Both Vardaman and Darl are taken by questions of being, consciousness, and identity. His mother’s death has only added confusion to these questions; Vardaman cannot understand how something that "is" can become "was." In other words, the destructive power of time, the terror of mortality, and the mystery of ceasing to exist have been too much for Vardaman. In his mind, his mother has become something else. Vardaman turns death into transformation. His mother is a fish. He then imagines her as a rabbit, because she has gone far away, just as the rabbits did. He is disturbed by the fact that they are going to eat the fish.
Vardaman struggles to find teleology for the events around him. He tries to connect what happens to reasons, when in fact often things happen for no reason at all. He blames his mother’s death on Peabody, because Peabody’s arrival preceded his mother’s death. He also has linked the fish and his mother. His reasoning is clearly incorrect, but in many ways it is no less reasonable than explanations given by other characters of the novel. Consider Cora Tull, he repetitively maintains that all happens by God’s will, for God’s reasons. Yet she is so wrapped up in forcing events into a Christian framework that her pronouncements become tiresome. She sees Vardaman’s instability as God’s punishment for Anse. Her reasoning is no more sophisticated than Vardaman’s; the sole difference is that she has the backing of her near-fanatical religious beliefs.
Questions of identity and being are linked to poverty and rural life for Vardaman. In, Vardaman’s first interior monologue of this section, he asks others and himself why he is who he is: "Why ain’t I a town boy, pa?" (59). With a stopover "in town" imminent, the themes of poverty and rural vs. town life creep up. For Vardaman, the event gives rise to questions about why he has been born poor, without the things town boys have.
Poverty and rural hardship continue to be themes. Even for the Bundren children, the trip to bring Addie’s body to burial must be mixed with business; life is too harsh to grant mourning periods. Cash brings his tools, so that he can stop and work at Tull’s on the way back. Anse says that this act is disrespectful, but Darl defends Cash. And Dewey Dell must bring Cora’s cakes to sell in town.
The Tulls are studies for the theme of religion. Cora’s piety, as Faulkner depicts it, is something easy to admire and equally easy to ridicule. Cora’s faith makes her a great help at times, but she is also judgmental, self-deceiving, and often misinterprets situations out of a zealousness to force all events into a Christian framework of understanding.
Tull’s fatalism is a counterpoint to his wife’s faith. He too believes in God, a God who directs all things, but he seems to derive little confort. He wonders about the burden of being human: what God decides, man must do. He respects his wife, and says that if God were to put things into mortal hands, they would be Cora’s. But he seems resigned to suffering as a constant of life: "And I reckon she would make a few changes, no matter how He was running it. And I reckon they would be for man’s good. Leastaways, we would have to like them. Leastaways, we might as well go on and make like we did" (67). This passage touches on Tull’s religious attitudes, while doubling as a concise statement of how he feels about his overbearing wife.
Cash is seen in glimpses; so far, his only interior monologues are closely tied to his work as a carpenter. Cash is doing the only thing he knows how to do. He draws meaning from his work. Tull remarks that Cash takes care over carpentry jobs that require little craftsmanship (79). He is so bound up in his work and the details of craftsmanship that he seems unreasonable to his siblings. Jewel dismisses Cash’s protests, while Cash continues to fuss. But carpentry is Cash’s life; without it, he is nothing.
The siblings have strongly defined personalities, and each one is very different from the others. Jewel is evidently the hothead of the family. He is also tall and incredibly strong, hoisting Addie’s coffin into the wagon almost single-handedly. His interior life is far less complicated that Darl’s or Vardaman’s. He expresses his grief not through thought, but through explosions of physical power. His feelings are intense and sincere, expressed mostly as bursts of defiance and anger and disgust. After he gets the coffin up into the wagon, he says "Goddamn you" repeatedly, and the target of his cursing here seems to be just about everyone. His defiance becomes clear again in his dispute with Anse, and his decision to come along, separate from the others, on horseback. His pride is clear, and he rides the horse despite the fact that it could be considered disrespectful to his family and dead mother.
Darl continues to be the most intuitive of the characters. He speaks with Vardaman as if he can read the boy’s mind, and he accurately predicts Jewel’s behavior.
Darl’s musings veer between striking eloquence and a kind of elegant crudeness. When struggling with questions of what it means to be, his syntax becomes simple, almost childlike; at these times, he and Vardaman have the most in common of any of the siblings. He also recognizes that his questioning, rather than buttress his understanding of himself, makes him far less certain as an entity than someone like Jewel: "I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not" (73). Jewel’s thickheadedness protects him from the kind of philosophical self-torture that Darl cannot help but engage in. Tull believes firmly that Darl thinks too much, and the thinking has made Darl go funny in the head (64). Darl forces himself to question the very foundations of his being. As he falls asleep, he feels his identity disappearing. He reasons back and forth, confirming his existence, but also seeming to realize that his being is unstable: "And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is" (74). Falling asleep, for now Darl is able to affirm his being, and yet this whole monologue foreshadows the unraveling of Darl’s being later in the novel.
The conversation between Darl and Vardaman is one of the novel’s more unsettling moments (90-1). Darl seems to be playing with Vardaman as older brothers do, but given their interior monologues the dialogue becomes disturbing. This section merits close inspection. Vardaman speaks of how his mother is a fish, and Darl does not seem to contradict him. They ask aloud who their mothers are. Darl tells Vardaman that he doesn’t have a mother: "Because if I had one, it is was. And if it is was, it can’t be is" (91). He also repeats to Vardaman a thought Darl had in an earlier monologue: "Jewel’s mother is a horse" (90). He seems for now to be alluding to Jewel’s incredible love for his horse, which seems more meaningful to him than Addie. But Darl also explains to Vardaman that just because Jewel’s mother is a horse, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Vardaman’s is. Darl’s meaning will become clear later.
Something important to note: the interior monologues of the Bundrens are almost always in the present tense, while the interior monologues of those outside the family are usually, but not always, in the past tense. This move separates characters like the Tulls from the main action, making their narratives come from a position of some distance. The struggle to bring Addie’s body to Jefferson is the Bundrens’; they suffer the most, and the woman they bury is theirs and no one else’s. The emotions of those outside the family are appropriately less intense, and this distance is reflected in the verb tense.