“Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometime I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. 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.” -As I Lay Dying (pg. 216)
Cash writes this towards the end of the novel about his brother Darl being sent to Jackson for setting Gillespie’s barn on fire. He states that they had to do it, or Gillespie would’ve sued them. Darl’s behavior comes as a shocker, because up until now, he’s been the most articulate narrator, and the most well-respected of the Bundren kids by Cora Tull, who seems to be the most holy person in their town. Even if folks did see him as a little “queer”, they were willing to look past it because of who his family was. (As a quick aside, isn’t that the way it always seems to go in the South? “Does so-in-so seem a little off to you?” “Well, you know who their family is, right?” “Oh really? Bless their heart!”) Darl’s break of madness takes form through the form of arson, which at the time this novel is set, is especially heinous, because barns stored people’s livelihood. While his motives are unclear, some of the inferences we can draw actually make a lot of sense. We could say that he really was just insane, but Darl’s character has shown too much forethought and tendencies to think deeply about everything so far in the novel. Maybe he saw what the trip was doing to his family, and wanted it to end. Think about it: If the barn burned down, there would be no more coffin. If their mom no longer existed in a physical entity, (as in, got cremated from the fire) then there would be no reason to continue, and they could all go home, and return to life as normal. Or we could look at it in a religious light. Remember that Addie stated that Jewel would be her salvation, and would “save her from water and fire”. Realistically, Addie’s coffin should not have survived being swept away in the river, and after Jewel saves her coffin, things go from bad to worse on their trip. Cash breaks his leg again, Anse sells their tools, and therefore their chances of survival, to continue the mission to bury Addie in Jefferson, and Jewel has just left after he discovers that Anse sold his horse. Maybe Darl thought he could undo their misery if he found a way to discontinue the mission, and by burning the barn, he could have achieved this. If Jewel hadn’t saved the coffin again, proving Addie’s prophesy. Of course, because Jewel is able to save the coffin, Darl’s effort, whatever the reason, is lost and he suffers the consequences dearly.