As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner depicts the story of one tragic family and their dismal journey across Missouri. While the Bundren’s originally set out in wake of their mother’s death, their journey is soon fueled by jealousy, selfishness and utter hatred as they are forced to depend on each other. In assessing the true severity of their dysfunction, it’s critical to critique each family member individually for their personal motives and feelings throughout the journey.
Anse Bundren can obviously be seen as the most selfish and self-centered member of the family. Furthered by some ridiculous belief that “ … [I]f he ever sweats, he will die” (Faulkner 17), Anse devotes his life to avoiding and dealing out work. While he may seem somewhat focused on fulfilling his promise to Addie her burial, the only real reason Anse wants to go is to Jefferson is to“ … [G]et them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will”(111).
Dewey Dell follows as a close second for most selfish family member. She is so wrapped up in her pregnancy and getting an abortion that she completely neglects all wants or needs of her brothers, father and recently deceased mother. While occasionally she does play a motherly role towards Vardaman, Dewey Dell rarely goes a passage without mentioning herself and her problems, especially towards the end of the book.
Vardaman is much tougher to decipher as his true feelings are somewhat masked by his immaturity and inability to really convey any thing. After Vardaman’s simple yet profound revelation that “ My mother is a fish” (84), Vardaman frees Addie by drilling an air hole in the coffin. Eventually, the coffin is dropped in the river and “… [Darl] let her get away” (151). This signals the end of Vardaman’s concern for his mother in the coffin because he is sure that “My mother is not in the box. My mother does not smell like that. My mother is a fish” (196). Vardaman’s focus then moves on to more important things, like the train set and bananas in town.
Maybe the simplest and most straightforward character in the book, Cash seems to not share any feelings towards his family at all, other than the devotion he shows to his mother with the construction of the coffin. The majority of his passages until his final confrontation with Darl concern his tools, the coffin or his leg. Cash too had an ulterior motive for traveling to Jefferson, which was the new record player he could buy with his carpentry money, but its hard to say Cash is anywhere near the level of Anse or Dewey Dell.
After analyzing the book, it’s easy to say that Darl and Jewel truly did not have any other motives for their journey other than burying Addie. But I propose that Darl and Jewel actually had...