Ashley Persaud
Addie’s coffin

As I Lay Dying by Faulkner is a novel focused on the Bundren family. Addie, the matriarch of the family dies. Her request was to be buried with her family Jefferson, which is a city-like town. Now the immobile Bundren family must gather in a wagon and travel to Jefferson with Addie in a coffin to have her buried. Addie’s death and coffin serves as a symbol for many things throughout this novel.
Anse is a lazy man. He is the laziest character in the entire novel and an essential characteristic to this story. “…because the Lord put road for travelling: why He laid them down flat on the earth. When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man…He aimed for them to stay put like a tree or a stand of corn. Because if He’d a aimed for a man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn’t He put him longways on his belly, like a snake (p.36)?” This is essential to note about Anse because now he is forced to move. Addie died and made the request to be buried by her family in Jefferson and now Anse is forced to become mobile. “And when Darl was born I asked Anse to promise to take me back to Jefferson when I died… (p.173)” Here Addie’s death symbolizes revenge against Anse, she is forcing an immobile man to move. “Her revenge – the direct cause of the funeral journey that brings so much pain and suffering to the family and is the primary subject of the novel – is to make Anse promise… (Rueckert, William)”
From the very beginning the coffin plays a silent but vital role. We begin the novel with Cash building Addie’s coffin right outside the window at which she lies dying. At a first glance, it is easy to dismiss this as Cash’s lack of intellectuality or his insensitivity. However, Cash being the eldest is showing his dedication to his mother. We first hear of the coffin from Darl and his poetic description of Cash working; “Standing in a litter of chips, he is fitting two of the boards together. Between the shadow spaces they are yellow as gold, like soft gold, bearing on their flanks in smooth undulation the marks of the adze blade: a good carpenter, Cash is…Addie Bundren could not want a better one, a better box to lie in. It will give her confidence and comfort (p.5).” Her coffin will be something he created and with his best efforts. The claim made by Darl that this coffin will bring Addie comfort holds truth. When Addie first describes Cash she claims to now know love. “…that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear. Cash did not need to say it to me nor I to him… (p.172)” Cash does not need to express his grief or affection to his mother because love is just a word. Addie and Cash share this understanding and this is where she finds her comfort. “When she discovers she is pregnant with Darl, she thinks that she will kill Anse because he was tricked her and because he, by way of Darl, will be responsible for intruding upon the perfect relationship she has with Cash, her first experience of love and her fulfillment of herself in motherhood. Addie says that she and Cash know what love is and do not need a word for it (Rueckert, William).”
The coffin is also an ironic burden for the Bundrens. Along the way many things occur which makes the trip to Jefferson difficult. The storm comes in and destroys the bridges needed to get to town. The coffin falls into the river and needs to be saved. Jewel is forced to sell his horse and Cash breaks his leg to list a few. However, with the exception of Cash and Jewel the other characters all have an agenda for wanting to go to town. Without the ‘burden’ of the coffin, they would have no reason to make the journey. “Addie Bundren is full of death and drives her family on toward ruin and destruction even as she lies “dying” and rotting in her coffin and should be done with the living, should have relinquished her hold on the family so they could get on with their lives without her (Rueckert, William).” However, they can’t because Anse wants his new teeth, Dewey Dell needs an abortion, and Vardaman wants a new train or bananas. Darl’s character is quite ambiguous but throughout the trip he either wishes to destroy the coffin or doesn’t choose to help save it. Cash and Jewel’s motives too, are ambiguous but we can assume it is because they “belong” to Addie. They are bound to Addie, her death and her coffin in order to fulfill each of their characters.
Addie is married to Anse. She gives birth to Cash who belongs to her because they understand love. Then she has Darl, who ultimately causes Addie to declare Anse dead to her. She has an affair with Whitfield who shows her passion and gives her Jewel, who also belongs to her because Jewel represents real living. Because she has sinned, Addie was forced to give Anse Dewey Dell to negate Jewel and Vardaman to “replace the child” she had “robbed him of.” An extremely complicated character alive and yet still more interesting in death. Addie’s death, in order to serve as revenge, has only harmed her children being Anse gets his new teeth and a new wife as well. Her coffin, though a burden served as a manifestation of herself, Cash showing his love without words and Jewel saving her from the water. As I Lay Dying by Faulkner addresses with Addie’s coffin the influence one person can have long after they are gone.


Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Rueckert, William H. Faulkner from Within: Destructive and Generative Being in the Novels of William Faulkner. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor, 2004. Print.