Updated: Mar 27
William Faulkner's Inspiring Words
William Faulkner and me
Strangely enough, I am not a fan of William Faulkner’s novels. I dislike the stream-of-consciousness approach and the convoluted thoughts and relationships in the narrator’s head. Perhaps if I reread Absalom, Absalom and The Sound and the Fury now, decades after my initial, mandatory reading, I might feel differently.
His novels aside, William Faulkner did fascinate and entertain me in a weird, macabre way with his short story, “A Rose for Emily.” Read in high school, it packed a powerful punch that has stayed with me ever since. One of the wildest, most hilarious conversations I’ve ever had was prompted by this story. Defining the key concept of “necrophilia” led to the question, “What’s the weirdest word in your head?” You can imagine how it went from there…
And if you haven’t read “A Rose for Emily” and are intrigued, I can only say you might be slightly twisted.
I didn’t fully appreciate As I Lay Dying when I read it as a college freshman, but it did provide a week of solid amusement when a fellow English major and I spent a full week exchanging notes on each other’s door.
“My mother is a sturgeon.”
“My mother thinks she’s an angelfish, but she’s a barracuda.”
“My mother is a tuna casserole.”
You get the idea. We were young and silly and unimpressed by William Faulkner's iconic status.
The Nobel Prize for Literature Acceptance Speech
But putting all fun aside, one piece of Faulkner’s writing made a tremendous impact on me: His acceptance speech for the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature.
You’ve probably heard phrases from this speech. He talks about “…the human heart in conflict with itself,” the “agony and sweat of the human spirit,” and the “puny inexhaustible voice” of man.
His words from seventy years ago are a mantra for writers and poets now. We are living in the current environment of uncertainty and Coronavirus woes, a time that Faulkner might have been talking about when he said,
“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear.”
Faulkner urges writers to do four things
Don’t be afraid. A writer “must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever.” It is only by overcoming fear that we can concentrate on what really matters — the human soul.
Write not about fear, but about the elements of humanity that elevate us above the animals. Faulkner reminds us that man is different from all other creatures because he alone “has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
Tell stories of the human heart because we need them now. They’re both an important historical record and much-needed inspiration in hard times.
Remind people that mankind will not disappear from the face of the earth and that we will not only survive, but thrive. Lift people up. Give encouragement.
“Man will not merely endure: he will prevail.”
Writers and journalists everywhere — today and every day — can model our actions on Faulkner’s immortal words.
“The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
We can give hope.
Buy Absalom, Absalom
Buy As I Lay Dying
Buy A Rose for Emily