As I Lay Dying
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" (84).
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
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
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.