Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Duty

By William Faulkner

Duty

"She ought to taken them," Kate says. "But those rich town ladies can change their minds. Poor folks cant" (2.4).

Rich people are free of the sense of responsibility which so plagues the Bundrens.

Then they are rigid, motionless, terrific, the horse back-thrust on stiffened, quivering legs, with lowered head; Jewel with dug heels, shutting off the horse’s wind with one hand, with the other patting the horse’s neck in short strokes myriad and caressing, cursing the horse with obscene ferocity.

They stand in rigid terrific hiatus, the horse trembling and groaning. Then Jewel is on the horse’s back. He flows upward in a stooping swirl like the lash of a whip, his body in mid-air shaped to the horse. For another moment the horse stands spraddled, with lowered head, before it bursts into motion. (3.8-9)

Jewel’s steady patience and persistence explain his affinity for horses.

Sawing and knocking, and keeping the air always moving so fast on her face that when you’re tired you can’t breathe it, and that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less. One lick less until everybody that passes in the road will have to stop and see it and say what a fine carpenter he is. (4.2)

Jewel resents Cash’s actions because he doesn’t understand him. He mistakenly believes that his brother is reveling in his abilities.

I made it on the bevel.

1. There is more surface for the nails to grip.
2. There is twice the gripping-surface to each seam. (18.1-3)

From Cash’s perspective, we see that his obsession with the coffin is really a reflection of his love for his mother.

She laid there three days in that box, waiting for Darl and Jewel to come clean back home and get a new wheel and go back to where the wagon was in the ditch. Take my team, Anse, I said.

We’ll wait for ourn, he said. She’ll want it so. She was ever a particular woman.

On the third day they got back and they loaded her into the wagon and started and it already too late. You’ll have to go all the way round by Samson’s bridge. It’ll take you a day to get there. Then you’ll be forty miles from Jefferson. Take my team, Anse.

We’ll wait for ourn. She’ll want it so.
(20.72-5)

Anse insists he’s doing his duty as Addie’s husband, but it’s clear that such perseverance is impractical.

Ma wanted to get the doctor, but pa didn’t want to spend the money without it was needful, and Jewel did seem all right except for his thinness and his way of dropping off to sleep at any moment. (32.17)

Jewel’s perseverance in obtaining his horse defines his character.

It wasn’t on a balance. I told them that if they wanted it to tote and ride on a balance, they would have to – (38.1)

Cash repeats the same line we heard earlier in Chapter 22. His blind insistence mirrors that of his father’s.

"But I reckon I can talk him around," he says. "A man’ll always help a fellow in a tight, if he’s got ere a drop of Christian blood in him." (43.4)

The Bundren’s persistent faith in God is mocked by the tragedy which befalls them.

It wasn’t nothing else to do. It was either send him to Jackson, or have Gillespie sue us, because he knows some way that Darl set fire to it. I don’t know how he knowed, but he did. (53.1)

Anse does his duty as a citizen by sending Darl to the mental institution, but he betrays his duty to his family in doing so.