As I Lay Dying Major Characters
Addie Bundren: Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the Bundren family dies at the beginning of the novel, sparking the journey to Jefferson. She wishes to be buried with her family in the city and therefore causes the week and a half journey to Jefferson. She is an unhappy woman during her life, who believes that living her life is repentance enough for her sins. She bears four children from Anse (Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman), and one from her extra-marital affair with Whitfield (Jewel). Her corpse is carried throughout the counties, surviving fires, floods, and a horrific emission of odor, until she is laid to rest in the final destination of her wishes.
Anse Bundren: Anse Bundren, the patriarch of the Bundren family, is a poor, low class farmer, who simply wants to honor his wife's last wish and get himself a new set of teeth. He has been toothless for fifteen years and cannot eat like a normal human being. He is careless and does not think before he acts. He forces the family onward to Jefferson, through flooding and outlandish circumstances, sending Darl away upon discovery of the fire's source, trading Jewel's horse for the team of mules, and stealing Dewey Dell's ten dollars from Lafe. He returns from town at the conclusion of the novel with a new set of teeth, a gramophone, and a new wife.
Cash : Cash is the oldest son and a passive, kind person. A master carpenter, he consistently works on Addie's coffin throughout the first portion of the novel. As the family journeys closer to Jefferson, his leg breaks and he becomes ill. The family pours cement over it in order to set it, causing him permanent injury and the eventual loss of the leg. He never complains and always does as he is told, in order to cause as little conflict as possible.
Dewey Dell: Dewey Dell is the only daughter of Addie and Anse Bundren and has a penchant for seduction and flirtation. She is impregnated by Lafe and wants to go to Jefferson to get an abortion in addition to burying her mother. Each time she enters a pharmacy, her penetrating gaze strikes the men working.
Jewel : Jewel is the illegitimate son of Addie by the priest Whitfield. A strong man, he is usually treated as part of the family. He and Darl live in competition and conflict, despite their companionship in the work field. Cash and Darl discover one night that Jewel has been working during the middle of the nights clearing a field so that he may earn enough money to buy his own horse. Anse trades Jewel's beloved horse for a team of mules to take the family to Jefferson. Jewel loves his mother dearly and follows the family on his horse throughout most of the journey. He rescues Addie's coffin and other barnyard animals from the fire in Gillespie's barn.
Vardaman: Vardaman is the youngest child and son of Anse and Addie Bundren. Addie gave birth to him, in a sense, to make up for the affair which created Jewel. He is simpleminded and has difficulty dealing with and understanding his mother's death. After she dies, he must cut up fish for dinner, consequently conditioning his mind to relate fish to his mother. For the duration of the novel, he believes his mother to be a fish. He observes Darl setting fire to the Gillespie's barn and tells only Dewey Dell. He feels sorry for his brother Darl when he is sent to Jackson, but knows that Darl is in a better place for his type of life.
Darl: Darl is the somewhat crazy son of Anse and Addie Bundren, who is constantly in competition and conflict with Jewel. They work together and fight together. Darl speaks the most monologues in the novel and eventually goes insane. After setting fire to the Gillespie's barn, Anse pounces him in the town streets and sends him on a train to Jackson. Cora believes him to be the honorable and blessed son of Addie, instead of Jewel. He is typically unemotional at her death and has difficulty accepting his family's fate.
Peabody: Peabody is the doctor closest in proximity to the Bundrens, and consequently helps during Addie's death. He is an older, overweight man who must be pulled up the mountain to the Bundrens in order to see them. He looks at Cash's leg in Jefferson and cannot believe that his family has treated him with such carelessness. He believes Anse to be a horribly unfit parent and person and tells Cash that he will no longer be able to use his leg.
Vernon Tull: Vernon Tull, simply called 'Tull' throughout most of the narrative, is a neighboring wealthier farmer to the Bundrens. They are not struggling, yet are not excessively prosperous either. Tull is constantly trying to help the Bundrens and visits them during Addie's time of illness, death, and mourning. He tries to help them in the journey and lends his mules to their cause.
Cora Tull: Cora is Vernon's wife and a devout Christian. She is constantly praying and singing to the Lord, asking for forgiveness both for her and for Addie. She does not understand Addie's belief system and wants to help her confess her sins. She cooks several cakes that are unable to be sold in town, and are therefore transferred to the hands of Dewey Dell.
Samson: Samson is a farmer who offers his barn to the Bundrens for the first night of their funeral pilgrimage. He argues with his wife, Rachel, over allowing them to stay. He ponders the complexities of womanhood and furthermore, ponders the Bundrens' choice of route to Jefferson. He is close to the town of New Hope and understands that the river must die down before the Bundrens can continue on their journey.
Quick: Quick is a local farmer who is friends with Samson. He attends Addie's funeral and informs everyone that Tull's bridge is down. Jewel buys his beloved horse from Quick, after cleaning his field during the midnight hours.
MacCallum: MacCallum is a local farmer who helps the Bundrens on their journey, as well. He travels through Mount Vernon - a much easier route - causing Samson to question the Bundren's choice of direction to Jefferson.
Gillespie: Mr. Gillespie is a hospitable farmer who puts the Bundrens up for a short time. He is shocked to see such a spectacle of a family carrying a dead corpse, and is even more stunned when he sees Cash's leg engulfed in cement without first having been greased. Darl sets fire to Gillespie's barn in the middle of the night, causing his imminent departure from the family and commitment to a mental institution.
Whitfield: Whitfield is the local priest with whom Addie has an affair years earlier. Jewel is the product of their relationship. When Whitfield learns of Addie's illness, he rushes to see Anse, so that he may be forgiven before she dies. He is too late, consequently asking the Lord for forgiveness and blessing Tull's house.
Armstid: Armstid is a kindly farmer who offers his hospitality to the Bundrens for the second and third evenings of their journey. He helps the sick Cash and offers his mules to them for their trip. They do not want to accept. Anse makes his deal with Snopes while the family stays at his house.
MacGowen: MacGowan is the young worker in the pharmacy of Jefferson who flirts with Dewey Dell and helps her with her possible abortion. He tells her that he is a doctor and gives her turpentine in order to seduce her in the basement.