing into Judith’s room, her still in her underthings, telling her she can’t marry Bon because he’s killed him. This ties into Quentin’s feelings in The Sound and the Fury, his desire to keep Caddy from marrying, his attempt to “save” and take her away where only he can have her by telling his father they’ve committed incest.

So, Quentin’s mind is wrapped up in that little thing, so he has to have Miss Rosa repeat the last thing she said. Which is that there’s something hiding at Sutpen’s Hundred.


With that last bit of info, the story enters a new phase. Until this point, we’ve felt that we’re hearing a story that has long since finished. But now we know that there’s more to it, more than the townspeople know by legend, and that we’re going to get to see how the story really ends.

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The Bundren Children of As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying, like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, is told from the POV of several different characters, all with a distincly different voice, as though we’re inside the narrator’s head. However, unlike The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying has a chronological plot, so the characters’ voices evolve and change as the story goes on. While we see the story through the eyes of many different characters, the five Bundren siblings are the most important characters in the book, each experience their own development as characters.

The oldest is Cash, who initially seems to be the coldest. He spends all his time early on in the book building Addie’s coffin, doing it right outside Addie’s window where she can see him. The other children think this is dark and cruel, but in reality it’s comforting to Cash, and he thinks that allowing her to watch him is comforting to Addie.

He doesn’t narrate much of the early sections of the book, and when he does his narration is completely preoccupied by the coffin, it’s mechanics, and what went into building it. But as the story goes on we can see, through others’ eyes, how heroic he is. He risks his life telling Darl to jump off of the wagon when they get swept up in the river, and he stays on to try to save Addie’s coffin. In the end, he ends up with a broken leg, slowly bleeding to death.

Since he narrates so little of the first half of the book, he emerges in the second half as the most rational narrator. He definitely seems to have the most sense of any of the Bundren children. The way he narrates, in the past tense, seems to show that he’s looking back on the happenings and telling the story in retrospect, as though he’s spent time really thinking about and considering the things that have happened.

While on the outside he may not have any obvious affection for his family, his inner monolgue does show that he loves them. He never really defends Anse’s actions to Peabody when the man goes off about Anse’s failings as a father, but he defends his intentions. And while he never says he disagrees with sending Darl to a mental institution, he defends his brother in his mind, considering that perhaps Darl is only considered to be insane because he doesn’t behave the way society expects him to. This line of thought also shows that while he may be uneducated, he’s actually quite intelligent.

Darl is the second born Bundren child. In the first half of the book, he’s the most reliable narrator. Not just because he’s so obsessed with everything fitting into some kind of logical order that his sections come out the most rational, but because he seems to have some sort of clairvoyant ability – he’s able to narrate Addie’s death even though he’s miles away at the time. He demonstrates this ability more than once, when he somehow knows that Dewey Dell has slept with one of the family’s farmhands, and when he somehow knows that Jewel is not Anse’s son.

His grief is dealt with through rationalization and logic. He tries to explain people and death in terms of “is” and “was”, believing that now that his mother is dead she no longer even exists. But he has a very difficult time reconciling this belief with the continued existance of his mother’s body, and his lingering grief. It’s because of this that he starts to lose his mind.

His dwindling sanity culminates in the burning of the Gillespie barn, where his mother’s body is being stored. While it’s obviously the act of an insane man, his reasons are understandable. He sees the things they’ve put Addie’s body through as degrading and he wants to put a stop to it, to end her suffering in a way. In doing this, he finally acknowledges that his mother still does exist. But instead of lifting a weight off of his shoulders, it only serves to push him further into madness.

His narratives soon become set much more in his mind and are more difficult to follow. His final breaking point is when his family has him committed. The people he loves, the one thing he had left to hang on to, has turned their backs on him. His final section, told while he’s being brought to the institution in Jackson, is somewhat similar to Quentin’s in The Sound and the Fury. It’s completely encased in the mind of a madman, and it doesn’t make much sense. He refers to himself in both the first and third person, trying to distance himself from his own mind.

Jewel is the third Bundren child, who is actually of illegitimate birth. This isn’t revealed until a ways into the book, but when you look back on Jewel’s behavior, even in the flashback that takes place before Addie even becomes ill, it seems that Jewel might know the truth, and that this is the reason for his closed off behavior and quick temper. This behavior is only magnified by Addie’s death.

He seems extremely cold and apathetic toward the situation early on in the book. Cora Tull notes that he doesn’t seem to care at all, especially since he doesn’t say a final goodbye to Addie before he leaves for his job in town with Darl. But in reality, Darl doesn’t allow him to say goodbye, thinking it would do everyone more harm than good. But in his own narrative, we can see how much he really cares for Addie, and he expresses a wish that he be alone with her during her final moments.

Jewel also isn’t really down with the idea of taking the body to Jefferson. He thinks it seems undignified. And while he accompanies the family, he refuses to ride in the wagon with them, instead following on his horse. But his love for his mother does shine through when he risks his life, not once, but twice, to rescue her body. When the wagon gets swept away in the river, he does everything possible to save the coffin. And when Darl sets fire to the barn, Jewel rushes to save the coffin, suffering severe burns on his back.

At times his love for his siblings shines through as well. Though he never gets emotional around them, he does return to them after Anse sells off his horse. He also braves the dangerous river to retrieve Cash’s precious tools. He shows a bit of regard for Dewey Dell as well, telling her to get out of the river when she rushes up to see what’s happening. He knows the river’s currents aren’t safe and he doesn’t want her to get hurt.

He sure does seem to hate Darl, though.

Dewey Dell is the fourth Bundren child, a seventeen year old girl struggling to become a woman, and trying to cope with the fact that she’s going to be a mother, despite the sudden absense of her own mother. Judging from her observation of her “lady trouble” late in the book, she’s probably about two and half to three month pregnant, after sleeping with a farmhand who works with the family.

While she does grieve her mother, it’s mostly in the capacity that this was the only woman in her life, and now she’s left to deal with this problem on her own. The thought of becoming a mother is completely terrifying to her, and it occupies her thoughts and her narrative more than anything else.

While Faulkner was kind of big on the idea of incest, whether physical or emotional, wreaking havoc on a growing woman’s sense of sexuality, there’s not really anything that disturbing going on in the Bundren home. Nevertheless, being raised in a house full of emotionally stunted men and an emotionally absent mother has caused Dewey Dell to grow up with a fractured sense of sexuality and womanhood. The men have stifled her womanhood, and her mother has left her completely confused about how to be a woman.

Despite the fact that she’s terrified of becoming a mother, she shows a motherly instinct that comes about by the deep love she has for her brothers. Early on in the book, instead of sitting down to eat as her father insists she does, she runs out to search for a distraught Vardaman. While they’re on the road, she spends much of her time caring for an injured Cash. The way she cleans the vomit off of his face with the hem of her skirts screams of something a mother would do, and it’s only she that understand his words when he’s asking about his tools. She also shows an almost hysterical concern for Jewel both of the times he risks his life, shouting after him. She even has to be restrained from going after him when he runs back into the burning barn for the coffin.

The only sibling she doesn’t seem to have much emotional regard for is Darl, despite the fact that Cash later says he thinks that Darl is her favorite. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only one who knows her secret and that, despite the fact that she has asked him not to tell anybody, he has failed to actually do anything about her problem as a respectable and caring big brother would.

By the end of the book, she seems resigned to her fate. She sleeps with the man at the pharmacy despite the fact that she doesn’t believe his “treatments” are real, and when she leaves she merely says, “It won’t work”. She’s recognized that there’s nothing she can do.

Vardaman is the baby of the family, still a child, and unable to truly grasp what has happened. Darl’s philosophy of “is” and “was” leaves him so confused that he concludes his “mother is a fish”. Before Addie’s death, he catches a fish and then is ordered by Anse to clean and get it, leaving a gruesome mess behind in the kitchen. The only real connection Vardaman has had to death is the fish, and so that is what he associates his mother with.

His lack of understanding is shown yet again when he takes Cash’s tools to cut holes in the the top of the coffin, unable to think of Addie nailed into a wooden box. In doing so, he digs so deep that he puts holes in his mother’s face, mirroring the bloody aftermath of the fish.

Slowly, Vardaman starts to understand death. He begins to realize that just because his mother is dead, that doesn’t mean she’s gone. But just as he’s beginning to understand this, Darl loses his mind and is committed, and the young boy is faced with another event that he can’t wrap his mind around. He can’t reconcile the now-insane Darl with the brother he knew. His final section is completely preoccupied with the thought of “Darl is my brother”.

By the end of the book, none of the Bundren children’s physical problems are resolved, and while they’ve all taken emotional journeys, it’s pretty hard to say that their emotional problems are resolved.

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