William Faulkner explores the conflicting agendas within an abnormal and bizarre family in his novel As I Lay Dying. Told in stream-of-conscious fashion by fifteen different speakers, Faulkner depicts the Bundren family’s quest to Jefferson to bury their dead matriarch, Addie. Against the threats of flood and fire, the novel explores the nature of grieving, community, and family. Every member of the family is to a degree responsible for what goes wrong on the road to Jefferson, but none more than Addie’s husband Anse. Anse’s laziness and selfishness are the underlying factors to every disaster in the book.
After Anse becomes sick from work at a young age, he claims he will die if he works again and thus becomes incredibly lazy. In turn, he becomes Addie’s baby factory in order to have his children do all the work. Addie becomes exceedingly bitter by his actions and is never the same again. Anse is begrudging of everything. A thrifty man, he refuses to call Peabody to observe Addie during her final hours. Inconsiderately, his obsession with burying his dying wife with her “people” in Jefferson is motivated by his determination to find both another wife and false teeth.
Anse is stubborn and takes advantage of his children throughout the journey to Jefferson. He has the opportunity to borrow a team of mules form Mr. Armistad but he insists Addie would not have wanted it that way. In truth, Anse uses this to justify trading Jewel’s horse for mules to spare him the expense. Not only does Anse trade the horse without permission, he also steals Cash’s money in the trade. Additionally, Anse takes ten dollars from Dewey Dell towards the end of the novel.
With money he has begrudged, stolen and talked his way out of paying, he finally buys some new teeth and a new wife for the price of a graphophone. What is unclear is why Anse is so cold-hearted and indifferent to his children. What has changed him from the hard working youth he once was?
Anse’s narrow mind and selfish attitude shatters any shred of relations he holds with his children. There is no mutual respect or love within the Bundren family. Anse procreated with Addie so their children could to do all of the work he refused to do. He did not have a true love for them and he sought out self-improvement only.
By thinking of himself only, Anse destroys his family and he is continually self-seeking whenever his need’s conflict with those of the family. His motives for cheating and lying range from the greed of money to his own self-pity. Instead of thinking, “What can I do for them,” sadly, Anse Bundren always thought, ”What can they do for me.”