As I Lay Dying Plot Summary
In a rural farming town in Yoknawpatapha County, the Bundren family prepares for the death if its matriarch, Addie Bundren. An ex-schoolteacher and mother of five children, Addie becomes ill and requests that she be buried with her family in the town of Jefferson. She had four children with her husband Anse, Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, and one son - Jewel - from her extra-marital affair with a local priest named Whitfield. A master carpenter, Cash persistently works on her coffin, as neighboring farmers Vernon and Cora Tull offer their help and sympathy. Feuding sons Darl and Jewel depart on a lumber job as their mother lay dying, in order to make three dollars in wages. While they are absent, Addie closes her eyes and takes her final breath.
When the boys return, Anse prepares the family for the journey to Jefferson. They place Addie in the homemade coffin and then inside the rickety wagon. It has been raining heavily, causing the land to be troublesome for traveling. When they reach their first destination, they discover that the bridge has been washed away. Tull has followed them to the bridge wanting to help, while his wife Cora prays for their souls. Convinced that they must persist, they travel across the river without Tull's mule. He eventually gives it to them. However, as they attempt to cross the ford, a loose log disturbs the wagon, injuring Cash's healing leg, almost losing the coffin in the water, and killing the mules.
Anse mortgages his farming tools and trades Jewel's horse for a new team of mules, so that the family can move forward. Enraged by Anse's chicanery, Jewel vanishes from the farm in which they are staying. As the Bundrens pass through Mottson, they pour concrete around Cash's leg in a futile attempt to set and heal it, and Dewey Dell tries to get an abortion from a local pharmacist, with no luck. When the evening comes, they stay at the Gillespie barn. Vardaman becomes fascinated with the buzzards surrounding his mother's coffin and Jewel returns to bicker with Darl. One night, Vardaman sees Darl set fire to the barn, causing its imminent destruction. Jewel dashes into the barn to save his mother's coffin and several farm animals and burns his back while doing so.
The family sets out the next day for Jefferson and arrives prepared to bury Addie. A local pharmacy worker seduces Dewey Dell as she attempts to get an abortion, while Peabody tends to Cash's now-destroyed leg. The family discovers that Darl is the man responsible for setting fire to the Gillespie barn and realizes that Gillespie plans to sue them. Instead of sending him to jail, Anse arranges for Darl to be committed to a mental asylum. Darl laughs hysterically on the train to Jackson, his new home.
Anse visits a local house to borrow spades to bury his dead wife, and consequently spends time with another woman. After they bury Addie, Anse returns the spades and does not come back to the wagon until the following morning. When he returns, he is clean-shaven, has a mouthful of new teeth, a gramophone, and a new wife.