On a literal level, the buzzards that follow the Bundrens' wagon in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying are a constant reminder that Addie's body is decaying. The number of buzzards increases as time passes, and the birds become more aggressive, moving closer and closer to Addie's corpse as the family travels toward her burial place. The buzzards remind readers that it is past time to give Addie a decent burial, yet her family is determined to continue the gruesome odyssey to reach the cemetery in town.
Several members of the Bundren family can be viewed symbolically as buzzards. Like the birds that circle the wagon, they prey on a dead body, using Addie's corpse as a means to their own aims. Though there is a nearby cemetery available, some of the family have their own selfish reasons for bypassing this solution and traveling to the town of Jefferson. Dewey Dell, for example, wants to go to town to get an abortion. Cash perhaps uses his mother's death as a way to stroke his own ego in regard to his carpentry skills. He is, after all, focused on precision as he saws and joins the planks for Addie's coffin. Cash is also fond of the phonograph the family eventually obtains in Jefferson. Even Vardaman, the youngest of the children, has selfish goals for the trip to town: he wants to see the train in the store window and eat some bananas.
Anse, however, is surely the alpha buzzard. Anse preys not only on Addie, but on almost everyone he encounters in the novel. He uses his neighbors to do his farm work, he steals money from Dewey Dell, and he trades Jewel's horse for a mule team. He takes from others, yet he proudly proclaims that "we would be beholden to no man." While claiming that the trip to town was his wife Addie's final request, Anse uses the occasion of his wife's death to get new teeth and a new wife.
Like buzzards that prey on the dead, the Bundrens use Addie's death as a means to fulfill their own secret desires.