Study Guide

Darl Bundren in As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

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Darl Bundren

Darl is Addie’s second child and narrates sections 1, 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 21, 23, 25, 27, 32, 34, 37, 42, 46, 48, 50, 52, 57. He is probably in his late twenties.

Darl’s Relationship to Jewel

…is messy, we know. The very first paragraph of the novel starts with the two boys walking toward the house together. Darl makes a point of describing the fifteen feet between them and the different ways they walk, as well as the disparity in height. Later in the novel, he again points out that Jewel is 300 yards away. These physical distances and differences set the stage for the more relevant differences in character between these two. Articulate and cerebral, Darl is a far cry from the stoic and brooding man of action that is Jewel.

He also resents his younger brother, and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that Addie loves Jewel most of all (read her post-mortem confessional in Section 40 for all the proof you need). This really hits home when you consider that Jewel doesn’t outwardly show his affection, and Darl does. From one perspective, Cora’s for example, Darl deserves his mother’s love and unfairly doesn’t get it.

So Darl lashes out, mostly by taunting Jewel in what, from yet another perspective, seems incredibly cruel. He repeats over and over that their mother has died. He continually points out the buzzards that fly overhead. And he essentially tells Jewel that he is not a real member of the family by calling his paternity into question to his face. At the beginning of the novel, when he takes Jewel away on that three-dollar trip for Tull, he does so intentionally to ensure that Jewel is not around for Addie’s death.

Is Darl Crazy?

Take all of these malicious actions and add in the fact that Darl burns down an entire barn, is carted off to a mental institution, and rambles on about himself in the third person, and you’ve got a solid case that the guy is insane. Unfortunately, in As I Lay Dying, nothing is this clear cut. As you’ll read more about in "Point of View," there is no such thing as "sane" and "crazy" – it all depends on who’s looking.

Take the barn-burning, for example. From one point of view, Darl is a psycho, lashing out in destructive ways. From another, he is trying to end this fruitless quest to Jefferson and put his mother’s body to rest in an easy, natural way. Notice that Darl cries after Jewel saves the coffin? It’s likely that Darl’s actions are driven not by mental incapacity, but by powers of perception which exceed those of the rest of his family. If Darl realizes that the journey is a farce and that his father’s motives aren’t as noble as he pretends, then burning the body ASAP (or letting it wash down the river) are fairly logical attempts. It’s probably also his attempt at burning away everything his family has built up on the course of this journey – think of it as cleaning out your desk drawers or going through your closet and throwing out those tie-dyes you’ve been keeping since the mid-eighties; it’s a purging act. Cash picks up on this when he says that Darl was trying to burn up the value of Jewel’s horse. Darl is cleansing away all that emotional garbage in one big bang.

Unfortunately, not all the characters share Cash and Darl’s powers of perception. What seems justified to Darl ends up looking like madness to everyone else. Darl’s ability to really see things sets him way apart from the others, and this barn-burning isn’t the first time. Darl somehow knows "without words" that Dewey Dell is pregnant. He is aware that Jewel is not Anse’s son. More than one character remarks on his eyes with a sense of trepidation (see "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" for more). This is a scary talent to have, and it probably has something to do with the weird narrative technique of As I Lay Dying and the unique role Darl plays in this structure.

Darl as the Narrator

Is Darl the unofficial narrator of As I Lay Dying? That would certainly explain why he knows everything – narrators are traditionally by nature omniscient regarding the stories they tell. It would also explain how he’s able to narrate scenes for which he is not present, like Addie’s death. As the novel progresses, and he seems to get "crazier," he also gets more narrator-like. Think about the very last section Darl narrates: it’s in the third person. Crazy, maybe, but also par for the narrator course.

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