The book is narrated by 15 various characters over 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her poor, rural family’s mission and inspirations– honorable or selfish– to honor her dream to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi.
As the book opens, Addie lives, though in ill health. Addie and others anticipate her to pass away quickly, and she sits at a window seeing as her firstborn, Cash, builds her casket. Anse, Addie’s spouse, waits on the porch, while their child, Dewey Dell, fans her mother in the July heat. The night after Addie dies a heavy rainstorm sets in; rivers rise and wash out bridges the family will require to cross to get to Jefferson.
The family’s trek by wagon begins, with Addie’s non-embalmed body in the coffin. Along the way, Anse and the five children experience various troubles. Anse often turns down any offers of assistance, consisting of meals or lodging, so sometimes the family goes starving and sleeps in barns. At other times he contradicts loans from people, declaring he wants to “be beholden to no man”, therefore manipulating the would-be-lender into providing him charity as a gift not to be repaid.
Gem, Addie’s middle child, attempts to leave his dysfunctional family after Anse offers Gem’s many valued possession, his horse, yet can not turn his back on them through the trials. Cash breaks a leg and end up riding atop the casket. He refuses to confess to any pain, however the household eventually puts a makeshift cast of concrete on his leg. Two times, the household nearly loses Addie’s coffin– initially, while crossing a river on a washed-out bridge (2 mules are lost), and second, when a fire of suspicious origin, starts in the barn where the coffin is being kept for a night.
After 9 days, the family finally gets here in Jefferson, where the smell from the casket is quickly smelled by the townspeople. In the area, member of the family have various items of service to take care of. Cash’s damaged leg needs attention. Dewey Dell, for the second time in the unique, goes to a pharmacy, trying to get an abortion that she does not understand how to ask for. Initially, though, Anse wants to borrow some shovels to bury Addie, since that was the purpose of the trip and the household ought to be together for that. Before that takes place, however, Darl, the second eldest, is taken for the arson of the barn and sent out to the Mississippi State Insane Asylum in Jackson.  With Addie only just buried, Anse forces Dewey Dell to quit her cash given to her by Lafe (the man who got her pregnant) for an abortion, which he invests in getting “new teeth”, and marries the female from whom he obtained the spades.
As are a number of Faulkner’s works, the story is embeded in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, which Faulkner referred to as “my apocryphal county”, an imaginary performance of the writer’s house of Lafayette County in the exact same state.