Summary and Analysis Sections 39-41

These next three sections function as a type of interlude. They take the reader away from the funeral procession for a few moments, and we go briefly back into time. In a sense, Cora’s section functions as an introduction to Addie’s section, which is then followed by Whitfield’s section.

One of Faulkner’s greatnesses is the care that he lavishes on his minor characters. They stand out as separate entities along with their function of illuminating one of the major characters. Here, Cora, a minor character, receives that attention which causes her to become one of the memorable minor characters. Faulkner has perfectly captured the religious fanatic who spouts forth superficial religious axioms. But in reality she possesses a great deal of pride in being or thinking that she is humble. For example, we can evaluate Cora’s comments by the fact that she thinks that Brother Whitfield is a godly man if ever any man is godly. And yet we later learn that the preacher Whitfield is the father of Jewel as a result of his adultery with Addie.

Cora’s comments about Addie function as an introduction to Addie Bundren’s only section. It is from Cora, the religious fanatic, that we hear Addie’s statement that Jewel will be her salvation, that he will save her from the water and from the fire. Her statement carries with it a religious tone, and the prophecy is later fulfilled. That is, we have already seen Jewel saving Addie from the river, and later he will save her from the burning barn. Furthermore, it is only because Jewel sells his horse, the symbol of his love for his mother, that they are able to continue the funeral procession.

Cora’s comments about Addie, then, introduce us to her as a person who is not religious, as a person who has not devoted her life to God or to the church. We are then prepared to meet a woman who has embraced a rather nihilistic philosophy.

Halfway through the novel and halfway through the long journey to bury Addie, Faulkner inserts the only section narrated by her. Since her section comes in the midst of the funeral procession, it serves to remind the reader that she was a real person and not just some dead, stinking object in the box.

Addie seemed to hate the children that she taught, and so she would beat them to make them aware of her. This seems to be one of the driving forces in her life, that is, to make people aware of her presence. Thus one may say that when she failed to make her family aware of her during her life, she extracted a promise from them so that they would be aware of her at least during the arduous funeral march.

We cannot maintain that Addie wanted to be buried close to her father or to her family in Jefferson because she reveals in this section that her father taught her a rather nihilistic philosophy. Her actions conform to her father’s view that life is no more than a preparation for death. Furthermore, it is suggested many times that she hated her father for having sired her. Consequently there is no indication that Addie extracted the promise merely so that she could lie in death next to her family.

Since Anse is incapable of giving us any background information, we have to rely upon Addie’s account of their courtship. We see that Addie married Anse because there was nothing else to do. She was tired of the children, tired of teaching school, and she says that when Anse came along she simply accepted him without any thought. There is no implication of love but simply a marriage of convenience.

The circumstances surrounding the birth of each child in some way affects the personality of the child. For example, Addie says that she gave birth to her oldest son, Cash, so that he could “violate” her aloneness and make her feel that someone is aware of her. Thus throughout Cash’s life he has existed as a person who can concentrate only upon one thing. After she had Cash, she realized that even children cannot “violate” her aloneness; therefore, she did not want any more children. When she discovered that she did have Darl, she detested Anse and began to reject Darl himself. Consequently, throughout his life, Darl has felt as though he has had no mother and is the unwanted and rejected son.

Addie then thought that if she could engage in some type of violence, her “aloneness” and her isolation could be violated. When she met Preacher Whitfield, she felt that if she could have an affair with a man whose garments were sanctified, then the sin would be “more utter and terrible.” While hoping for some type of violence, she conceived Jewel, who is seen as a person whose acts are constantly presented in terms of violence. Dewey Dell was conceived in order to negate Jewel, and then she had Vardaman so as to give Anse a child in place of Cash, whom she considers her own. Consequently, Dewey Dell seems to possess no love for her mother and functions more as a robot. And Vardaman himself is somewhat strange.

Addie’s general view of life is nihilistic, which perhaps is reflected also in her children. As noted above, Addie can function only in terms of violence. She searches out some act of violence that will penetrate her sense of aloneness. Essentially, Addie seems to be a rather destructive personality, and as a mother she is unable to love her children openly. Instead she infects them in some ways with her terrible view of life. Only in secret can she really give of herself and offer love to Jewel, but she hates herself for this also.

Addie’s view of words is that they are unclear. Essentially, she seems to imply that people substitute meaningless words for significant actions, and thus, with this view, she would detest Anse because all Anse can do is murmur platitudes. We have seen that he is incapable of performing any task, however small or trivial it might be, thus rendering him useless except for his words. On the other hand, Cash never uses words and speaks only after some fact or deed is accomplished. Jewel similarly expresses his love not in words but in acts of violence. And Darl, the one who most relies on words, is the one most rejected by Addie and ends up being sent to the insane asylum.

Consequently, Addie, who feels that she has been deceived by words, decides to get her revenge on Anse by extracting a promise — which is, of course, only words — to take her back to Jefferson, and this would be her revenge because then Anse would have to perform some action rather than relying on words.

Immediately after hearing from Addie that she had had an affair with a preacher, we then encounter the preacher himself. Furthermore, we had heard that Addie went to Whitfield thinking to experience a violent and overpowering reaction from the preacher. But this section shows that Whitfield is also only words. He is going to let his intention to confess replace the actual confession, emphasizing Addie’s evaluation that even Whitfield was only ineffectual words.