As the oldest of the Bundren children, Cash Bundren exhibits a rational and levelheaded attitude which none of the other family members seem close to achieving. He often aims to take care of his family in a way that Anse is incapable of, but, as his five narrative sections reveal, he is sometimes accommodating to a fault. His inability to win arguments with his brothers leads to challenges with the wagon and coffin, and he endures tremendous pain as he is unable to keep his family from making a cement cast for his leg. Even still, Cash’s character arc follows a more positive trend than most others in the novel as he eventually takes over Darl’s role as the most reliable narrator. His perspective widens as a result of the family’s controversial journey to Jefferson, but the fact that he ends the novel as a sacrificial figure suggests that, among the Bundrens, having a more open and giving worldview comes at a high cost.
For a majority of the novel, Cash appears as a diligent if not single-minded carpenter who shows respect for his dying mother through the care he takes in building her coffin. Jewel criticizes Cash’s decision to build the coffin outside where Addie can see it, suggesting that it shows that he wants her to die, but this choice actually allows Cash to express his love for her through his work. He even goes so far as to offer the reader a list of thirteen reasons why he chose the more difficult task of making the coffin “on the bevel,” revealing both his logical nature and his commitment to provide the best for Addie. The complicated way in which Cash goes about filling the holes that Vardaman drilled into the coffin has a similar impact, and his insistence that the coffin be properly balanced on the wagon highlights his desire to maintain Addie’s respectability throughout their journey.
Cash’s inability to meaningfully stand up for himself, a product of his generally accommodating personality, ultimately encourages the negative trajectory of the Bundren’s journey to Jefferson and leaves him in a helpless position. Despite his repeated assertion that the coffin is not stable enough to make it across the river on the wagon, he is unable to dissuade Jewel and Darl from their chosen course of action. Cash’s attempt to save the coffin and the wagon, an act which reflects his impulse to support his family, results in the physical sacrifice of his leg as it badly breaks. Once he makes this sacrifice, he remains under their influence for the rest of the novel and is unable to restore the balance he so diligently attempted to imbue their trip with as he crafted Addie’s coffin. The eventual loss of Cash’s leg does not serve any cause that he believes in, rendering his act of heroism pointless and revealing the unsustainable nature of his giving personality.