As I Lay Dying

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Vardaman Bundren Character Analysis

Vardaman, at six years old, is the youngest Bundren child. He narrates a great number of sections in the novel, engaging in similar existential questions to his brother Darl throughout his narrations. Famously, Vardaman remarks, “My mother is a fish,” relating the death of the fish he caught for dinner to the death of his mother.

Vardaman Bundren Quotes in As I Lay Dying

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

“I will be where the fish was, and it all cut up into not-fish now.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker), Vardaman Bundren
Related Symbols: Fish
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In his own way, the six-year-old Vardaman is attempting to come to terms with his mother's death based on the language he can use and the references he can understand. Vardaman has caught a certain amount of fish, but now he looks at what he caught in the basket and notices that it has changed irrevocably: what he sees now is "not-fish," not the living beings that he handled in the water, but objects lacking animation, lacking life. Vardaman draws a connection, even if he cannot explicitly say so, between this mysterious change from "fish" into "not-fish" and the change undergone by his own mother, from life to death.

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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.

19. Vardaman Quotes

“My mother is a fish.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker), Vardaman Bundren
Related Symbols: Fish
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous line of As I Lay Dying, Vardaman uses a situation that he is quite familiar with, that of catching, skinning, and eating fish, to a new, unknown situation in which he finds himself (dealing with his mother's death). As we have seen in earlier quotations, Vardaman has already drawn a connection between the fish that were alive when he caught them, and then are limp and still, ready to be cut up and eaten - and his mother, once alive and now silent and still in her coffin. Fish have this property of at one point being lively, at another point being still, and Vardaman can see that his mother too has that quality. As a result, it is not preposterous to say that his mother is a fish: it simply means that if his mother has certain properties, and a fish has the same properties, it could well mean mathematically that his mother is fish. Vardaman doesn't necessarily mean this judgment literally: instead, he is trying to use the definitions that he has at his disposal in order to make sense of where he finds himself. 

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.

51. Vardaman Quotes

“The barn was still red, but it wasn’t a barn now.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker)
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Vardaman is watching the barn burn, and in his characteristically youthful and limited language he uses this event to meditate on the same questions of mortality, existence, and action that he has regarding Addie and regarding fish that he's caught. Vardaman knows that he's looking at the place where the barn until quite recently stood. But the fire is consuming the wood making up the barn: does this then mean that the barn no longer exists? How then might one describe and explain what once was present and now is gone - the process of death and disappearance for humans as well as physical objects? As is usual in Faulkner, the simplest language can speak as powerfully as more complex phrasing.

59. Cash Quotes

“It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell…Meet Mrs. Bundren.”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Cash Bundren, Dewey Dell Bundren, Vardaman Bundren
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

These, the last lines of As I Lay Dying, return to the profoundly somber and pessimistic tone present throughout the novel, as well as its biting irony. Anse has married the woman whose shovels he had borrowed just the day before in order to bury Addie. The supposedly "heroic" journey of the family to Jefferson is therefore definitively revealed to be, at least on Anse's part, no more than a chance for him to fulfill his own selfish interests. 

At the same time, however, by ending with suggestions of the Bundrens' future with a new family (without Darl, and with a new stepmother), the novel suggests that families can shift, expand, contract, and still survive - even, or especially, when these changes are cause for skepticism and pessimism more than cause for joy. As we've seen throughout the book, different characters have had different interpretations regarding the meaning of Addie's death and the meaning of their voyage to bury her. While the novel does give Anse the last word literally regarding this meaning, it's not at all clear that his is the last word on the subject in the more metaphorical sense - suggesting instead that ideas such as heroism and the meaning of death and life are fluid, expansive, and open to interpretation. 

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Vardaman Bundren Character Timeline in As I Lay Dying

The timeline below shows where the character Vardaman Bundren appears in As I Lay Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
8. Tull
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman emerges from the hill with a dead fish in his hand, proudly telling Anse and... (full context)
9. Anse
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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After a while, Vardaman returns to the house with the fish chopped up, and with his own body covered... (full context)
11. Peabody
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...up the bluff in order to get to the Bundrens' house. Anse apologizes and sends Vardaman to get rope to help Peabody up the hill. When Peabody finally gets to the... (full context)
12. Darl
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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...calls to him again. Cash stares into the room through the window, while Anse and Vardaman sit silently and together, they all watch Addie die. Dewey Dell screams for her mother... (full context)
13. Vardaman
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Vardaman runs out of the house and begins to cry after looking at the place in... (full context)
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As he runs, Vardaman continues to cry and repeats the phrase "He kilt her. He kilt her," blaming Peabody... (full context)
14. Dewey Dell
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
...greens and bread, but claims she does not have enough time to cook the fish Vardaman caught. Anse complains about the meagerness of the meal. When Cash comes into eat, he... (full context)
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...same cow waiting to be milked. She tells it to wait, still focused on finding Vardaman. She passes the stall, repeating Lafe's name to herself until she hears sounds from within... (full context)
15. Vardaman
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
After Cash finishes Addie's coffin, Vardaman is disturbed that she will be nailed up in it. Dewey Dell comforts Vardaman by... (full context)
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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Vardaman notices that Anse walks around—and then corrects himself, "His shadow walks around." He then looks... (full context)
16. Tull
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
...night, Tull and Cora get to bed but are woken up in the night by Vardaman knocking on their door. Vardaman comes into the house wet and covered in mud, and... (full context)
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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Tull and Cora escort Vardaman back to the Bundrens' home, where Cash is still working to finish Addie's coffin. Tull... (full context)
19. Vardaman
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Vardaman states: "My mother is a fish." (full context)
20. Tull
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Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
24. Vardaman
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Vardaman expresses excitement about going to town, and makes another reference to the bright red train... (full context)
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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Vardaman states once again that his mother is a fish, though Darl claims that Jewel's mother... (full context)
30. Dewey Dell
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...of her relationships with her brothers, Dewey Dell first imagines killing Darl with the knife Vardaman used to cut up the fish he caught. She then finds herself thinking about a... (full context)
33. Tull
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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Tull helps Anse, Dewey Dell and Vardaman cross the river, offering Vardaman in particular a hand as he walks across. Tull suggests... (full context)
34. Darl
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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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... (full context)
35. Vardaman
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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From the other side of the riverbank, Vardaman witnesses Cash's valiant attempt to hold the coffin securely on the wagon and to keep... (full context)
36. Tull
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...experience at the river in his own mind"“ specifically vivid is his memory of hearing Vardaman's loud cries as he ran past him and into the water. Tull blames Anse for... (full context)
40. Addie
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
...make up for her sinful behavior, Addie (and Anse) have two more children—Dewey Dell and Vardaman. Addie says: "I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel. Then I gave him Vardaman... (full context)
44. Vardaman
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Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Vardaman obsessively counts the number of buzzards, traveling in black circles around Addie's coffin. Vardaman listens... (full context)
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
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...she is carrying will "be in fine shape" by the time they arrive in Jefferson. Vardaman continues to count the number of buzzards, which are only increasing as time passes. (full context)
47. Vardaman
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Vardaman, Darl, Jewel and Dewey Dell walk up the hill. Vardaman mentally narrates the situation in... (full context)
49. Vardaman
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman and Darl go out for a walk at night to hear Addie talking from inside... (full context)
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Dewey Dell and Vardaman go to sleep outside on the porch, from which the barn is visible. Vardaman notices... (full context)
50. Darl
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...the sense of urgency and hostility in Jewel's fire-reflecting glare. Anse, Gillepsie, Dewey Dell and Vardaman emerge from inside the house afterward, to witness what is going on outside. (full context)
51. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman notices that the barn is burning and therefore that it "wasn't a barn now." Cash's... (full context)
55. MacGowan
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...later for the rest of the operation. Dewey Dell agrees and returns that night with Vardaman, who waits outside on the curb. MacGowan gives Dewey Dell a box of capsules and... (full context)
56. Vardaman
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Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Dewey Dell takes Vardaman on a nighttime walk through the streets of Jefferson. She insists that they go in... (full context)
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Dewey Dell and Vardaman eventually stop at the pharmacy, which is the only lit store on the street. Vardaman... (full context)
59. Cash
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...Bundrens—minus Darl —return to the house from which they borrowed the spades. Jewel suggests that Vardaman go return them, but Anse insists that he do it, and ends up staying inside... (full context)