As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Anse Bundren

The shirt across pa’s hump is faded lighter than the rest of it. There is no sweat stain on his shirt. I have never seen a sweat stain on his shirt. He was sick once from working in the sun when he was twenty-two years old, and he tells people that if he ever sweats, he will die. I suppose he believes it.

Early in the novel, Darl introduces Anse Bundren as a character who shies away from hard work and convinces himself that others will step up if he lets them. Darl explains that Anse gets away with this laziness by absurdly convincing himself that he will die if he sweats. Apparently, others either believe him or play along with the notion, for Darl has never seen a sweat stain on Anse’s shirt.

He tries to smoothe it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side. . . . Pa breathes with a quiet, rasping sound, mouthing the snuff against his gums. “God’s will be done,” he says. “Now I can get them teeth.”

Darl narrates the moments after Addie’s death. Here, Darl describes Anse’s awkward and selfish response to Addie’s death. Not only does Anse awkwardly approach Addie’s body, causing more disruption than peace, but he immediately declares his selfish relief that her death means he can get new teeth. He focuses more on his needs than anything else.

I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as he was set on staying still, like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon, hunched up, blinking, listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was, and I be durn if he didn’t act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself.

Samson narrates as the Bundrens begin to prepare for their trip to bury Addie. Here, Samson describes Anse’s approach to the trip, delineating his lazy and blameless approach to everything he does. These lines also reveal how the townspeople view Anse in a negative light, a reputation he has earned through the way he allows others to take care of him and his family.

Anse stands there, dangle-armed. “For fifteen years I aint had a tooth in my head,” he says. “God knows it. He knows in fifteen years I aint et the victuals He aimed for man to eat to keep his strength up, and me saving a nickel ere and a nickel there so my family wouldn’t suffer it. . . . I thought that if I could do without eating, my sons could do without riding. God knows I did.”

Armstid narrates the section following the river crossing as Anse tries to find a team of mules. Here, Armstid provides dialogue from Anse that reveals Anse’s overwhelmingly selfish instincts when he trades Jewel’s horse for a team of mules. In Anse’s explanation, he only gives selfish reasons why trading the horse without permission seemed like a fair thing to do. Without reservation, Anse puts his desire for teeth ahead of Jewel’s love and true ownership of the horse.

“It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell,” pa says, kind of hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. “Meet Mrs Bundren,” he says.

Cash’s final lines of the novel reveal the true character of Anse Bundren. Not only does Anse show up with new teeth, but he also presents a new wife only moments after burying Addie. Even though Anse is often referenced as senseless, these actions actually show Anse as clever: He knows how to get what he wants. After consistently taking from others, Anse seems to be the only character to get what he desires.