Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Mortality

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"She’s a-going," he says. "Her mind is set on it." It’s a hard life on women, for a fact. Some women. I mind my mammy lived to be seventy or more. Worked every day, rain or shine; never a sick day since her last chap was born until one day she kind of looked around her and then she went and taken that lace-trimmed night-gown she had had forty-five years and never wore out of the chest and put it on and laid down on the bed and pulled the covers up and shut her eyes. "You all will have to look out for pa the best you can," she said. "I’m tired." (8.9)

This hints at the way we ought to interpret Addie’s death – as a respite after a long, difficult life. When we finally get to hear Addie’s thoughts on the matter, she confirms this interpretation.

And the next morning they found him in his shirt-tail laying asleep on the floor like a felled steer, and the top of the box bored clean full of holes and Cash’s new auger broke off in the last one. When they taken the lid off her they found that two of them had bored on into her face. (16.28)

Vardaman drilled these holes in the coffin because he thought his mother needed air to breathe. This is another example of the dark irony which pervades As I Lay Dying.

"Who’s talking about him?" she says. "Who cares about him?" she says, crying. "I just wish that you and him and all the men in the world that torture us alive and flout us dead, dragging us up and down the country – " (29.48)

Rachel Samson makes Addie and her death into a symbol for the way women are treated.

I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I had time to wish I had. It is because in the wild and outraged earth too soon too soon too soon. It’s not that I wouldn’t and will not it’s that it is too soon too soon too soon. (30.2)

Dewey Dell realizes that she will soon be a mother herself. In this sense, her own mother died "too soon" – before Dewey Dell could properly take her place.

I could remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time. (40.2)

We get more than one hint that Addie is actually the best off of all the Bundren family members. Life isn’t exactly fun, so death is actually the greatest deal around.

We see his shoulders strain as he up-ends the coffin and slides it single-handed from the saw-horses. It looms unbelievably tall, hiding him: I would not have believed that Addie Bundren would have needed that much room to lie comfortable in; for another instant it stands upright while the sparks rain on it in scattering bursts as though they engendered other sparks from the contact. […] This time Jewel is riding upon it, clinging to it. (50.16)

Look at the specific language used in this passage. The coffin almost becomes a being in itself, something alive… something Jewel can ride…like a horse. Hmmm!

But when we got it filled and covered and drove out the gate and turned into the lane where them fellows was waiting, when they come out and come on him and he jerked back, it was Dewey Dell that was on him before even Jewel could get at him (53.40).

Addie’s burial is not the momentous occasion it was previously made out to be. In fact, it’s not even covered in the narration. What do you make of that?

"God Amighty, why didn’t Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw? That would have cured it. Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured a whole family…" (54.7)

This is a bit of dark humor, but it’s not out of line in this novel. Death in many ways is the cure for the suffering life brings.

"It’s just a loan. God knows, I hate for my blooden children to reproach me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful I give them, without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky for you you died, Addie." (58.24)

Anse begins to realize what the reader has known all along: that death is the best deal around.

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