There is almost nothing to love about Anse Burden. He is probably the character in As I Lay Dying that would garner the most loathing from any reader. Even Addie Bundren would explicitly state that Anse was dead to her. In her only monologue in the novel, she describes him as liquefying into a vessel like cold molasses flowing out of the darkness, until the jar stood full and motionless: a significant shape profoundly without life like an empty door frame (p.116). This imagery that Addie gives to Anse goes back to her claim that words are just shapes to fill a lack (p.116). In this sense, Anse is an empty figure, full of words but lacking in action. It is in this very sense too that Anse would harvest the impression that he is a leech. This is clearly seen in the way he authoritatively takes Cashs and Dewy Dells money, and Jewels beloved horse, demanding sacrifice even though he himself has not risked anything. Plus he always has these conventional biblical sounding statements like Gods will be done... or Was there ere a such unfortunate man, which in actuality always seem to be in contrast to what is happening. Another detail that makes him despicable is the hypocrisy in his belief that he will get sick if he ever sweats and yet in contrast to that he criticizes those doing no sweating, living off of them that sweats. This seemingly pathetic man is the authority within the Bundrens and yet he does nothingan irony so angst enticing that one cannot help contemplating alongside Addie in the dark, cognitively mumbling:
`Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse.(p.116)
Why are you Anse. A strange question indeed. Yet it is not even a question asked as could be seen in the absence of the question mark in the text. Therefore it shall be us in the course of this paper who would ask this question to him: Why are you like that Anse? Are you really as empty and dead as your wife tells us? What do you have to say for yourself?
Of course Anse would not be able to directly answer these questions, but we could always look into the text of the story.
In Anses defense, the first thing he would probably establish to clarify his nature would be his central philosophy in life which could be seen in his first monologue:
Durn that road A-laying there, right up my door where every bad luck that comes and goes is bound to find it The Lord put roads for traveling: why he laid them down on the earth. When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways like a tree or a man (p.24)
What Anse is saying here is that God made man in a vertical sense meaning that he is not made for motion. Man is unlike a road, a horse, or a wagon, which were made to be always a-moving. Another thing that Anse establishes here is that bad luck comes to things like roads. Action or deeds invites misfortune as opposed to staying put. This belief would explain why he thinks that if he ever breaks a sweat, he would get sick. This also backs up his preference in using words in dealing with situations rather than actions. Though words may seem useless, at least he still says nice things to comfort people in pain as in the case of Addie when he said, You lay down and rest you. I knowed you are not sick. Youre just tired. You lay down and rest (p.25). He repeats this same show of affection when cement was being poured on Cashs broken leg, If itll just help you, I asks your forgiveness. I never foreseen it no more than you (p.140). Though it could still be said that Anse was in no way altruistic in these instances, at least we are made more aware that he there is at least a bit of substance instead of emptiness in justifying his nature.
The next thing Anse would probably say for himself in proving that he is more
than just a shape to fill a lack is that, in a way, he transcended Addies judgment on him by actually fulfilling his promise of bringing her to Jefferson. He ventured out of his comfort zone of beliefs that roads bring misfortune and that man was made for staying to, in order to keep his word-- the very same word that Addie criticized as empty. This no way implies that Anse would be forgiven for exploiting his children in making them do most of the work. We could see though that no matter how useless Anses actions in the struggles of fire and water in the Bundrens journey, he still serves an important purpose that is easily misjudged. Samson perfectly captures Anses worth in his monologue:
"I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as when he was set on staying still, like it ain't the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping (p73)."
We could see from here that it is the starting and stopping that Anse dislikes and not the actually the event of acting. Therefore it is a misunderstanding that Anse is incapable of action. It is just that he is static in his conditions. He is resistant to constant change rather than change itself. With that said, this trait of his actually becomes valuable to the journey. That is why he is so easily convinced by Dewey Dell that they have to continue their journey to Jefferson and not bury Addie elsewhere. This is why we cannot doubt him when he says I give her my promise. Her mind is set on it (p.74). The Bundrens spirit of relentlessness could actually be derived from Anses desire to keep his word.
The last thing that Anse would probably say in his defense is that he is a hunchback, an argumentum ad misericordiam perhaps yet still valid if we remove our pretenses. What is meant by removing our pretenses is that we should take in consideration that there are certain circumstances that Anse is not in control of just as it is not his fault that he is a hunchback. An instance that strikingly shows this is when after Addies death, Anse approaches her deathbed as Darl narrates:
Pa stands over the bed, dangle-armed, humped, motionless. He raises his hand to his head, scouring his hair, listening to the saw. He comes nearer and rubs his hand, palm and back, on his thigh and lays it on her face and then on the hump of quilt as he saw Dewy Dell do, trying to smoothe it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries to smoothe it again , clumsily his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh. (p.35)
Notice how the wrinkles continue beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity. In this most rare and subtle gesture where Anses love (if any) for Addie, could be identified, the wrinkles between them could not be smoothed out. It is not a matter of attempting then for Anse. Maybe it is a matter of inadequacy in his case or even rejection in Addies case. As Anse at last desists in showing affection for Addie, maybe it is inevitable in turn that he results into showing affection only for himself.
Now we have heard the apologetic of Anse, one thing is certain: The character of Anse Bunden is not readily to be judged as empty and dead as Addie in the story would say so. This is important to take note as it may detract the careless reader in concluding that the theme of the novel is actions speak louder than words when actually it is more complex than that. There is more to see than the apparent hypocrisy that Anse shows. Though there is little to be loved about him he can certainly still be loved.