As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Cash is Addie’s oldest child and narrates sections 18, 22, 38, 53, and 59.
Cash is the novel’s logical thinker, as evidenced in his narrative sections. He gives us lists, not paragraphs. He cites reasons instead of delving into the messy waters of emotion. He’s a type-A perfectionist – notice how he holds each board to the coffin up to the window for his mother to approve. This might seem a little tactless –and indeed it is from more than one perspective in the novel – but Cash clearly doesn’t intend it this way. Remember that each son shows his love for Addie in his own way, and in a way that is inevitably misunderstood as apathy by those around him. For Cash, creating the perfect coffin is his final gift to his mother. In his mind, it’s only logical that her final resting place be as clean and orderly as possible.
Of course, this is As I Lay Dying, land of the tragic farce. Addie goes in upside down, the coffin won’t balance on the wagon, and Vardaman drills holes into his mother’s face. Through all this, no one listens to the very logical Cash. (Check out Section 38, which he narrates, or let us paraphrase for you: "I told you so!")
Despite being completely ignored and unappreciated, Cash turns out to be quite the stand-up guy – especially compared to his brother Darl. Remember that story about Jewel and his horse? Darl resented his younger brother for having something of his own and for getting Addie to cover up for his absence. Cash, on the other hand, kept his brother’s secret and harbored no jealousy. On the journey, Cash silently bears the pain of his broken leg while Darl taunts Jewel about his paternity and the buzzards circling above their dead mother. Cash takes over where Darl falls short in more ways than one. In regards to principle and character, yes, but also in terms of function in this novel: as the narrator. Read all about this in "Point of View," where we also discuss Cash’s big "crazy is a relative term" revelation.
Oh, and one more thing: Cash is sort of the Jesus guy here. Generally, being the Jesus guy means giving up stuff you want or sacrificing yourself for others. Cash sacrifices the use of his leg to the journey to bury Addie and loses out on the graphophone he always wanted. He’s also a carpenter, which is actually your big Jesus figure tip-off. (Jesus was a carpenter.) But what’s the point? Remember in "Genre" when we talked about As I Lay Dying as an ironic inversion of the classic quest? And how there is no divine justice or worthy purpose to the Bundrens’ journey? Good – apply that to Cash’s role as a Jesus figure. His sacrifice is all for naught. He loses a leg, but for what? To bury his mother? Not really. To get his father some new teeth is more accurate. When he finally hears a graphophone playing, it’s coming from the house of the woman his father takes as a wife (and with whom he tarnishes Addie’s memory). And remember that he broke his leg the first time while mending the roof of a church – more ironic inversion of justice. Or, in the words we all remember from childhood: "It’s not faiiiirrrrrrr!!!"