As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay Dying 17. Darl Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Darl once again describes what is happening at the Bundren home after Addie's death, even as he is still on the road with Jewel. Cash continues to work diligently on completing the coffin, despite the rain. Cash tells Anse to stop helping him and instead to go get something to cover their lantern. Cora and Tull arrive in the meantime, and Tull begins to help Cash, who announces his decision to bevel the coffin.
Once again, we see Darl as having preternatural abilities and a rare fluency in expressing his thoughts in language. This sets Darl apart in the family. By contrast, Cash's dedication to fulfilling his duty as a carpenter and finishing the coffin marks his role as a Christ-like figure, a man of charity and self-sacrifice.
Themes
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Cash proudly finishes the coffin before dawn—and Cash, Anse, Tull and Peabody immediately bring the coffin inside. Darl shifts his focus to his and Jewel's present situation and ponders the need to "empty yourself for sleep." He believes "when you are emptied for sleep, you are not" and proceeds to realize that he does not know whether he is or is not. Jewel knows he is because he does not think of these kinds of questions—is vs. is not, was vs. was not, and the issue of what will be.
Darl's interrogation of what it means to be "empty"¦for sleep" resembles Vardaman's thoughts regarding the difference between "not-fish" and fish. Both Darl and Vardaman explore questions about mortality and the meaning of life using rudimentary philosophical arguments, all of which rely heavily on thought-experiments based on the subtleties of language.
Themes
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon