Summary and Analysis Sections 52-54

In Section 52, Darl notices the effect of the arduous journey on all of the family. But even though he is exhausted, he is still in control of the situation, as is illustrated in the central episode in this section — that is, the attempted fight between Jewel and the white man. The reader should note that whereas Anse merely stands around saying “fore God,” it is Darl who is rational enough to take over and prevent a serious fight between Jewel and the white man. In fact, Darl handles the episode with perfect composure and equanimity. Without Darl, we can project that the entire procession would have been interrupted.

The question is, then, what motivates Jewel’s actions in this section. It is obvious that Jewel is now aware of the tremendous stench coming from the coffin. But his love for his mother will not tolerate other people’s commenting on the horrible stench. Jewel’s violence continues as long as his mother is above ground.

For the first time in the novel, Cash rises above his mundane thought processes in order to contemplate the problems of sanity versus insanity. The experiences that Cash has undergone during the course of the journey force him to consider problems abstractly and not in terms of specific numbers. Consequently, after recognizing that Darl’s actions are logically correct and that what Darl did was indeed the proper behavior, he must be compelled some time in the future to view the recent actions of the Bundrens as bizarre and incoherent. For such a man as Anse Bundren, it is much easier to declare his son insane than it would be to pay for a barn.

While admitting that Darl’s actions are correct in an abstract or theoretical manner, Cash is still confronted with another dilemma. That is, Cash knows that a barn is of inestimable value to a farmer; therefore, the destruction of a farmer’s barn must be the act of a man who is insane. Cash can justify the intent of the act but not the actual act.

But Cash, who believes so strongly in the sense of property, cannot understand Darl’s willingness to destroy someone’s property. That Darl attempted to destroy Mr. Gillespie’s property, he thinks, is cause enough to allow Darl to be put in the insane asylum.

The reference in Section 53 to Mrs. Bundren’s house is confusing. Actually, Cash is narrating this section at a time when he knows that this lady will be Mrs. Bundren in a few hours.

Dewey Dell’s attack on Darl shows the degree of antipathy she felt for him. Darl has taunted her for so long that Dewey Dell now releases all of her pent-up feelings against him. She does these things because Darl has taunted her for so long about her pregnancy and now she feels that she is getting her revenge and also removing her sense of torment, or at least her tormentor.

Darl thought that Cash would have told him that the family meant to send him to the asylum because Darl knows (as does Cash know) that there has never been any sense of antipathy or conflict between him and Cash. On the contrary, there was a sense of closeness. Darl apparently realizes that even Cash is unable to see the logic and necessity for his (Darl’s) past actions. Darl’s laughter is provoked because he can perceive the “metaphysical absurdity” of the situation while his brother, Cash, can only respond to the immediate act.

Why does Darl laugh? We have seen how Darl was able to see into the motivations of others, and now we must assume that he sees into all the motivations and understands how and why the others are afraid of him. He also understands that he is being declared insane so that Anse won’t have to pay for the barn. These realizations leave Darl no alternative except to laugh or else actually lose his last bit of rationality. Thus at the end, the reader is once again reminded of the doubt surrounding Darl’s supposed insanity.

Section 54, narrated by Dr. Peabody, returns us to the objective, outside view of the Bundren world. We have been so closely involved in the actions of the Bundrens that we need, at this point, an objective narrator to remind us of the total absurdity of the preceding actions. For example, the treatment that Darl receives, by analogy, is seen to be as absurd as putting the concrete on Cash’s leg. Thus, we find that the outside narrator views Darl’s insanity with skepticism. We are almost prepared to assert that the behavior of the Bundrens as seen by the outside narrator is more incomprehensible (or insane) than was the action of Darl.