As I Lay Dying

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Darl Bundren Character Analysis

Darl Bundren is the second son of Anse and Addie Bundren. Darl narrates the greatest number of sections in the novel and is often considered to be its surrogate author figure. Not only is Darl the character who best expresses himself using language, but he also appears to have powers of clairvoyance – specifically, he can describe Addie’s death scene from afar and he somehow, inexplicably, knows about Dewey Dell’s pregnancy. Darl detaches himself from the rest of the family because of his strange wisdom, and is the only character to express explicit contempt for the Bundrens’ journey. Darl is eventually claimed to be insane by the Bundrens, after he burns down Gillepsie’s barn in an attempt to put a stop to the journey to Jefferson. Whether or not he is insane is never entirely clear.

Darl Bundren Quotes in As I Lay Dying

The As I Lay Dying quotes below are all either spoken by Darl Bundren or refer to Darl 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.
1. Darl Quotes

“Jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking straight ahead, steps in a single stride through the window. Still staring straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down, and steps in a single stride through the opposite window and into the path again just as I come around the corner.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl and his brother Jewel are walking through a field on their way home, and here they come across an old cottonhouse. Darl watches as Jewel steps right through it as Darl goes around it. These two motions, straight versus curved, direct versus indirect, can be understood as metaphoric descriptions of the two brothers' quite distinct characters. Jewel is focused on actions and results. If something is in his way, he will plow right through it, never stopping to consider the challenge or to question himself or his actions.

Darl, in turn, takes a more circuitous route. He is inclined to think deeply about the world around him and about his place within it. Even this passage, which comes to us through his perspective, shows a strong sense of the beauty of language on its own, not for what it can do or enact but for the charm of comparisons like Jewel to a cigar store Indian, his eyes to wood. The ability to observe and notice one's lived experience is implied, here, to be individual and even random - the fact that the brothers don't share it suggests that there is little "natural" glue of character or experience holding a family together.

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7. Dewey Dell Quotes

“And so it was because I could not help it. It was then, and then I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words…And that’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows.”

Related Characters: Dewey Dell Bundren (speaker), Darl Bundren
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Dewey Dell is remembering the difficult moments leading up to sleeping with Lafe, including her attempts to get out of it, and now her current worry is that she may be pregnant. Now she has recognized that Darl somehow knows this, even without her telling anyone. The rest of the family also recognizes this ability of Darl's, a kind of omniscience that suggests that Darl is more like an author, one who knows his character's actions because he writes them, rather than like other characters subject to laws beyond their control.

For Dewey Dell, Darl's near-mystical knowledge is a relief, as she is spared the shame and indignity of having to tell him or others what she has gone through. Instead, she can take some solace in simply sharing knowing gazes with him, in search of familial connection that so often is not fulfilled in other ways in this family.

10. Darl Quotes

“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl and Jewel are discussing the impending death of Addie, and Darl, as usual, takes the opportunity to ponder more profound questions about mortality as such. In general, reproduction tends to be considered as a crucial element of family life, as a means to continue one's family line and as a mysterious but joyful cycle of birth that makes up for death. Darl, however, doesn't see things this way. For him, the fact that birth requires two people, while death requires only one (the very person dying) means that the world tilts inevitably towards death. Death is not redeemed by birth, in his scheme, nor does it have some kind of ultimate meaning that makes it more bearable. Darl retains rather a deeply pessimistic outlook on death, prompted by his own particular family situation but with broader, even metaphysical resonance. 

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.

17. Darl Quotes

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you….I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or am not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl contrasts his own experience preparing for sleep "in a strange room" with the experience that he assumes Jewel and those like him have - an experience that, for Darl, is simpler and more straightforward than his own. Here, Darl reveals his openness to the great questions of mortality and existence - questions that can often recur as one prepares to sleep. At that border between wakefulness and sleeping (a border that in some ways seems a good deal like the border between life and death) identity and meaning become unclear. At least, they become a source of anxiety for Darl, who not only does not know who he is, but also begins to wonder whether he "is" or "is not" - and what it means to "be" at all (probably an allusion to Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy).

While Darl is able to make use of a more nuanced and complex (albeit confusing) language than Vardaman, he, like his brother, is preoccupied with such monumental questions. In some ways, Darl seems to envy Jewel, who (to Darl at least) seems not even to concern himself with such questions. This, too, is a way that Darl's character shares so little with Jewel's, in that Jewel prefers to act out his meaning rather than parse out what his life means from afar.

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.

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.

49. Vardaman Quotes

“And I saw something Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody. It is not about pa and it is not about Cash and it is not about Jewel and it is not about Dewey Dell and it is not about me.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker), Darl Bundren, Dewey Dell Bundren
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Darl has assured Vardaman, as they walk outside, that he has heard Addie speaking to them from within her coffin: she has told them to remove her from the sight of man. Darl's language seems to be derived from the Bible, and is another reminder of how differently and creatively the characters use faith and religion in pursuit of their own interests and in following their own particular beliefs.

This passage in particular underlines the specific perspective of Vardaman in the family, as the youngest and the child who must rely the most on the knowledge and protection of the others. As if in an example of rote learning from school, Vardaman goes through the list of people not involved in what Dewey Dell told him. By doing so he believes that he's still obeying Dewey Dell, but he also reveals his limited understanding as he clings to the words available to him in a confusing and constantly changing context.

50. Darl Quotes

“Then it topples forward, gaining momentum, revealing Jewel and the sparks raining on him too in engendering gusts, so that he appears to be closed in a thin nimbus of fire.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

In a show of attempted heroism and faithfulness to Addie, Jewel is emerging from the fire with her coffin, firmly positioning himself as Addie's most beloved son once again. Darl, of course, has put this entire series of events into action. And yet even he cannot help but admire Jewel's actions, describing them in his typically lush and powerfully descriptive language. Darl describes Jewel as a kind of Christ figure, sacrificing himself for the good of another - even though his own carefully reasoned judgment has made him conclude that the best thing for everyone would be for the fire to consume everything, and for the coffin to be swallowed up as well. Even while remaining in opposition to his brother, then, Darl is drawn to him, fascinated by the strange familial connections that keep them together despite their differences.

53. Cash Quotes

“Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint…It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it.”

Related Characters: Cash Bundren (speaker), Darl Bundren
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

The family is deliberating on whether and when to send Darl away to a mental asylum. This gives Cash the opportunity to reflect on what the term "crazy" means at all - a notion that the novel has implicitly and thematically explored, given its interest in the distinction between subjective intention and experience, and the objective world. The novel as a whole raises the question, indeed, as to whether these two things are not indelibly connected; that is, if it's impossible to separate the world outside from how different people experience and interpret it. 

For Cash, Darl may be "crazy" in the eyes of the world - according to the "majority of folks" - and yet he's not at all sure that this means that Darl is definitively mad. Cash thinks that it may all depend on who has the "right" to label certain people normal and certain people crazy. While Cash doesn't explicitly meditate on the implications of this notion, they are striking: he has implied that language is enormously powerful in that how someone is labeled, the name assigned to him or her, can determine his or her life.

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Darl Bundren Character Timeline in As I Lay Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Darl Bundren appears in As I Lay Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Darl
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Darl and Jewel walk single-file on a large field, heading toward their home. On the way,... (full context)
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Upon reaching the foot of a bluff, Darl notices a wagon with two chairs stacked on it, arranged by the Bundrens' neighbor Vernon... (full context)
2. Cora
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...claims that Addie must either be listening to or watching Cash build her coffin. Then Darl walks in the door without looking at or talking to any of the women. (full context)
3. Darl
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Anse Bundren and Vernon Tull sit on the Bundrens' back porch as Darl makes his return home. Anse asks Darl where Jewel is; before answering his father, Darl... (full context)
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Darl tells Anse that Jewel is down in the barn, where he is attempting to mount... (full context)
5. Darl
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Darl and Jewel prepare to run an errand for Vernon Tull. Anse cautions the boys against... (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... (full context)
6. Cora
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...the Bundren household to take care of Addie in her last moments, Cora thinks about Darl's sweet disposition as she watches say goodbye to Addie. In particular, Cora contrasts Darl to... (full context)
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...will die surrounded by the love and respect of her Christian family. Dewey Dell asks Darl what he wants, but Darl does not answer and instead continues to stare at Addie.... (full context)
7. Dewey Dell
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Dewey Dell then has the realization that Darl knows about her experience with Lafe, saying, "He said he knew without the words like... (full context)
8. Tull
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Tull tells Anse not to worry about Jewel and Darl's trip and that they'll be back before long. Anse repeats that the family will need... (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,... (full context)
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Darl then recalls the moment when he accused Dewey Dell of wanting Addie to die just... (full context)
12. Darl
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Although Jewel and Darl are still on their errand for Tull, Darl is somehow able to describe what is... (full context)
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Darl's thoughts then return to him and Jewel, still on their journey. Darl calls out to... (full context)
14. Dewey Dell
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...unrealistic world. She claims, "I would let him come in between me and Lafe, like Darl did." Dewey Dell is distracted by the sound of Cash's saw, but complies with her... (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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
21. Darl
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Darl points out the thick cloud of buzzards flying overheard him and Jewel, as they make... (full context)
23. Darl
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Darl describes the experience of lifting Addie's coffin with Cash, Jewel and Anse. It is revealed... (full context)
24. Vardaman
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Vardaman states once again that his mother is a fish, though Darl claims that Jewel's mother is a horse. Vardaman confusedly reasons that if Jewel is his... (full context)
25. Darl
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Darl watches Anse go toward the barn as Dewey Dell approaches carrying a basket in one... (full context)
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...will follow the Bundren wagon from behind, though Cash suggests that Jewel just stay home. Darl reasons that he will catch up. The wagon leaves and the Bundrens head to Jefferson... (full context)
26. Anse
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Darl laughs and Anse wonders how and why his son is able to laugh with his... (full context)
27. Darl
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Darl watches Jewel catch up with the family in his wagon, and notices Tull wave at... (full context)
31. Tull
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...though he is the object of the Bundrens' scorn, noticing in particular Dewey Dell and Darl's cold stares and Cash's meticulous look, as though Tull were the coffin Cash was trying... (full context)
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...not allow his mule in the water to help them. Jewel curses the mule and Darl taunts Tull for his decision. Regardless, Tull repeats his statement that he will not allow... (full context)
32. Darl
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Darl focuses his gaze on Jewel, who is glaring with hostility at Tull. The scene sets... (full context)
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One night, Darl hears Jewel get up and climb out of his window, only to be followed by... (full context)
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...part of his life a secret, but Cash attempts to comfort her. In the night, Darl discovers Addie lying next to Jewel's bed weeping. Darl claims at that moment, "And then... (full context)
34. Darl
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Down the river from where Tull, Anse, Dewey Dell and Vardaman crossed, Darl and Cash proceed with the wagon to the ford. Jewel remains on his horse, following... (full context)
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When Jewel, Cash and Darl attempt to execute their plan, a large log rushes toward them with the river's current.... (full context)
35. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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...Dell screams Vardaman's name as he watches Cash finally lose his grip. Vardaman hollers for Darl to chase the coffin downstream, and eventually meets Darl in the water to help him... (full context)
39. Cora
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...about notions of judgment and sin. Cora believes Addie's sin was loving Jewel more than Darl, and since Jewel didn't love her, Addie received due punishment for her sin. (full context)
40. Addie
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...younger ears. After Anse and Addie got married, she quickly gave birth to Cash and Darl, leading to her depression over the loss of independence and freedom. She declares, "I knew... (full context)
42. Darl
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...the family. Anse repeatedly says that all of Armstid's favors are "for her [Addie's] sake." Darl notices that Jewel remains separate from the family while they eat in Armstid's home, and... (full context)
43. Armstid
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...inquire Snopes about opportunities for buying a team of mules nearby. Back at Armstid's house, Darl notices the cloud of buzzards that is beginning to gather above Addie's coffin. While Anse... (full context)
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...that he got the family a new team of mules. He calls Jewel over, but Darl intervenes and asks Anse what he gave Snopes to get the mules. Anse does not... (full context)
44. Vardaman
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...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 replies that "It don't bother... (full context)
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Darl asks Cash if he should tighten or loosen the ropes keeping Cash tied down. Darl... (full context)
46. Darl
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The family and their mules make a pit-stop in front of a house, and Darl tells Dewey Dell to go inside and ask for a bucket to retrieve water. Darl... (full context)
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Dewey Dell returns with the water bucket and Darl begins to mix the cement to make a cast for Cash's leg. Cash repeatedly tells... (full context)
47. Vardaman
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Vardaman, Darl, Jewel and Dewey Dell walk up the hill. Vardaman mentally narrates the situation in simple,... (full context)
48. Darl
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...on the way to Jefferson, a farm owned by a man called Gillepsie. Upon arrival, Darl asks Jewel "Whose son are you? Your mother was a horse, but who was your... (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,... (full context)
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...on the porch, from which the barn is visible. Vardaman notices Gillepsie's son help Jewel, Darl and Anse move the coffin from below the apple tree outside indoors to the barn.... (full context)
50. Darl
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Darl and Jewel sprint toward the barn. Darl describes the burning barn and notices the sense... (full context)
51. Vardaman
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Anse breaks off Cash's cast and his leg begins to bleed. Darl then asks Jewel if his back hurts. At some point, Darl leaves and the family... (full context)
52. Darl
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...stench coming from their wagon. Jewel curses at the man, who then flashes a knife. Darl apologizes on his brother's behalf and successfully calms the altercation between the two men. Jewel... (full context)
53. Cash
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Cash explains that the Bundrens needed to send Darl away to an asylum in Jackson (the capital of Mississippi). He explains that Gillepsie knew... (full context)
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...Addie's coffin in Jefferson's soil. The men from the mental institution then arrive to take Darl away. Cash and Dewey Dell try their best to calm Darl, who is suffering a... (full context)
56. Vardaman
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...at the red train in the toy-store window. Vardaman continually thinks about the fact that Darl is his brother, and that Darl is going to Jackson. (full context)
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...led inside by a man. As he waits, he keeps thinking to himself about how Darl is his brother, how Darl went crazy, and how Darl went to Jackson. When Dewey... (full context)
57. Darl
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Darl describes the experience of being forced onto the train to Jackson by the mental institution... (full context)
59. Cash
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The Bundrens—minus Darl —return to the house from which they borrowed the spades. Jewel suggests that Vardaman go... (full context)