'As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundrun family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members- including Addie herself- the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos...'
The focus of this tribute is Jewel Bundrun, Addie's third child. Though no age is given, more than likely Jewel is in his late teens. Jewel has two older brothers, Cash a carpenter, and Darl, who is apparently omniscient- described as being able to see a person as if he were looking through their eyes instead of his own, his only sister, Dewey Dell, and his little brother Vardaman. His father, Anse, comes off as meek to the point of being pathetic- wanting handouts without outright asking for them. The family is poor, and working odd jobs as well as tending their own land. As Addie lay in her bed a breathe away from death, Cash works diligently on her coffin. This is how the macabre tale commences.
Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.
As Addie lay dying, Anse is already planning the trip to Jefferson, a significantly larger town, as he insists that her request was to be buried with her kinfolk there. In reality, most of the family has their own reasons for wanting to go into town:
Anse secretly longs to buy dentures.
Cash, although he is earnest and does not see his error, is intent on making his Mother the finest casket. He constantly frets over the state of the coffin, scouring and dirt from it with wet leaves. Most of his passages in the novel relate to the beveling of the coffin, and how the coffin is not balanced on the wagon.
Darl simply sees his Mother as dead, and existing outside of what is because she is now what is not.
Dewey Dell is pregnant, and the baby's father has given her enough money to pay for an abortion, which she can only get in town.
Vardamon, is too young to understand death. he feels that his mother has become a fish, so he drills holes in her coffin, subsequently drilling holes into her face, so that she can breath. When the coffin falls into the river, Vardamon believes that his fish mother has swam away.
Everyone believes that Darl is the most sincere child in his love for his Mother, and that Jewel only cares for himself, his horse, and making money. Jewel doesn't help others' assessment of him, as he has quite a temper. He is described as a head taller than the rest of the family which is why Addie named him Jewel, and as having eyes that look like pale wood set in his high-blooded face. When Jewel is angry, he goes straight into a barrage foul language and physical altercation, jaws clenched, with his 'high-blooded' face ranging from shades of brilliant red to cud-colored green.
And Jewel has every right to be angry. His first passage in the novel, he speaks of taking his Mother high on a hill and rolling boulders down at the faces of his neighbors and family, so that she could die in peace and dignity. His wish to be the only one with his Mother in her last days. Him with her, in the silence, none of the flouting. People who probably never came to visit before, are flooding inside their small house, as if her death were a spectacle, the incessant 'chuck chuck chuck' of Cash's adze right outside her window, watching Cash proudly hold up to display how her coffin was coming along, Dewey Dell fanning the air over her face so fast it's hard for her to breathe. Jewel cannot express his rage, as he cannot voice aloud that his Mother is dying. He will not say the words 'death' or 'coffin'. As if he is a recalcitrant child that believes if the words never said aloud, the event can be bypassed completely.
She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion
The relationship between Addie and Jewel is particularly intimate. Addie feels the rest of her children to be Anse's, but Jewel is only hers. In the past, Addie would go out of her way to cover for Jewel's misgivings and downright refusal to obey his father. Addie raised her children to be honest, and she knows when it pertains to Jewel, she is dishonest and it makes her cry. Jewel isn't even Anse's son. And when his mother cries, Jewel turns his face from her, so he will not see his mother's tears, not out of disgust for her, but more of shame directed towards himself. As she lay dying,the church going women beg her to repent, Addie tells them
He is my cross and he will be my salvation. He will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me.
Addie was referring to Jewel. Not God. Not Christ. The person she asks for in her final moments is Jewel, who Darl has taken off to Vernon purposely, so that she would never see Jewel again. Suffused in rage and despair, is it Jewel who single-handedly lifts and thrusts her coffin into the back of the wagon in a single fluid motion. When her coffin is lost in the rain-swollen river that Anse insisted they attempt to cross, it is Jewel who struggles and brings the coffin to shore. When Darl, in attempt to end the journey he sees as futile, set fire to Gillespie's barn within which is her coffin, it is Jewel who rushes inside and slides the coffin down to the ground, severely burning his back in the process. Jewel even sacrifices his beloved horse, paid for with his own hard earned money, to pay for a new team of mules to get Addie to Jefferson.
Girl flesh from woman born seems natural, the folding out of one from one. But what strange alchemy creates a gender change? What plan of nature? What sleight of hand lets out this rope that leads from woman to man? I think now I understand the fall from paradise, the loss of God. Little crying wombless thing, you've work to do before you lie once more inside. And she who is his mother she does not seem to mind the differentness..
-"Woman Into Man" by Susan Wallbank
The mother-son relationship is often viewed with reverence and disdain at the same time. Young boys and men who show too much of fondness towards their mothers are often considered weak or suffering from sort of unnatural Oedipean fixation with his mother. Having four brothers myself, as boys get older, they don't want pampering from their mother's, they want to maintain a certain distant -especially in front of society. But when mom asks for a favor, no matter how tedious, they begrudgingly comply. It seems no matter how old they are or how macho they want to appear, mother is mother- the same woman who rocked them to sleep, sat over them night when they were sick, with infinite patience- and she is not to be denied any request or favor.
With that said, Darl relates a story of his Mother, Jewel, and Jewel's horse. Every night Jewel would sneak out and not come in until sunrise. During the day he'd sleep in the middle of chores. So Addie began paying off Dewey Dell and Vardaman to do Jewel's work, so that Anse wouldn't find out. Darl remembers his mother's shame of having to deceive for Jewel's sake:
At times when I went in to go to bed she would be sitting in the dark by Jewel where he was asleep. And I knew she was hating herself for that deceit and hating Jewel because she had to love him so that she had to act the deceit..
When Jewel rides in one day on his new horse, and Anse questions how he managed to pay for the horse, it is revealed that the nights he snuck out, he was cleaning 40 acres of land for a neighbor and earned the money for the horse. Addie comes outside, begging Jewel to come in, but he refuses as he needs to make more money for supplies for his horse. At this, Addie's breaks down into tears:
"Jewel," ma said, looking at him. "I'll give-- I'll give-- give--" Then she began to cry. She cried hard, not hiding her face, standing there in her faded wrapper, looking at him and him on the horse, looking down at her, his face growing cold and a little sick looking, until he looked away quick and Cash came and touched her... She put her hands to her face then...pretty soon she straightened up and went on. She didn't look back.
This is the only instance in the book where Jewel's expression is described as 'sick looking'. He's ashamed, and like an young man who's mother is fretting over him, he abashedly averts his gaze from hers. Jewel loves her very much, and is ashamed of having made her worry, but like any young man his age, he isn't about to publicly apologize to his mother and comfort her.
people cling to their hates so stubbornly because once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain
Jewel shows hostility towards Anse- mostly as Anse is a outright no-doer. Jewel refuses to give his horse any of Anse's hay or even ride in the wagon with the rest of the family as he does not want to be 'beholden' to anyone, especially not Anse. Anse's reason for the trip is obviously more out of his desire to buy teeth than Addie's supposed request, as Addie makes it clear in her section that she really wasn't that particularly close to her long time deceased family. In fact, before the dirt even settles over her grave, Anse has not only bought new teeth, but has a new wife
I believe Jewel downright hates his brother Darl. With a hatred that so pure, it's sacred. Darl seems to enjoy pushing Jewels buttons. Anse wanted Darl to go to Vernon to run an errand that would line Anse's pocket with $3. Darl, knowing his Mother favored Jewel, specifically requests that Jewel come to Vernon with him. On the way home, they spot buzzards circling overhead their home, and knowing their mother is already dead he taunts Jewel with
(Darl): It's not your horse that's dead, Jewel" I say..."See them?" I say. High above the house, against the quick thick sky, they hang in narrowing circles... "But it's not your horse that's dead." "Goddamn you," [Jewel] says. "Goddamn you." I cannot love my mother because I have no mother. Jewel's mother is a horse. Motionless, the tall buzzards hang in soaring circles... [Jewel] enters the stalls..."Goddamn him. Goddamn him."
Darl, being omniscient, knows that Jewel is the child born of a tryst between Addie and Reverend Whitfield. And he mocks Jewel, who doesn't know his true paternity.
(Darl):"Jewel," I say, "Whose son are you?".... "Your mother was a horse, but who was your father, Jewel?"
(Jewel): "You goddamn lying son of a bitch"
(Darl): "Don't call me that," I say.
(Jewel): "You goddamn lying son of a bitch"
(Darl): "Don't call me that, Jewel."
To avoid being sued by Gillespie, Anse agrees to have Darl sent to an insane asylum in Jackson. To this, Darl is not omniscient- he seems he has no idea what his family is planning, but Jewel knows. And Cash describes Jewel as
Jewel squatting on the tail-gate, watching the back of Darl's head. He looked like one of those bulldogs, one of these dogs that don't bark none, squatting against the rope, watching the thing he was waiting to jump at. He set that way the all the time we was in front of Mrs Bundrun's house....watching the back of Darl's head with them hard white eyes of hisn.
Although it is Dewey Dell who attacks Darl first, once she is pulled away, it is Jewel who wrestles Darl down to the ground, all the while yelling Kill him. Kill the son of a bitch. Once Jewel is extracted from Darl and the men put Darl, who by now is laughing so hard he can barely breathe, into the car. Cash suspects that Jewel is angry with Darl because his horse had to be sold to pay for a new team as a result of Darl burning the barn down, but Jewel's anger runs far deeper than the price of any horse...
Jewel would not have been the type to stand over his Mother, to hold her hand and weep as she passed on. He may not have even come near her, I could see him just leaning, glaring stony-eyed in her direction, against the door frame. But that would have been sufficient for both Addie and Jewel. He wanted to be there, and she wanted him there, and Darl took that away from the both of him. Cash likens Darl's nature to something that cannot be helped, that being mad at him because of it would be like getting mad at a mud-puddle that splashed you when you stepped in it. But to Jewel, Darl's actions were purposeful. Darl not only took him away from his dying mother, but at every turn, tries to sabotage what Jewel believes is her final request - to be buried with her family in Jackson.
memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen
And that is Jewel. Full of sound and fury, signify
nothing everything. Without a doubt, I believe the majority of people think of love as a concept- something warm, and soft around the edges. Not something hard, gritty, and sharp edged. As such, it is very hard to understand a love like the love Jewel held for his Mother. Jewel's demeanor and behavior seemingly belies his true feelings for her. He looks cold- the innumerable times his eyes are described as hard and pale. He is tactless, direct, stubborn, curses like a sailor, and seems a hair's width from physically attacking the person who is unfortunate enough to provoke his wraith. Almost like he is fury, personified.
All that said, Jewel is still a young man. But more like a motherless child; a child who wanted a chance to say goodbye, not that Addie and Jewel needed words between them. Compounded with his family being pretty dysfunctional- he has lost his Mother, and the majority of his family is focusing on everything but her passing. Jewel risked his life twice to save her, even though she had already passed on. Perhaps, Mother really is akin to god in the eyes of a child.