Plot Summary of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

The novel As I Lay Dying opens with the scene of the ill Addie Bundren lying on the bed. Her family members are sure that she will die very soon. She has four sons; Cash, Darl, Jewel and Verdaman and a daughter named Dewey Dell. Cash starts building a coffin for her putting all his carpentry skill.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Despite her poor and degrading health, Darl and Jewel went to the town with Vernon Tull. Immediately after their departure, Addie dies. Her youngest son, Verdaman links her death to the fish that he caught and cleaned that day. Cash completes the coffin before the night falls. Verdaman feels so sorry for her dead mother thinking that she will be nailed inside the box. So, he at night makes holes in the lid. On the other hand, Dewey Dell is busy with her own illicit sexual relationship and pregnancy that she almost forgets to mourn for her mother's death.  On the next day, the funeral service is carried out by the women of the society and the males stay outside talking to each other.

After some days, Darl along with Jewel returns home. When they see the buzzards over their house, they are sure that their mother passes away. Ironically, Jewel at first makes sure his horse is not dead. Darl takes his this act as selfish and uncaring. Addie showed her last wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson where her ancestors were buried. This promise is rather a difficult one to be fulfilled. But, a sense of obligation and his selfish desire to buy a set of false teeth urge him to go to Jefferson for her funeral. Addie's dead body has to put into the wagon and Jewel almost alone himself puts her dead body in the wagon as Cash has already broken his leg at his job site. However, he rejects to come on the wagon, he rides on his own horse and follows his family. He has bought his horse working at his neighbor at night when he was young. That is why he cares his horse too much.

On the first night of their journey they ask for shelter at the home of a local family. The family is kind enough to provide them shelter, but they suspect their mission to bury the dead body of Addie. The next day, they have to cross the river through the bridge, but unfortunately, the bridge has been washed away by the heavy flood. So the Bundrens are compelled to cross the river with the coffin through the temporary and crude bridge. On their way into the river, the wagon is disturbed and the coffin is knocked out by the flowing stray log. Cash's leg is reinjured and the mules are drowned. Vernon Tull helps Jewel to rescue the coffin from the river. Cash's tool is lost in the river so all the family members with Tull go to riverbed in order to look for it.  

Cora Tull, wife of Vernon Tull, recalls Addie's odd inclination to respect her own son Jewel more than the God. Addie's narrative starts. Though dead her narrative is from her past, she remembers affectionless marriage to Anse, her illicit relationship with the local preacher Whitfield, her conception from Whitfield, and the birth of other children from Anse. At the same time, Whitfield goes to Bundrens to confess his sin and affair with Addie, but he later decides not to reveal anything.

A horse doctor comes to set Cash's broken leg. During the treatment process, he faints. Anse purchases a new team of mules by pawning his farm equipment, the money he was saving for his false teeth and money Cash was saving for a new gramophone, and also by dealing with Jewel's horse. When the family reaches the town, the inhabitants respond with horror to the stench coming from the Bundren wagon. In the same town, Dewey Dell goes to a drug store to buy a drug that will abort her unwanted pregnancy, but the pharmacist refuses to sell it to her, and advises marriage instead. Darl creates a makeshift cast for Cash's broken leg with the cement, but instead of supporting the injury it causes severe pain. The Bundrens then spend the night at a local farm owned by a man named Gillespie. Darl, who has been doubtful of their mission to Jefferson for some time, burns down the Gillespie barn with the intention of incinerating the coffin and Addie's rotting corpse. When Jewel notices the fire, he saves the animals in the barn, then risks his life to drag out Addie's coffin. Darl lies on his mother's coffin and cries.

The next day, the Bundrens land in the town of Jefferson and bury Addie. The family and the society do not charge Darl for his criminal barn burning activity, rather the Bundrens claim that Darl is insane, and sends him to a Jackson mental institution. Dewey Dell tries again to buy an abortion drug at the local pharmacy, where a boy working behind the counter claims to be a doctor and tricks her into exchange sexual services for what she soon realizes is not an actual abortion drug. The following morning, the children of Bundrens are greeted by their father, who comes with a new set of false teeth and he is also accompanied by a new bride with whom he introduces, with a mixture of shame and pride, as their new mother.