The first few chapters of As I Lay Dying explore many different perspectives, but all are focused around the same thing: Addie is dying. From Jewel and Darl debating their three-dollar journey, to the dull thudding of Cash’s axe, to Cara and her cakes, all thoughts are filtered through this lens.
Unfortunately, this journey is a bit more involved than hopping on the freeway. Given the Bundren’s level of poverty, traveling at all means relying on the generosity of others, and we all know how much that bothers Anse.
OK, that’s a bit of an understatement. We’re not talking a light drizzle here. Lots of rain means flooding, and flooding means no easy bridge access. The whole episode of crossing the river is The Big Complication on the Bundrens’ journey to Jefferson.
If we had a nickel for every novel that hit its climax with a mass conflagration… Anyway, you get the picture: raging fire, Jewel dashing into the flames, the near cremation of our main dead girl.
These are the questions which plague the reader in the suspense portion of the novel. It’s not exactly clear whether Darl set the barn fire, even if we suspect as much. It’s hard to tell much of anything from the child-like ramblings that are Vardaman’s narrations, so when he reveals that he saw something it’s completely unclear what that might be. In fact, at first it seems like he’s just talking about his sister’s secret baby, until he ups the stakes by revealing that it has nothing to do with her. Speaking of babies, we worry that Dewey Dell won’t be able to get her abortion. Oh, the suspense.
We know for sure that Darl set fire to the barn, but Cash raises a far more interesting question: what does it mean to be crazy? And can we really dismiss Darl as a psycho for the crime we now know he committed? Meanwhile, we know that Dewey Dell hasn’t been able to get her abortion and that Pa took her money, but does this mean she’s stuck with the baby? Hard to say, since the novel ends before we can be sure.
Basically, everyone got screwed, no one got what they wanted, and life is more full of suffering than ever. Except for Anse, who finally got his teeth at the expense of all of his children’s dreams.