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As I Lay Dying Character Analysis

Character Analysis

Addie Bundren:  Addie is the wife of Anse, and the mother of the Bundren family. Her children are Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell and Vardaman. Addie, while the protagonist of the novel, is largely absent. Her death spurns the action of the novel. She is a retired schoolteacher, whose sad and loveless life has caused her to hate her husband and focus all of her attention on her favorite child, Jewel.

Anse Bundren: Anse is the head of the Bundren family. He is an impoverished farmer, with a hunchback and overwhelmingly selfish instincts. His inability to properly raise his children seems to be somewhat to blame for the various predicaments his children often find themselves in. He is hated and not respected by his children. Throughout the novel, his only two goals appear to be buying new false teeth and burying his wife.

Darl Bundren: The second of the Bundren clan, he is the most sensitive and delivers the greatest number of monologues throughout the novel. As the family continues to experience disaster, Darl’s frustrations continue to build up until he eventually tries to bring things to an end by burning his mother’s coffin by setting ablaze the barn where the coffin is placed.

One of Darl’s most well known monologues includes:

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”

Jewel Bundren: Jewel is the son of Addie and Whitfield. Jewel is seen as the most mysterious character in the novel, he is proud, independent, and selfish. He is also deeply loyal to his mother and goes above and beyond trying to safeguard her coffin.

Cash Bundren:  Cash is the eldest of the children, he is also a talented carpenter. Cash is anything but selfish, he never complains about his broken leg, even when the injury progresses so far that it become obvious that he may never walk again. Cash is one of the few stable characters in the novel.

Dewey Dell Bundren: Dewey Dell is the only daughter, she is also seventeen and pregnant. She is increasingly desperate and anxious to end her pregnancy.

Vardaman Bundren: The youngest of the Bundren clan, he has a lively imagination and feels guilt over his mother’s death. Vardaman is thoughtful and innocent.

Vernon Tull: Vernon and his wife are the neighbors of the Bundren family. The family is often unappreciative of the help he provides to them. He hires Darl, Jewel and Cash for odd jobs and eventually helps the family to cross the river.

Cora Tull: Cora supports Addie in her final hours. She is a deeply religious woman and virtuous  to a fault. Cora is a frequent critic of Addie’s behaviour.

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