As I Lay Dying

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Addie Bundren Character Analysis

Addie is the wife of Anse and the mother of Darl, Jewel, Cash, Dewey Dell and Vardaman. She had an affair with the minister Whitfield, which produced Jewel. Although her death catalyzes the novel’s action, she hardly appears as a character in the novel and only narrates one section. Addie’s most salient characteristics are her coldness toward Anse, dislike of having children, and her disdain for words (and her appreciation for action), perhaps explaining why she favored her action-focused son Jewel rather than the language-oriented Darl.

Addie Bundren Quotes in As I Lay Dying

The As I Lay Dying quotes below are all either spoken by Addie Bundren or refer to Addie Bundren. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of As I Lay Dying published in 1991.
4. Jewel Quotes

“It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill at their faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill, faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet.”

Related Characters: Jewel (speaker), Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Jewel is angry about Cash's incessant hammering and sawing that can be heard from within the house - Cash is preparing the coffin for the dying Addie. Here, he may not employ the kind of rich, complex language that his brother Darl can make use of, but that certainly doesn't mean that he's incapable of feeling or powerfully describing his feelings. Jewel feels alienated and alone within the Bundren family: the only person he feels a connection with is Addie, and she is now dying. 

While Cash may think he is honoring his mother by making a coffin for her, this has nothing to do with familial duty in Jewel's eyes. In this passage he imagines a heroic final battle involving him and his mother against the rest of the family before Addie dies. This image seems to be derived in some part from mythical or Biblical stories, but Jewel is vague on the specifics: for him, it is enough to imagine a violent fantasy that would allow him to escape from the noise and selfishness that he believes characterizes the other Bundrens.

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8. Tull Quotes

“Her [Addie’s] mind is set on it.”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker), Addie Bundren
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

As Tull continues to show patience and generosity in his relationship with the Bundren family, Anse explains their need to leave for Jefferson immediately. "Her mind is set on it" will be repeated several times: it is a kind of mantra by which Anse excuses and justifies the family's actions. The phrase suggests that Anse is acting selflessly and kindly, only following exactly what his wife wants. He suggests that Addie would not stand for things being any other way - making the journey something undertaken out of duty rather than out of desire. This claim of heroic familial duty will characterize many of the characters' attitudes towards their journey to Jefferson, even as it is questioned by others.

12. Darl Quotes

“Jewel’s hat droops limp about his neck…Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl's thoughts are shifting forwards and backwards between past and present scenes, between memories and the realities of the present moment, as Addie has just died. One of Darl's tasks is to tell his brother Jewel that their mother has died. This task is significant in part because of just how negligent Anse has been: while his children grapple with the fact of their mother's death, they must simultaneously figure out how to manage things and direct what needs to be done. 

At the same time, Darl's repetitive language to Jewel is a somber reminder of how even for someone as eloquent as Darl, certain events (like death) can sometimes exceed language, which can prove ultimately insufficient in encapsulating what has taken place.

15. Vardaman Quotes

“It was not here. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother….It was not here because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now it’s all chopped up. I chopped it up. It’s laying in the kitchen in the bleeding pan, waiting to be cooked and et.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker), Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Fish
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Vardaman is thinking about having seen the body of his mother, Addie Bundren, in her coffin. Although he is only a young child, Vardaman has a strong intuition in certain ways about what it means to die: he recognizes, for instance, that although his mother's corpse is recognizable as the body of Addie Bundren, the body is not "his mother" - that is, what makes it "his mother" has disappeared. 

Vardaman links this strange disconnect between presence and absence to the first-hand experience that he has with fish, which were once alive, but which become forever something else once he chops them up to be eaten. Although Vardaman's language may seem obscure, this is not because he has advanced theoretical ideas, but because he is attempting, with only the tools available to a six-year-old mind, to grapple with vast questions of life, death, and the border between the two.

21. Darl Quotes

“It’s not your horse that’s dead, Jewel…Jewel’s mother is a horse.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl continues his rivalry with Jewel, contrasting his way of understanding the world to his brother’s, even as they both attempt to grapple with Addie’s death in different ways. Darl views Jewel’s attachment to his horse critically, both because Jewel’s attachment to it sets him off from the rest of the family, and because Jewel’s focus on the horse embodies such a different, more visceral way of grappling with Addie’s death than Darl’s language-based, symbolically complex attitude.

Here, Darl connects Jewel’s love for Addie to his love for horses, and, using the same transitive property as Vardaman did earlier, links Addie to a horse ("my mother is a fish" becomes "Jewel's mother is a horse"). This potentially pejorative statement has more to do, however, with Darl’s own frustrations in trying to assign meaning to his mother’s life and death within the context of a family that is so internally different and inconsistent.

26. Anse Quotes

“I told him not to bring that horse out of respect for his dead ma, because it wouldn’t look right, him prancing along on a durn circus animal and her wanting us all to be in the wagon….”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

Anse is angry that Jewel wants to bring his horse along as the family travels to Jefferson. Here, Anse claims that Jewel is acting out of self-interest, wanting to ride his horse just to show off, and failing to be somber and serious enough in a way that would honor Addie’s life and death. Anse also argues that Addie would have wanted the entire family to be in the wagon together, making Jewel’s choice even more disrespectful.

Nonetheless, Anse’s arguments are weak at best, disingenuous at worst. We have already seen how Jewel is perhaps the member of the family who was closest to Addie and who feels her loss most profoundly. Anse, meanwhile, has been more preoccupied with himself than with anyone else. His understanding of family duty seems to have much more to do with empty actions, gestures devoid of substance, which look right but fail to mean anything. Anse’s fixation on what Jewel’s horse will look like – a “circus animal” – further underlines his interest in appearances more than in actual family obligations and duties, not to mention sincere love and connection.

30. Dewey Dell Quotes

“I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I had time to wish I had.”

Related Characters: Dewey Dell Bundren (speaker), Addie Bundren
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

As the family approaches the (potentially) aptly named New Hope, Dewey Dell clings to the possibility of a new leaf even as she continues to grapple with her own problems. Here, she admits to herself that Addie has died while Dewey Dell herself was preoccupied with other matters – not necessarily with petty desires like Anse, but with her pregnancy and chances for an abortion, all of which she must hide from her family and from those around her. Dewey Dell expresses regret that she didn’t have the “time” to let her mother die, suggesting that death is something that snuck up on her while she wasn’t paying attention, something that she hasn’t had time to come to terms with or seek to understand. Immediately, however, Dewey Dell acknowledges that she hasn’t even had the time to fully have these regrets, busy as she’s been with everything else going on her life. Dewey Dell’s acknowledgement of the distance between her mother’s death and her own feelings and experiences suggests just how disjointed and apart the various experiences of the characters in the novel can be – a lack of unity underlined by the multiple perspectives and voices that make up the narrative.

34. Darl Quotes

“Jewel shouts at the horse…He is just above the top of the ford and the horse has a purchase of some sort for it surges forward, shining wetly half out of water…Cash is half turned, the reins running taut from his hand and disappearing into the water, the other hand reached back upon Addie, holding her jammed over against the high side of the wagon.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Cash Bundren, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 148-149
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl describes a scene of chaos and desperation when the family attempts to cross a river, and the wagon pitches as the horse rears up and through the water. The way Darl describes the scene imbues it with an almost mythical beauty and significance. The family’s trip to Jefferson, described skeptically by a number of the characters, becomes more than a pointless journey and suddenly takes on life-and-death implications. Cash’s insistence on keeping Addie’s coffin afloat reminds us that members of the family do have real feelings for Addie, even as they sometimes coexist with pettier, more self-interested motivations. Still, this one brief surge of heroism as the brothers strive to keep the family together and cross the river contrasts to such an extent with the rest of the voyage as to challenge the idea that the journey is really heroic and significant at all.

40. Addie Quotes

“So I took Anse. And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.”

Related Characters: Addie Bundren (speaker), Cash Bundren, Anse Bundren
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

Speaking either from the grave or in a flashback to the time before her death, Addie reflects on the trajectory of her life since she decided to marry Anse. Here, Addie portrays the act of starting a family, of having children, not as an exciting step or meaningful action but rather as devoid of any greater significance. Indeed, for Addie "motherhood" or "family" are no more than words, words that people think mean something, but in fact only mask the suffering involved in living. 

Addie is thus on the side of Jewel in terms of a skepticism towards language: unlike Jewel, however, she does not simply embrace action over language, but critiques one while refusing to align with the other. Addie's pessimism may be intense, but it is rooted in her direct experience of living and in her understanding of the meaninglessness of categories and events by which other people ascribe significance to their lives.

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Addie Bundren Character Timeline in As I Lay Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Addie Bundren appears in As I Lay Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Darl
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
...sound of Cash's saw. Darl describes Cash's meticulous preparation of the coffin for their mother Addie, who is on her deathbed. Darl passes Cash without engaging with him and walks into... (full context)
2. Cora
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Cora shifts her attention to Addie, who is lying silently on her deathbed nearby. Looking at Addie's sickly face and eyes,... (full context)
4. Jewel
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...on the question of why Cash feels the need to hammer and saw loudly outside Addie's window, blatantly revealing to her that he is building her coffin right outside her deathbed-window.... (full context)
5. Darl
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...cautions the boys against leaving, fearing they will still be away at the time of Addie's death. Darl defends their choice by explaining that the errand will bring them three dollars,... (full context)
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Tull comforts Jewel and Darl by pointing out that Addie has seemed more like herself recently, though Jewel is angered by Tull's interference in the... (full context)
6. Cora
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Having come to the Bundren household to take care of Addie in her last moments, Cora thinks about Darl's sweet disposition as she watches say goodbye... (full context)
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Cora and Tull reflect on the Bundrens' plan to trek forty miles to bury Addie in Jefferson. Cora finds the plan preposterous, while Vernon defends it using Anse's argument—that it... (full context)
7. Dewey Dell
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...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. (full context)
8. Tull
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...long. Anse repeats that the family will need to set off for Jefferson immediately following Addie's death as "Her mind is set on it." (full context)
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...in his hand, proudly telling Anse and Tull that he plans to show it to Addie. Anse does not praise Vardaman for his catch, and instead orders him to clean the... (full context)
10. Darl
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On their errand, Darl provokes Jewel by telling him that Addie is going to die. Jewel does not answer, and Darl pessimistically thinks to himself, "It... (full context)
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Darl then recalls the moment when he accused Dewey Dell of wanting Addie to die just so she can get to town. In asking Dewey Dell this question,... (full context)
11. Peabody
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...the hill. When Peabody finally gets to the house, he notices Dewey Dell standing by Addie's bed, fanning her mother who appears dead except for vague movement in her eyes, which... (full context)
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Outside Addie's room, Peabody directly confronts Anse about why he did not send for a doctor sooner... (full context)
12. Darl
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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Language versus Action Theme Icon
...on their errand for Tull, Darl is somehow able to describe what is happening in Addie's room back at the Bundren home. Addie continues to call for Cash, though Dewey Dell... (full context)
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...brother. Then Darl's descriptions refocus again on the Bundren home, where Cash has just entered Addie's room, filled with the rest of the Bundren family members. Anse tells Cash to hurry... (full context)
15. Vardaman
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Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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After Cash finishes Addie's coffin, Vardaman is disturbed that she will be nailed up in it. Dewey Dell comforts... (full context)
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...that Anse walks around—and then corrects himself, "His shadow walks around." He then looks at Addie, about to be nailed in the coffin and claims "It was not my mother." He... (full context)
16. Tull
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Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Tull recalls the moment in which he and Cora found out that Addie Bundren had died: Cora opens the door on a stormy evening to find Peabody's loose... (full context)
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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...Cora escort Vardaman back to the Bundrens' home, where Cash is still working to finish Addie's coffin. Tull helps him with the finishing touches. The men finish the coffin before dawn... (full context)
17. Darl
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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... (full context)
18. Cash
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In a precise numerical list, labeled 1—13, Cash explains his decisions for making Addie's coffin on the bevel (on a slant). His most notable reasons are the fact that... (full context)
20. Tull
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...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. (full context)
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Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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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... (full context)
23. Darl
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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Darl describes the experience of lifting Addie's coffin with Cash, Jewel and Anse. It is revealed that the family member who had... (full context)
25. Darl
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...the related face that he is not coming with them in the wagon to bury Addie in Jefferson. It is decided that Jewel will follow the Bundren wagon from behind, though... (full context)
26. Anse
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...about Jewel's desire to bring his horse on the journey, thinking it shows disrespect for Addie. Anse cannot believe that Jewel would feel okay "prancing along on a durn circus animal"... (full context)
27. Darl
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...Tull wave at the Bundrens from his lot as they pass. Cash remarks off-hand that Addie's dead body will begin to smell in the following days, and Darl suggests that Cash... (full context)
29. Samson
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...on their road and the farmer named Quick tells them about their quest to bury Addie in Jefferson. Because of the recently sunken bridge, the men worry about the Bundrens' journey,... (full context)
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...barn. Yet even after the family leaves, Samson can still smell the putrid scent of Addie's corpse. (full context)
30. Dewey Dell
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
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...begins to worry to herself about how distracted she was with her own issues while Addie was on her deathbed. Between these thoughts of regret, Dewey Dell reminds herself of New... (full context)
31. Tull
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
...family looking at the submerged bridge, wondering what to do in order to cross with Addie's coffin. (full context)
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...water level decreases, but the family proceeds to make plans to drive the wagon carrying Addie's coffin across the shallow part of the river. (full context)
32. Darl
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...over the chores of feeding the mules, milking the cows, and so on. All along, Addie would rationalize enforce the other siblings to take over Jewel's share of chores so Anse... (full context)
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Addie is devastated that Jewel has kept this part of his life a secret, but Cash... (full context)
33. Tull
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...the river, leading Anse to accuse Tull of begrudging the family their determination to get Addie to Jefferson, and repeats that he is merely fulfilling a sacred word, a promise that... (full context)
35. Vardaman
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...chase the coffin downstream, and eventually meets Darl in the water to help him rescue Addie's coffin. Darl tries to rescue it but does not succeed. Vardaman asks Darl where Addie... (full context)
39. Cora
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Cora remembers a tense conversation with Addie about faith and religion. Specifically, Cora recalls scorning Addie for her assumption that humans such... (full context)
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Cora preoccupies herself with remembering how presumptuous Addie Bundren was about notions of judgment and sin. Cora believes Addie's sin was loving Jewel... (full context)
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One day when Cora told Addie that Jewel is her sin, Addie begins to answer affirmatively, but cuts herself off. Instead,... (full context)
40. Addie
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Addie recalls her days working as a schoolteacher, miserably sneaking off at the end of each... (full context)
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Addie muses on her father's old saying that the reason for living is to stay dead... (full context)
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Addie then begins an affair with Whitfield, the local minister. While she finds escape in the... (full context)
41. Whitfield
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When Whitfield hears Addie is dying, he "wrestled with Satan" and decides to go to the Bundrens' home, so... (full context)
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...when the minister reaches Tull's home, one of Tull's daughters calls out to Whitfield that Addie Bundren has died. Whitfield decides not to confess, as no one in the Bundren family... (full context)
42. Darl
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The Bundrens strap the injured Cash on top of Addie's coffin. The family members try to talk with Cash about his health, but Cash merely... (full context)
43. Armstid
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...offers Anse one of his mules to borrow. Anse declines the offer and says that Addie would prefer traveling with mules that were the Bundrens' own mules. (full context)
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...at Armstid's house, Darl notices the cloud of buzzards that is beginning to gather above Addie's coffin. While Anse is out with his horse, Jewel tries to make himself useful by... (full context)
44. Vardaman
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Vardaman obsessively counts the number of buzzards, traveling in black circles around Addie's coffin. Vardaman listens to Darl ask Cash how his broken leg is feeling, and Cash... (full context)
49. Vardaman
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Vardaman and Darl go out for a walk at night to hear Addie talking from inside her coffin, as Darl assures Vardaman that he can hear Addie speaking... (full context)
50. Darl
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...well as the Bundren's mules. After saving all of the animals, Jewel then single-handedly rescues Addie's coffin from the fire. Dewey Dell protectively calls after Jewel, while Darl marvels in the... (full context)
51. Vardaman
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...Darl leaves and the family asks where he is. Darl ends up lying next to Addie's coffin under the apple tree weeping. Vardaman fins Darl and comforts him by telling him... (full context)
52. Darl
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...suggest that the family is just outside of Jefferson. Cash is lying on top of Addie's coffin with shards of cement all across his leg. Anse states that they must take... (full context)
53. Cash
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...barn and livelihood. Anse offers to take Cash to the doctor before going to bury Addie, but Cash, in turn, offers to wait. The family proceeds to a nearby home to... (full context)
58. Dewey Dell
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...of appreciation for his parenting, Anse reprimands Dewey Dell for calling him a thief over Addie's grave. (full context)