As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay Dying 7. Dewey Dell Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As she sits next to Addie on her deathbed, Dewey Dell reflects on the experience harvesting cotton with Lafe, a laborer on the Bundrens' farm. She recalls her confused and confusing memory of how they "picked on down the row" and how she attempted to reason her way out of sleeping with Lafe. The plan was that if her cotton sack were full, they would sleep together and if it weren't, it would be a sign from God that she and Lafe shouldn't have sexual intercourse. Lafe manipulatively filled her sack with cotton such that Dewey Dell claims she "could not help it." Now she fears she is pregnant.
Dewey Dell's frantic recollection shows how distracted she is by private matters, despite dutifully sitting on her mother's deathbed. In addition to questioning the authenticity of Dewey Dell's sense of duty to her sick mother, her distractedness offers a realistic picture of family dynamics in their unromanticized form. Dewey Dell's story itself—and her repeated phrase, "I could not help it"—emphasizes her role throughout the novel as a victim.
Themes
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Dewey Dell then has the realization that Darl knows about her experience with Lafe, saying, "He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words"¦" That is, Dewey Dell intuits Darl's knowledge of her experience through his facial expression, as he has never confirmed it through words. Dewey Dell asks Darl what he wants, showing the same event as represented in the previous chapter, though now from Dewey Dell's perspective. Darl replies that Addie is going to die before he and Jewel return from their errand.
Dewey Dell's intuition that Darl knows her secret shows that even the family knows of Darl's powers of observation. As the novel's most prominent narrator, Darl can be seen as possessing an omniscience about other characters, making him seem more like an author figure. Dewey Dell' retelling of the same event from Cora's section speaks to the novel's interest in individual character perspectives and language, and the nature of subjective story-telling.
Themes
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon