Study Guide

Anse Bundren in As I Lay Dying

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Anse Bundren

Anse is Addie’s husband and father to Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. He narrates sections 9, 26, and 28.

Anse is a lazy man. We know as much because most of his neighbors tell us so and because time and time again we see him acting this way. It is Cash and Jewel who almost drown in the river trying to get the wagon and coffin across, NOT Anse. It is Jewel who risks his life saving the coffin from the burning barn, NOT Anse. What makes us dislike Anse even more is that he tries to justify his laziness – by using God. In the first section he narrates, he argues that God never intended man to move much. If he had, he would have built him differently.

In fact, Anse uses God or the supernatural to justify just about everything he doesn’t want to deal with. Addie is dying in part because he was too cheap to send for the doctor; yet he claims he’s suffering unjust bad luck. Cash’s leg is in such bad shape for the same reason, but Anse would rather pour cement over it than spend the money to have it properly fixed. Time and time again he resorts to lamenting his own bad luck instead of admitting his own bad choices.

Worst of all, however, is Anse’s selfishness. He repeatedly puts his children’s dreams or needs on hold for himself. Jewel’s horse, Cash’s graphophone, even Dewey Dell’s abortion are all sacrificed on behalf of Anse. Of course, according to Anse, the ends justify the means: they have to get Addie to Jefferson to honor her last wishes. Does this sound like the Anse Bundren we know and dislike? Exactly. Throughout the novel, we suspect that Anse has ulterior motives for traveling to Jefferson, starting with the moment that Addie dies and he’s all, "At last! Now I can get my new teeth!" This is arguably the reason that he travels to Jefferson at all. Far from respecting Addie and her wishes, the journey largely disrespects her body as it decays above ground for all to witness (and smell). Anse’s haste in finding a new wife literally over the grave of his first only adds to this dishonor.

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