William Faulkner and the End of Man

Like James Joyce, William Faulkner has an unjust reputation as a ‘difficult’ writer. Perhaps for this reason he is relatively underrepresented online. William Faulkner On The Web is by far the most comprehensive online resource on the writer and his works. It includes summaries of his works, bibliographies, character analyses and a great deal of other material. Faulkner. In fact Faulkner was a man of high ideals and surprising optimism; his stories are often very funny in a bleak sort of way. While novels such as As I Lay Dying take a humorous look at the grim lives of their characters, Faulkner is also sympathetic and perhaps just a little bit admiring of their resilience.

But what about his idealism and optimism? On December 10, 1950 William Faulkner addressed an audience in Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize. In his speech he argued that the fear of global destruction had distracted writers from the real purpose of literature, which is to understand the problems of the human heart. He went on:

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

Here’s a link to the whole speech.