As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Self-Interest

1

He comes nearer and rubs his hands, palm and back on his thigh and lays it on her face and then on the hump of quilt where her hands are . . . The sound of the saw snores steadily into the room. 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.”

Anse Bundren presents the theme of self-interest more obviously than any other character in this novel. From his lazy and self-reliant personality to his willingness to take anything to get what he wants, Anse puts his own self-interest above anything else. In this quote, Addie Bundren has just died, and after awkwardly touching her face and hands, Anse declares that her death is “God’s will” and “Now [he] can get them teeth.” While Anse hides behind duty and a promise made to Addie, Anse is ultimately lead by his own self-interest.

2

“I dont care what your heart is,” she says. She was whispering, kind of, talking fast. “You promised her. You’ve got to. You—” then she seen me and quit, standing there. If they’d been pistols, I wouldn’t be talking now.

When the Bundrens stop at Samson’s place before attempting to cross the river, Dewey Dell’s self-interest in going to Jefferson becomes even more clear. After Samson tries to talk some sense into Anse Bundren regarding the flooded river, Dewey Dell glares at Samson and demands that her father follow through with his promise to Addie. As Darl hinted earlier, Dewey Dell wants to go to Jefferson for selfish reasons, and her desperation connects to the theme of self-interest as she becomes another family member with selfish motives for this trip.

3

Then we see it wasn’t the grip that made him look different; it was his face, and Jewel says, “He got them teeth.” It was a fact. It made him look a foot taller, kind of holding his head up, hangdog and proud too, and then we see her behind him, carrying the other grip—a kind of duck-shaped woman all dressed up . . .

In the final pages of the novel, Anse completes his blatant display of the theme of self-interest as he returns with not only a new set of teeth but also a new wife to replace Addie only hours after her burial. As these lines explain, Anse keeps his children waiting and returns looking proud and tall, showing no guilt in his selfishness. While other family members, like Dewey Dell and Vardaman, also had selfish motives for their trip to Jefferson, only Anse gets what he wants after doing very little to help make the trip run smoothly.