Anse Bundren is introduced to the reader through the perception of others in As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. His neighbors see him as lazy. Anse finally shares his point of view beginning on page 35 of the Vintage International Edition. On page 37, a revealing paragraph illuminates the logic behind Anse’s behavior. Perhaps his neighbors speak more kindly of Anse than they might think. Anse views others as props on the larger stage of his self; their importance derives from their relation to his ease. Yet Anse does not see the sin in this view; God has put him here; he is ordained to exist and to enjoy.
What thoughts should prey on the mind of a husband soon to lose his wife, as Anse soon will? His thoughts might differ with the expected answers to this question: “And now I got to pay for it, me without a tooth in my head — and her hale and well as ere a woman in the land until that day.” (37). Funeral costs can be excessive, and surely one of the stages of grieving might involve blaming the one who is “leaving” us, and yet to focus on these sentiments seems unbelievably callous. His wife’s death is yet another obstacle to the dental care to which he is entitled. Anse toothless-ness suggests impotence; he has no bite or force with which to act upon the world. Faulkner’s patriarchal figure stands helpless against the tide of events, leaving his family undefended. A toothless patriarch, disarmed much as the defunct Confederacy that once ruled the land where the Bundrens live.
Anse also refers to his children in this paragraph: “Got to pay for the way for them boys to have to go away away and earn it.” (37). He depersonalizes their names by calling his children “them boys,” along with his wife, who is compared to “a woman in the land.” (37). They are blank features in the landscape. Strangely, as he dehumanizes his family, he invests the rain with human qualities. There are first signs of this in the rhythm of his diatribe: “Got to pay — .Got to pay — .Got to pay.” (37). The beat of rainfall can nearly be heard in these words.Ã’ The weight of the rain echoes the weight of his financial obligations. Anse has the pathetic fallacy that the rain echoes his emotional reality. It is a godlike presumption, that one has power over the rain, echoing another equation with God earlier in the paragraph. “….I could get my mouth fixed where I could eat God’s own vituals as a man should.” (37). Anse feels entitled to eat “God’s own vituals” as God does. He is entitled to god-hood, yet cannot exercise his rights because of his toothless-ness.
The rain shifts meaning in the last sentence of the paragraph: “And now I can see same as second sight the rain shutting down betwixt us, a-coming up that road like a durn man, like it want ere a other house to rain on in all the living land.” (37). If the rain is a man, what kind of man is he? The rain has already been equated with debts to pay; perhaps this man has come to collect on the ultimate debt. This rain has become death to Anse’s mind. His house has been eerily selected by the rain, and the black road that Anse has always dreaded is answering his foreboding. He now presumes to have “second sight,” another symptom of Anse’s belief in his divine self-hood.
Anse Bundren stands as a man intensely in and of his own consciousness. He cannot bridge the gap between the self and the other because his view of his own god-hood will not allow a view of the god-hood of others. He rationalizes his lack of power through his toothless-ness; he has the right to it, but is not equipped to utilize authority. He is a patriarch who cannot shield his house or family from the rain.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage International, 1985.