William Faulkner’s story ‘As I Lay Dying’ revolves around the events surrounding the Bundren family matriarch Addie’s death and the interactions of its family members. The personality of its characters gradually came to light from their own inner thoughts and monologues and those of the people around them. I chose the character of Anse, the patriarch of the family because he reminds me of my second aunt’s husband’s personality and family situation.
Anse is a farmer whose coarse way of talking and vernacular dialect (section 9) reflects his rural upbringing and low level of education. Although their courtship was short and practical as described by Addie (section 40), Anse must have been a man of vision and action once for he was able to woo, convince and finally obtain the hand of an educated schoolteacher for marriage. However, Anse’s reflection of his unfair life as a farmer and the rewards he expects in heaven as recompense shows that the constant toil and seemingly endless back-breaking existence of a farmer must have disillusioned him for he was portrayed throughout the story as a man of “all talk and no action”. He continued to wallow in his misfortune, blaming everyone and everything for his bad luck, but he spent no effort in trying to improve his lot in life. In section 9, Anse blamed the road outside his house for his wife’s poor health and the weather for his apparent lack of feelings. He even viewed his wife’s death as another sign of his ill luck. Similarly, my aunt’s husband lost his job in 1999 and since then he relied on his wife for maintaining their home, cooking, cleaning, putting food on the table and meeting all their financial needs. Though he tried to find another job initially, the constant rejections must have negatively impacted on his self-esteem for he eventually gave up and nowadays, he does nothing but sit in front of the television, drinking beer and bemoaning his bad luck.
A discontented man will make a poor husband and uncaring father. They only see their own poor circumstance without appreciating the strength of their wives in trying to keep their families intact nor see the needs of his children for love and acknowledgement. In the story, Anse’s situation was aggravated by his selfishness and apathetic attitude. This was never more evident than on his wife’s deathbed when he did nothing but awkwardly stroke her face while saying “God’s will be done… Now I can get them teeth” (section 12) before returning to his everyday routine. No wonder Addie expressed her loneliness in the marriage and how she felt that Anse was dead to her (section 40). My aunt’s case is similar. I heard her complain to my mom of how she feels abandoned by her husband and how tired she is trying to make ends meet by working as a room attendant in a hotel.
Anse failures, as a father
Instead of giving praise for his children’s accomplishments, he easily metes out judgment for their actions while remaining blind to his own inadequacies. He criticized his daughter Dewel Dell’s act of delivering their neighbor Mrs. Tull’s cakes to town while on their way to their mother’s burial ground and his son’s Cash’s intention of working on Tull’s place as soon as they got back from burying their mother. He never considered that his own intention of buying a new set of false teeth as his driving force for the journey was an even more trivial incentive than his children’s need to earn extra money. Since parents are supposed to guide and help shape the characters of their children, it is no wonder that his children turned out emotionally constipated or incapable of expressing their feelings. This was reflected in their variable response to their mother’s death. Save for Dewel, none of them shed a tear for their mother. The eldest Cash coped with his grief by immersing himself in the construction of his mother’s coffin. The second son Darl refused to acknowledge his mother’s existence. Jewel, their mother’s favorite, never showed his caring until after her death when he almost single-handed lifted her coffin into the wagon, refused to lose it to the rampaging river and sold his beloved horse to ensure that his mother will be delivered to her requested burial ground. Though Dewel Dell, the only daughter, cried for her mother it was very short for her foremost thoughts at the time were about her sexuality and fear for her approaching motherhood. Even the youngest Vardaman appeared confused and declared that his mother was the fish he caught. My aunt’s only child is in a similar situation. She appears withdrawn, has very little friends and finds it hard to express her thoughts and feelings.
Despite all this, their manly pride remained intact. Anse showed his pride and foolishness as he refused Armstid’s offer to lend his team of mules when the Bundren’s team drowned from the river. Instead, he mortgaged his farm equipments, tools he needed to work and care for his family, pilfered his eldest son Cash’s savings meant to buy a gramophone and forced his son Jewel to trade away his beloved horse. (section 43) Likewise, my aunt’s husband would refuse our family’s offer for financial help saying that he doesn’t accept alms. But unfortunately, he wouldn’t even lift a finger to help his wife remedy their situation.
The only good thing about Anse is his seeming dedication to fulfill his wife’s dying wish to be buried with her birth family. But again, his drive to go to the other town is also fueled by his selfish desire to acquire a new set of false teeth. Hence, I believe that Anse, like my uncle, is an inadequate husband, an inept father and a useless man.