From Dewey Dell’s memory of Lafe to Addie’s death
That’s what they mean by the love that passeth understanding: that pride, that furious desire to hide that abject nakedness which we bring here with us. . . .See Important Quotations Explained
Dewey Dell remembers a time when she went harvesting with Lafe, a worker on the Bundren farm. She had been heading toward the woods with him, but was nervous. Finally, however, they slept together because Dewey Dell “could not help it.” Dewey Dell later realized that Darl somehow found out about her and Lafe. She remembers all of these details as Darl stands in the doorway saying good-bye to Addie. Darl tells Dewey Dell that Addie is going to die before he and Jewel return, but that he is taking Jewel anyway because he needs help loading the wagon.
Tull tries to relieve Anse of his lingering reservations about Darl making the trip. Vardaman, Darl’s youngest brother, appears, climbing up the hill with a large fish that he is planning to show to Addie. Anse, unimpressed, orders him to clean the fish before taking it inside. Cora and Tull depart for the evening, as Anse stands dumbly in the room with Addie. Once in the wagon, Cora and Tull speak pessimistically with Kate and Eula about the Bundren situation and the future of the Bundren children.
Anse, in his crude, unschooled diction, begins complaining about the weather, his sons, and the commotion of the road. He is convinced that the road that was put in near his house has brought bad luck, and he blames it for Addie’s ill health. Vardaman reappears, covered with blood after cleaning his fish. Anse tells Vardaman to go wash his hands. Anse then reflects that he cannot seem to feel much about anything, and blames this lack of sentiment on the weather.
Meanwhile, Darl is in the wagon with Jewel. He recalls confronting Dewey Dell about her encounter with Lafe. The sun is about to set. Darl voices his belief in the inevitability of Addie’s death over and over to Jewel, who remains silent.
Addie’s doctor, Peabody, makes his way to the Bundren place after being called for by Anse. Peabody notices that a storm is coming. He is very overweight, and needs help climbing the bluff to the Bundren house. After a struggle, he arrives at the family’s house. He enters Addie’s room and finds Addie perfectly still except for the movement of her eyes. Outside, Peabody asks Anse why he didn’t send for a doctor sooner. Dewey Dell interrupts their conversation and they return to Addie’s room. Dewey Dell tells Peabody that Addie wants him to leave. Cash continues to saw away, and Addie calls out his name loudly.
Darl, still on his journey with Jewel, somehow knows what is happening back at the Bundren household. The rest of the family surrounds Addie’s bedside. Addie calls out again to Cash, who begins pantomiming the act of putting the coffin pieces together so she can see how they will fit. Dewey Dell flings herself upon Addie, clutching her tightly. Vardaman and Anse look on in silence. At this moment, Addie dies. Dewey Dell calls for her mother, and the narrative flashes over to Jewel and Darl. Darl says Jewel’s name twice. Back at the Bundren home, Cash enters the room and Anse gives him the news, telling him that he needs to finish up the coffin quickly. Cash stares at Addie for a time, and then returns to work. Anse tells Dewey Dell that she should prepare supper, and Dewey Dell leaves the room. Anse stands over his dead wife’s body and strokes her face awkwardly before returning to the business of the day. The narrative reverts to Darl, who tells Jewel that Addie is dead.