Summary and Analysis
The beginning of the journey is announced by Vardaman, who seems to have already forgotten the grief for his mother and instead has simply substituted in his mind that his mother is a fish. With the confusion of his mother with the fish, Vardaman begins to examine the other relationships and begins to wonder why Darl calls Jewel's mother a horse.
The height of comic irony is seen when Anse thinks it is not respectable for Cash and Dewey Dell to use the trip to town for purposes other than attending to Addie's funeral, that is, Cash is carrying his toolbox and will stop off on his way back to begin work on a barn, and Dewey Dell is carrying Cora Tull's cake, which she will try to sell for Cora. (Actually, Dewey Dell is carrying her Sunday clothes — not the cake.) Anse, however, is going to town to get new teeth, and as we find out in the last section, and to pick up a new wife as soon as Addie is buried. Therefore, his comment about Cash and Dewey Dell is a good example of comic irony.
In Section 25, narrated by Darl, the imagery of Jewel as being wooden-backed is again emphasized. And again this wooden imagery is juxtaposed against the violence of his actions and furious movements.
In Section 26, narrated by Anse, we once again have Anse offering a type of evaluation and criticism of his children, but we know from previous encounters with Anse that he is totally incapable of understanding any member of the family. For example, he is annoyed that Jewel brings the horse on the trip with him. He feels that out of respect for his dead mother, Jewel should not ride the horse. But as has been noted earlier, Jewel uses the horse as a symbol in replacement for his love for his mother. Having the horse with him is Jewel's way of expressing his love, and Anse totally fails to understand the connection and can only think that it is disrespectful, when in reality it is Jewel's acknowledgment of his grief and love. Anse's view is ironic because, later on, it is only by selling the horse that they can continue on the journey.
There have been several hints that people talk about Darl or look upon him as different. Anse seems to be aware that Darl is also different and views his constant laughter as a sign of Darl's strangeness.
An important question to the total interpretation of the novel is, Why does Darl laugh? We, the readers, have become very familiar with Darl as the sensitive and perceptive narrator. We must then try to create for ourselves the same scene that Darl observes. This scene would involve a pregnant, barefoot girl in a wagon, an ineffectual father murmuring clichés, a young and perhaps retarded brother, a half-crippled brother, the coffin of his dead mother, and then suddenly over the hill the other brother riding a half-wild horse.
Consequently, it can be maintained that this is a rather ridiculous situation and that Darl laughs because he is intelligent and perceptive enough to recognize the absurdity of the entire situation. Or perhaps Darl laughs because he begins to understand why Addie wanted to be buried in Jefferson, a reason that does not become clear to the reader until a much later section. And finally, perhaps this is an indication of a certain degree of madness on Darl's part. Perhaps, then, Faulkner is preparing us for the later scene when Darl will be violently attacked, tied up, and sent off to the insane asylum.
Whatever interpretation or however readers interpret this scene must ultimately depend on how they view various aspects of the novel, and they must then utilize their entire reactions to every theme so as to arrive at a consistent view of the motivating factors that cause Darl to laugh. In the next section narrated by Darl, note that whenever Darl takes over the narration, we get a fuller and more comprehensive view of the procession in vivid and dramatic images.
Now even Cash notes that the body will soon be decaying and giving off odors. Remember that Addie has been dead a full three days and it is in Mississippi in July. Darl has already made the observation earlier, but here he contents himself with suggesting that it would not be wise to speak of the decaying body to Jewel, who reacts so violently to any mention of his dead mother.
The central image of this section is that of the wagon toiling slowly along while Jewel, on his contrasting spotted horse, is circling the wagon with violent and furious motions. Symbolically, Jewel seems to be encircling his mother while at the same time riding the horse, which is a symbol of the replacement of his mother. Again Darl refers to Jewel in terms of wooden imagery, which contrasts to the violence of the actions performed by Jewel and relates him then to the wooden wagon slowly pulling the wooden coffin.