William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is a novel about how
the conflicting agendas within a family tear it apart.
Every member of the family is to a degree responsible for
what goes wrong, but none more than Anse. Anse’s
laziness and selfishness are the underlying factors to every
disaster in the book.
As the critic Andre Bleikasten agrees, “there is scarcely a
character in Faulkner so loaded with faults and vices”
At twenty-two Anse becomes sick from working in the sun
after which he refuses to work claiming he will die if he
ever breaks a sweat again. Anse becomes lazy, and turns
Addie into a baby factory in order to have children to do
all the work. Addie is inbittered by this, and is never the
same. Anse is begrudging of everything. Even the cost of a
doctor for his dying wife seems money better spent on
false teeth to him. “I never sent for you” Anse says “I take
you to witness I never sent for you” (37) he repeats trying
to avoid a doctor’s fee.
Before she dies Addie requests to be buried in Jefferson.
When she does, Anse appears obsessed with burying her
there. Even after Addie had been dead over a week, and
all of the bridges to Jefferson are washed out, he is still
determined to get to Jefferson.
Is Anse sincere in wanting to fulfill his promise to Addie,
or is he driven by another motive? Anse plays “to
perfection the role of the grief-stricken widower”
(Bleikasten 84) while secretly thinking only of getting
another wife and false teeth in Jefferson. When it becomes
necessary to drive the wagon across the river, he proves
himself to be undeniably lazy as he makes Cash, Jewel,
and Darl drive the wagon across while he walks over the
bridge, a spectator.
Anse is also stubborn; he could have borrowed a team of
mules from Mr. Armstid, but he insists that Addie would
not have wanted it that way. In truth though Anse uses
this to justify trading Jewel’s horse for the mules to spare
himself the expense. Numerous times in the book he
justifies his actions by an interpretation of Addie’s will.
Anse not only trades Jewel’s horse without asking, but he
also steals Cash’s money. Later on he lies to his family
saying that he spent his savings and Cash’s money in the
trade. “I thought him and Anse never traded,” Armstid
said. “Sho,” they did “All they liked was the horse”
Eustace a farmhand of Mr. Snopes said. Anse steels Cash’s
money and towards the end of the book he also takes ten
dollars from Dewey Dell.
The ending of the book is best explained by the words of
Irving Howe. “When they reach town, the putrescent
corpse is buried, the daughter fails in her effort to get an
abortion, one son is badly injured, another has gone mad,
and at the very end, in a stroke of harsh comedy, the
father suddenly remarries” (138).
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 defies
explanation is why Anse is so cold-hearted and indifferent
to his children? What has changed him from the hard
working twenty-two year old man he once was.
In conclusion, by thinking only of himself Anse destroys
his family. He is selfish whenever his need’s conflict with
those of his family. His motives for cheating and lying
range from the greed of money to self pity. Instead of what
can I do for them Anse will always be the one thinking
what can they do for me.
Bleikasten, Andre. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
Bloomington/London: Indiana University Press, 1973.
Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.
William, Faulkner. As I Lay Dying.
New York: Random House, 1985.