As I Lay Dying

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The Coffin Symbol Analysis

The Coffin Symbol Icon
The coffin symbolizes the sense of weight and lack of balance (literally and figuratively) that the Bundrens take on by carting Addie all the way to Jefferson to be buried. Throughout the novel, the coffin also serves to emphasize the absurdity of the Bundrens' journey and the questionable heroism of the family members. For instance, Cash's meticulous construction of the coffin outside Addie's window or Vardaman's drilling of the holes in the coffin after Addie's death both point to a strange mix of devotion on the one hand and inappropriate behavior on the other that characterizes many of the deeds of each character and the Bundrens' journey in general.
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The Coffin Symbol Timeline in As I Lay Dying

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Coffin 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
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...becomes distracted by the 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... (full context)
2. Cora
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...daughter Eula 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... (full context)
4. Jewel
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
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...and saw loudly outside Addie's window, blatantly revealing to her that he is building her coffin right outside her deathbed-window. Jewel not only feels angry at Cash for these actions, but... (full context)
5. Darl
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...Tull's interference in the situation. Anse then begins to discuss potential arrangements for carting Addie's coffin to Jefferson, but is silenced by Jewel, who expresses anger at the family as a... (full context)
11. Peabody
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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...tell Peabody that Addie wants him to leave. Meanwhile, Cash diligently continues to build Addie's coffin outside, making lots of noise with his tools. Addie screams Cash's name but is not... (full context)
12. Darl
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...out the window at Cash, who has not budged from his project of making Addie's coffin. Addie calls to him again. Cash stares into the room through the window, while Anse... (full context)
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...the rest of the Bundren family members. Anse tells Cash to hurry and finish the coffin and then orders the grieving Dewey Dell to make dinner. Dewey Dell leaves the room,... (full context)
15. Vardaman
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After Cash finishes Addie's coffin, Vardaman is disturbed that she will be nailed up in it. Dewey Dell comforts Vardaman... (full context)
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
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..."His shadow walks around." He then looks at Addie, about to be nailed in the coffin and claims "It was not my mother." He then connects this idea to the idea... (full context)
16. Tull
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...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 and... (full context)
17. Darl
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...is still on the road with Jewel. Cash continues to work diligently on completing the coffin, despite the rain. Cash tells Anse to stop helping him and instead to go get... (full context)
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Cash proudly finishes the coffin before dawn—and Cash, Anse, Tull and Peabody immediately bring the coffin inside. Darl shifts his... (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 there... (full context)
20. Tull
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...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... (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 that the family member who had cursed... (full context)
25. Darl
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...he will catch up. The wagon leaves and the Bundrens head to Jefferson with Addie's coffin. (full context)
26. Anse
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...while the rest of the family rode together on the wagon with Addie in her coffin. (full context)
27. Darl
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...following days, and Darl suggests that Cash tell Jewel. Cash laments once again that the coffin is not balanced, and Darl again suggests that Cash tell Jewel all of these unfortunate... (full context)
31. Tull
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...looking at the submerged bridge, wondering what to do in order to cross with Addie's coffin. (full context)
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...Dewey Dell and Darl's cold stares and Cash's meticulous look, as though Tull were the coffin Cash was trying to build carefully. Jewel does not move and looks with apparent anger... (full context)
33. Tull
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Tull thinks about Anse's haplessness and the potential danger of crossing the river with the coffin. Anse challenges Tull again about his team of mules, but reasons that he is not... (full context)
34. Darl
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...river's current. Desperate, Darl dismounts the wagon and Cash focuses on the safety of the coffin and his box of tools. The log ends up crashing into the wagon, but Cash... (full context)
35. Vardaman
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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 it from falling into the rushing water. Dewey... (full context)
36. Tull
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...the misfortune of the situation, and explains how Jewel tightly gripped the rope keeping the coffin and the wagon within reach. Cash, however, was not able to swim and was rescued... (full context)
38. Cash
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Cash once again repeats the sentence, "It wasn't on a balance," referring to the coffin. He remembers telling the other Bundrens that if they wanted the coffin to be balanced,... (full context)
40. Addie
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...was still alive, or is a posthumous monologue, somehow delivered by Addie's corpse inside the coffin). (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 mutters... (full context)
43. Armstid
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...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 getting... (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 to Darl ask Cash how his broken leg is feeling, and Cash replies... (full context)
49. Vardaman
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
...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. Vardaman, as he promised to... (full context)
50. Darl
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...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 sight... (full context)
51. Vardaman
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...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 that... (full context)
52. Darl
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...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 him... (full context)
53. Cash
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...Cash notices a woman in the window of the house. Finally, the Bundrens inter Addie's coffin in Jefferson's soil. The men from the mental institution then arrive to take Darl away.... (full context)