Study Guide

Jewel Bundren in As I Lay Dying

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Jewel Bundren

Jewel is Addie’s third child and narrates Section 4. His biological father is the Reverend Whitfield.

If you look at the amount of times Jewel narrates in this novel, you might think that he were a minor character just passing by the Bundrens’ lives. And this would be an interesting note to make because, biologically, Jewel is not part of the Bundren household. Darl reminds us of as much by repeatedly describing him as pale, wooden, rigid, solid – words that both characterize and separate Jewel, physically, from the others. Rough around the edges and relating more to horses than people, he doesn’t quite seem the same as others – like Darl, say. A man of few words, and fewer nice words, Jewel is a foreigner amongst family. And he knows it. Jewel’s actions further isolate him from his siblings and father. After he stays up working nights to earn a horse, he becomes the only Bundren child to have a possession of his own. Notice how adamant he is that his horse will never eat any of Anse’s hay. He doesn’t want to be beholden to his "father." He doesn’t want to be a part of this "family."

So of course it’s no surprise that Jewel takes off with his horse after Anse tells him he’s traded it for a mule. This is the perfect time for Jewel to get out of town and away from the Bundrens. So why, oh why, does he ever come back, especially since it means giving up the horse for which he worked so hard?

The short answer is: Addie. It’s hard to see it, but Jewel fiercely loves his mother. Remember, Jewel may not feel a part of the Bundren family, but he’s still Addie’s son. In fact, he probably feels closer to her because he can’t feel close to the rest of the family. We really get to see Jewel’s love for his mother during the one section he does narrate. His feelings are unique in that he wants to be alone with her for her death –he doesn’t want to share her with anyone else, and particularly not his siblings, who he feels are disrespecting her. Notice that Darl describes the sound of Cash’s adze as "Chuck," while Jewel hears "One lick less." He imagines that every swing of the adze means that the distance to Addie’s death is made one lick less; he is chipping away her life. In this way, we, perhaps for the first time, get the feeling that someone actually cares about Addie, that her life is consequential. Throughout the novel, Jewel continues to prove his love for his mother, first in the river and second in the barn, both times by saving the coffin. Remember Addie predicting that Jewel was her salvation, that he would save her from water and fire? We’ll deal with that more in her character analysis.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about horses. Jewel is repeatedly characterized by his affinity for these creatures. And, because it’s Jewel, we’re talking tough love. He’s rough with the horses, but that’s what tames them. His abilities set him apart from the others in the novel, establishing Jewel as a loner – as if we didn’t know that already. Interestingly, Jewel’s love for horses isn’t that different from the way he feels about his mother. The emotion is an incommunicable one and ill-understood by those around him. This is yet another case of perspective. From Cora’s point of view, Jewel is selfish and uncaring. From Darl’s, he is unfairly the object of their mother’s love. Peabody feels as though Jewel treats his mother as nothing but a pack-horse – the irony, of course, is that Jewel intensely loves both beings. Look at this description of Jewel saving Addie’s coffin from the fire: "This time Jewel is riding upon [the coffin], clinging to it, until it crashes down and flings him forward and clear" (50.16). Sounds like a horse, right?

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