Cash Bundren, the Underappreciated Hero
As I Lay Dying is rife with selfish and senseless characters. However, Cash Bundren stands out as a character whose dedication, compassion, and sacrifices contrast with the rampant self-interest in the rest of the novel. Cash is rational where the other Bundrens are not, and because of this difference, no one listens to Cash. Several times over, he takes care of the other characters’ well-beings to his own detriment. Despite this, he is still underappreciated by them.
Cash Bundren’s heroic actions, both physical and compassionate, are devalued by the other characters due to their selfishness. He is a morally strong person whose convictions lie in expressions of dedication. Consequently, Cash responds to these demands on his compassion with unfailing strength, beginning with his devotion to his family.
From the first, Cash Bundren is shown to be lovingly considerate in his own way; the first introduction to Cash is the sound of him crafting a coffin for his dying mother. He works all night in the pouring rain to finish it, refusing to stop for anything. “The rain rushes suddenly down, without thunder, without warning of any sort; he is swept onto the porch upon the edge of it and in an instant Cash is wet to the skin. Yet the motion of the saw has not faltered” (44). He is “tireless” in his efforts (44). Even when Cora Tull warns him that he will “catch [his] death” if he continues to work, Cash does not stop until he “drives the last nail” (46).
Cash shows goodness towards both his parents; despite Anse’s complaints about Cash, Cash only treats his father with respect and deference. Anse whiningly criticizes Cash for “making me pay for Cash having to get them carpenter notions when if it hadn’t been no road come there, he wouldn’t a got them” (22). Cash essentially sacrifices everything he wants on Anse’s whim. Anse digs through Cash’s clothes and steals eight dollars. “Cash aimed to buy that talking machine from Surratt with that money” (110). The graphophone Cash has coveted is sacrificed so Anse can buy a team of animals. Yet, in spite of all of this, Cash still attempts to save Anse from harm. When Cash is working on Addie’s coffin, he tells his father, “Why don’t you go on to the house, out of the rain? … You go on in… Me and Vernon can finish it” (45). He keeps his father’s well-being in mind, even if his father does not do the same for him.
Furthermore, Cash shows that he is always protective of his younger siblings and acts with their best interests in mind, particularly in one scene at a flooded river. When the Bundrens reach a river that has flooded over the bridges, they must cross the river on a ford. There, Cash demonstrates his heroic nature by attempting to save his family, even though his leg is broken and his family will not listen to his technical advice. First, he insists that “Dewey Dell and Vardaman and pa better walk across on the bridge” (72). Therefore, he saves them from being dragged into the flooded waters. He also attempts to save Jewel, saying “I tell you what you do. You ride on back and walk across the bridge and come down the other bank and meet us with the rope. Vernon’ll take your horse home with him and keep it till we get back… Three cant do no more than two can” (84). He basically tells Jewel to save himself while the two oldest brothers undertake the risk. However, he even tries to leave Darl out of it at the end. He tells him to “jump clear” off the wagon and save himself from the flood while Cash is still holding on to Addie’s coffin. “Darl jumped out of the wagon and left Cash sitting there trying to save it and the wagon turning over” (88).
Cash also takes care of his siblings in other ways. He shows concern for Dewey Dell, whereas others treat her like a housemaid. Anse commands her to prepare dinner immediately after Addie’s death, and when she only makes vegetables, he tells her that she “ought to took time” to clean and cook the fish (36). However, Cash says, “Here sister […] never mind about the fish. It’ll save, I reckon. Come on and sit down […] You better eat something” (36). He offers her dinner while Anse is selfishly complaining about the food she makes, showing Cahsh's kindness. Cash is also the only one to notice that Vardaman is missing after Addie’s death. He alone asks, “Where’s Vardaman?” (35). He does not become angry at Vardaman when he is discovered asleep next to the coffin, with “the top of the box bored clean full of holes and Cash’s new auger broke off in the last one” (42). His kindness and patience do not wane even though Vardaman destroyed Cash’s work and broke one of his beloved tools.