Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Poverty

By William Faulkner

Poverty

So when Miss Lawington told me about the cakes I thought that I could bake them and earn enough at one time to increase the net value of the flock the equivalent of two head. And that by saving the eggs out one at a time, even the eggs wouldn’t be costing anything. And that week they laid so well that I not only saved out enough eggs above what we had engaged to sell, to bake the cakes with, I had saved enough so that the flour and the sugar and the stove wood would not be costing anything. (2.1)

Faulkner very skillfully contrasts Cora’s obsessive concern over something so trivial – the cost of the cakes – with the gravity of Addie’s death.

"We’ll need that three dollars then, sure," I say. (5.8)

Darl parts with his dying mother for a mere three dollars. (Though keep in mind that three dollars was a lot more money then than it is today.) Still, the point is that the Bundrens’ poverty is so restrictive that it affects all their decisions, even during this family crisis.

"Why didn’t you send for me sooner?" I say.

"Hit was jest one thing and then another," he says. "That ere corn me and the boys was aimin’ to git up with, and Dewey Dell a-takin’ good keer of her, and folks comin’ in, a-offerin’ to help and sich, till I jest thought…"

"Damn the money," I say. "Did you ever hear of me worrying a fellow before he was ready to pay?" (11.16-7)

Anse risks his wife’s life just to save money. As readers, we may be inclined to condemn him for this, but it soon becomes clear that even the smallest amount of money is a matter of life and death for the Bundrens.

"God’s will be done," he says. "Now I can get them teeth." (12.22)

Then again, maybe he is a selfish jerk after all.

Dewey Dell said we will get some bananas. The train is behind the glass, red on the track. When it runs the track shines on and off. Pa said flour and sugar and coffee costs so much. Because I am a country boy because boys in town. Bicycles. Why do flour and sugar and coffee cost so much when he is a country boy. "Wouldn’t you ruther have some bananas instead?" Bananas are gone, eaten. Gone. When it runs on the track shines again. "Why ain’t I a town boy, pa?" I said God made me. I did not said to God to made me in the country. If He can make the train, why can’t He make them all in the town because flour and sugar and coffee. "Wouldn’t you ruther have bananas?" (15.3)

The Bundrens’ poverty seems to affect Vardaman most of all, here, and again later when he admires the toy train sets in the store window in Jefferson.

"I thank you," Bundren says. "We wouldn’t discommode you. We got a little something in the basket. We can make out." (29.25-6)

Anse’s pride overcomes practicality as he refuses yet again to take help.

And that may have been when I first found it out, that Addie Bundren should be hiding anything she did, who had tried to teach us that deceit was such that, in a world where it was, nothing else could be very bad or very important, not even poverty.

Addie’s principles prove to be hypocritical, like so many other characters in the novel.

"I got the money to pay you," she said.
"Is it your own, or did he act enough of a man to give you the money?"

"He give it to me. Ten dollars. He said that would be enough."

"A thousand dollars wouldn’t be enough in my store and ten cents wouldn’t be enough," I said. "You take my advice and go home and tell you pa or your brothers if you have any or the first man you come to in the road." (45.28-31)

Like Anse, Moseley cares more about principles than money.

"God knows," pa says. "I wouldn’t be beholden, God knows." (46.3)

Pa insists that only someone inside the family dig the grave for Addie, so that he doesn’t become beholden to any man. Ironically, he’s hurting his own family and forcing them all to make sacrifices for him (Cash and his broken leg, Dewey Dell and her abortion money, etc.).

"It was give to me. To buy something with."

"To buy what with?"

"Pa. Pa."

"It’s just a loan. God knows, I hate for my blooden children to reproach me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful I give them, without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky for you you died, Addie."

"Pa. Pa."

"God knows it is."

He took the money and went out. (58.21-7)

This is Dewey Dell’s abortion money, and Anse eventually uses it to buy a new set of teeth for himself. His selfishness dominates the end of the novel.