Although Anse Bundren is the supposed head of the Bundren family, he does very little to legitimately support his wife and children and instead acts selfishly for a majority of the novel. He is a poor farmer with numerous physical ailments, such as a hunchback and missing teeth, and he struggles to maintain an amicable relationship with his children. On the surface, Anse comes across as rather lazy, unintelligent, and self-pitying, particularly when it comes to taking any kind of action. Underneath this façade, however, is a cunning man who uses Addie’s death as justification for a journey that ultimately benefits him the most. He may only narrate three chapters of the novel, but the ways in which other characters describe his behavior work to reveal his dark, manipulative nature. Each member of the Bundren family has their own flaws and moments of poor judgement, but Anse may be the most morally corrupt in the end.
The early sections of the novel work to simultaneously emphasize Anse’s unhelpful and listless nature and foreshadow his strong, selfish desires. As Cash works to make Addie’s coffin and Darl and Jewel set out to make a delivery, Anse calmly sits on the porch and periodically checks in on his dying wife. The degree of apathy he expresses toward his family’s impending tragedy, which the line “I just can’t seem to get no heart into it” reflects, hints at the lack of concern he has for others. Even though he emphasizes over and over the importance of taking Addie to Jefferson after her death, the sincerity of his statement becomes questionable as he references his desire for new teeth more than once and laments having to pay Peabody for checking in on his wife. The idea of honoring his wife’s dying wish becomes the morally upstanding act that Anse clings to in order to disguise his true motivations once she passes away. He may initiate the journey to Jefferson, but his eventual lack of action as the coffin falls in the river and burns in the barn reflects the insincerity of his promise to Addie.
While Anse’s behavior throughout the novel is suggestive of his self-serving attitude, his final moments in Jefferson reveal the true darkness inherent in his character. After taking money from his own children in order to finish their journey, Anse abandons them while they seek medical attention for Cash’s leg, gets a brand-new set of teeth, and introduces an unknown woman as the new Mrs. Bundren. These final moments confirm Anse’s manipulative and selfish nature in a way that calls attention to the hypocrisy of the family’s entire trip to Jefferson. The fact that he walks down the street with a proud and daring look on his face suggests that he feels personally accomplished as a result of their journey rather than mournful over the burial of his wife. Anse’s ability to quickly move on to a new Mrs. Bundren also emphasizes the superficiality of his relationship with Addie, a point which heightens the harsh reality of his choice to turn her death into an opportunity for himself.