As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay Dying 20. Tull Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At ten o'clock the next morning, Tull comes back to the Bundrens' house with Peabody's horses. A farmer named Quick who also lives nearby tells Tull that the river is at a high level. Tull fears the bridge that the Bundrens will need to take to get to Jefferson will be swept away by the rising waters and asks Quick if he has told Anse. Quick says he has and that Anse assured him that they will be able to load up quickly and get across the bridge before it is destroyed. Another farmer named Armstid joins the conversation, adding that Anse should just bury her at the nearby town of New Hope instead. Quick reminds Armstid that Anse is set on burying Addie in Jefferson. Anse opens the door, looking disheveled despite wearing his Sunday best.
The conversation between Tull and the farmers about the flood foreshadows the catastrophe that the Bundrens endure at the river midway through their journey. Given their knowledge that the selfish and unlikable Anse is "set on" burying Addie in Jefferson, it is also foreshadowed that the Bundrens will be stubborn, and try to cross the river regardless of circumstances. Given Anse's behavior thus far, it is clear that any catastrophe the Bundrens face will not be conquered heroically, but rather will provide yet another opportunity for the Bundrens to grapple with family dysfunction.
Themes
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
The women go inside while the men stay outside to continue their conversation. Tull goes to the back of the house and sees Cash filling up the holes in Addie's coffin. They place Addie in the coffin reversed—with her head in the narrow part meant for her feet—in order to permit the dramatic flare-out bottom of her wedding dress. Tull reflects on the precision and great technique of Cash's carpentry job.
Addie's coffin symbolizes the weight of the Bundrens' sense of obligation to their wife and mother, regardless of their competing self-interests. Here, the fact that they place Addie in the coffin reversed merely points to the increasing degree of absurdity that defines and will continue to define the Bundrens' trek to Jefferson.
Themes
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
The local minister named Whitfield comes to the house to lead Addie's funeral, but first tells the Bundrens that the local bridge has been destroyed by the river's rising waters. Cash, Armstid and Tull discuss the fall Cash suffered not long ago the church roof, which resulted in a broken leg that has only partially healed. Tull thinks to himself about how Addie will now be free from Anse. Cora and Tull leave the funeral and find Vardaman attempting to fish in a nearby bog on their way home. Tull tells Vardaman to come home with them, and that it is not a good day to fish, but Vardaman stubbornly resists and swears Dewey Dell has seen a fish in the bog.
Both Whitfield's reference to the bridge and the talk of Cash's broken leg continue to foreshadow catastrophe that will only make the Bundrens' journey more awful and ridiculous. Relatedly, Tull's relief for Addie that she will no longer have to deal with Anse emphasizes the strange family dynamics in the Bundren family, and continues to call into question the authenticity of Anse's sense of duty to Addie. Vardaman's continued obsession with fish shows that he is grappling with the meaning of existence.
Themes
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon