It shows the selfishness of Dewey Dell, who is only concerned about her pregnancy and gives other family members little thought. It shows the long-suffering, to the point of self-immolation, of Cash. It shows the rivalry of Darl and Jewel, both vying for their dead mother's affection. And it shows the innocent simplicity, bordering on mental instability, of the young Vardaman. Each of these family members was affected in different ways by this destructive family dynamic.
Anse, in one of the most telling passages in the book regarding his relationship to the family, goes down the list of family members and whines about how each has cost him money in some way, further complaining that he has to work, when he does so, even though he doesn't have any teeth (35-37). Wadlington argues that because the story is set in the south and Anse is the "master" of the house, such laziness sets in motion a story of economic neglect in a culture where the male parent should be the breadwinner but isn't in this case. This selfishness of the father toward his children and wife is certainly evident, and it impacts negatively on the children. For example, in the youngest child's narratives, Vardaman speaks often of his mother and siblings but almost never talks about Anse. In the one extended passage where the father is mentioned, Vardaman repeats that "Pa Walks around. His shadow walks around." (65-67). The father is just a peripheral figure in the children's lives. And when he does come around, he makes no effort to hide his selfishness and pettiness, even going to the extreme of marrying a new bride and getting new teeth the day after...
Because he has also sold Jewel's horse and used Cash's phonograph money previously to buy new mules, the fact that he wore new teeth had to come as a double insult. (He got his dream, but deferred theirs.) He was even willing to allow his son Darl to be committed to a mental institute to save having to pay for the barn. As a father figure, he cuts a poor image.
Addie, we know mainly through the product of her children. We find that she seemed incapable of giving real love to the children and to her husband. In the one passage she narrates, she says, "I gave Anse the children. I did not ask for them" (174). She also makes the point that she had no love for Anse, but simply did her duty as a wife, and one presumes this is true in her role as a mother as well. Only to Jewel does she show something like real affection, as when she wanted him to come while she was on her death bed, and the other children notice this (47).
Cash, who serves as the narrator for several passages in the novel but often seems to choke on his words (96, 165), seems to be the most stable character, at least as seen through the eyes of his siblings. However, he doesn't seem to know how to interact with the rest of the family in order to get them to work together and overcome their selfishness and rivalries. In a telling passage revolving around the placement of the coffin on the wagon, but also hinting at more, he says, "It wasn't on a balance. I told them that is they wanted it to tote and ride on a balance, they would have to & #8230;" He doesn't know how to finish the sentence. As the oldest child, the one who earned money (suitable for someone with his name), perhaps he felt responsibility without authority. He eventually resigned himself to suffer along with the family, and in doing so, seemed to gain his voice, for it is he that narrates the final passage, and does so with a kind of new-found peaceful quiet (258-261). It seems that putting his mother in the grave released him from a burden that he had carried as the oldest child in a family where the mother and father both rejected the children.
Darl has odd visionary abilities and, perhaps because of this, he is the most sensitive and articulate Bundren. He narrates more passages than any other child and perhaps it is this role as spokesperson that ultimately drive him mad. He has an intense rivalry with his brother Jewel, whom he seems to know is not his full brother, for the love of Addie. As fitting for someone with a name that seems to be a variant of Darling -- but one that shows reluctance on the part of the parent to go the full way in naming him such --
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