William Faulkner Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech Essay Of Smoking
After The Sound and the Fury was published in October 1929, Faulkner had to turn his attention to making money. Earlier that year, he had written Sanctuary, a novel which Faulkner later claimed in an introduction he conceived deliberately to make money. Because of its sordid subject the novel was immediately turned down by the publisher. Faulkners need for income stemmed largely from his growing family. In April, Estelle Oldham had divorced Cornell Franklin, and in June she and Faulkner were married at or near College Hill Presbyterian Church, just north of Oxford. Estelle brought to the marriage two children, Malcolm and Victoria, and after a honeymoon in Pascagoula, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they lived at Miss Elma Meeks house in Oxford. Faulkner, now working nights at a power plant, wroteAs I Lay Dying, later claiming it was a tour de force and that he had written it in six weeks, without changing a word.
Though his hyperbolic claims about the novel were not entirely true, As I Lay Dying is nevertheless a masterfully written successor to The Sound and the Fury. As with the earlier work, the novel focuses on a family and is told stream-of-conscious style by different narrators, but rather than an aristocratic family, the focus here is on lower-class farm laborers from southern Yoknapatawpha County, the Bundrens, whose matriarch, Addie, has died and had asked to be buried in Jefferson, a days hard ride away to the north. The journey to Jefferson is fraught with perils of fire and flood (from the rain-swollen Yoknapatawpha River) as well as the family members inner feelings of grief and loss. The novel would be published in October 1930.
The year 1930 was significant to Faulkner for two other reasons as well, both of which took place in April. First, he bought a decrepit antebellum house in Oxford, which plunged him further into debt but in which he would find comfort and pleasure for the rest of his life. Built originally in 1844 by a Robert Shegogg, Faulkner named the house Rowan Oak, after a Scottish legend alluding to the protective powers of wood from the rowan tree. Also in April, Faulkner saw the first national publication of a short story he had written, A Rose for Emily, in Forum magazine. It would be followed that year by Honor in American Mercury, Thrift, and Red Leaves, both in the Saturday Evening Post. Over the coming years, as sales of his novels sagged, he would write numerous short stories for publication, especially in the Saturday Evening Post, as a principal means of financial support.
That same year, his publisher had a change of heart about publishing Sanctuary and sent galley proofs to Faulkner for proofreading, but Faulkner decided, at considerable personal expense, to drastically revise the novel. The novel, which features the rape and kidnapping of an Ole Miss coed, Temple Drake, by a sinister bootlegger named Popeye, shocked and horrified readers, particularly in Oxford; published in February 1931, Sanctuary would be Faulkners best-selling novel until The Wild Palms was published in 1939.
In January 1931, Estelle gave birth to a daughter, Alabama. The child, born prematurely, would live only a few days. Faulkners first collection of short stories, These 13, would be published in September and dedicated to Estelle and Alabama.
Soon after Alabamas death, Faulkner began writing a novel tentatively titled Dark House, which would feature a man of uncertain racial lineage who, as an orphaned child, was named Joe Christmas. In this, Faulkners first major exploration of race, he examines the lives of outcasts in Yoknapatawpha County, including Joanna Burden, the granddaughter and sister of civil rights activists gunned down in the town square; the Rev. Gail Hightower, so caught up in family pride and heritage that he ignores his own wifes decline into infidelity and eventual suicide; and Lena Grove, a (literally) barefoot and pregnant girl from Alabama whose journey to find the father of her child both opens and closes the novel. At the center of the novel is the orphan, the enigmatic Joe Christmas, who defies easy categorization into either race, white or black. The novel would be published as Light in August in October 1932 by his new publisher of Harrison Smith and Robert Haas.
FAULKNER did not at all mind speaking out about the world in which he lived. At one time or another he complained of many features of our American life style: of our haste, of our activism—though we all said that we approved of culture, we couldn’t find the time to read a book or listen to music or look at a picture—of our commercialism, of business so often pursued merely for the sake of business, of our tendency to reduce nearly all human relations to the cash nexus, of our huckstering salesmanship, and of the value we placed on respectability. One of the characters in “The Wild Palms,” Harry Wilbourne, makes a notable comment on the subject of respectability. He tells a friend that it is idleness that breeds all of America’s real virtues, virtues such as “contemplation, equableness, laziness, letting other people alone,” whereas it is such prime virtues as thrift and independence that breed all the special modern vices, which are “fanaticism, smugness, meddling, fear, and worst of all, respectability.”
Closely allied to this fear of what your neighbors may think of you is something that sounds like its direct opposite: your own nagging desire to know the worst about your neighbor— the wish to find out all about his private life—and a willingness, if necessary, to violate his privacy.
The vices I have named are precisely those that any artist might be expected to reprehend. Artists tend to be unconventional, even bohemian. Naturally, they decry the moral furniture of a typical bourgeois household: a commercial ethic, an urge to keep up with the Joneses, an undue regard for respectability, an itch to pry into our neighbor’s private life, and a concern to sell oneself to the public, to have a good “image,” rather than to be oneself.
The modern vice that most outraged Faulkner, however, was the violation of one’s private life. Its enormity had been brought home to him by attempted violations of his own privacy. These attempts came to a head in 1953 with the publication in Life Magazine of “The Private World of William Faulkner.” Though Faulkner had begged the editors of Life to desist, they could not be persuaded to leave him alone. Faulkner took the matter sufficiently to heart to devote to it one of his rare full-dress essays. It bears the title: “On Privacy.” It constitutes his most elaborate and considered attack on the value system of contemporary America.
In the essay, however, Faulkner undertakes to rise above his personal problem and take a large, overall view. What had happened to him, he tells the reader, was what had also happened on a level of much graver seriousness to more important figures such as, for instance, Charles Lindbergh and J.Robert Oppenheimer. Though the nation had rejoiced in Lindbergh’s great achievement, it had not been able to protect his child, and when the child was kidnapped, it had not shielded his grief but had exploited it. Good manners and decency had been engulfed by the urge to make money by pandering to the public’s greediness for the sensational.
It is worth noting that Faulkner chose as a subtitle for his essay on privacy “The American Dream: What Happened to It.” Our republic had been born out of a dream. It had been founded to guarantee to every citizen freedom from oppression by the arbitrary power of princes, whether of church or state; yet though the nation had been born out of a revolt against one kind of enslavement, it had capitulated to another—the individual’s enslavement by a mindless and venal mob. Pushy newspaper men, yellow-press journalism (even when printed on slick paper in a prestigious weekly magazine), political witch-hunting—these, in Faulkner’s view, were no mere pimples on the body politic; rather, they evidenced a deep and malignant growth.
With the defeat of the South in 1865, the older régime did not abruptly cease to exist. Attitudes, ways of living, customs, and values survived—some good, some bad. Hence, in Faulkner’s novels about Southern life in the first third of our century, many of the qualities of the Old South are still alive. Miss Jenny Du Pre, who had experienced the Civil War, did not die until 1930, and thus remained to counsel and sometimes judge the twentieth-century members of her clan. Bayard Sartoris, who saw the War as a boy and lived through the difficult Reconstruction period, did not die until 1919.So much for representatives of the old planter stock who lived on into the new time.
As for the poor whites of settlements such as Frenchman’s Bend, their lives remained substantially unaltered until after the First World War. They owned no slaves to be freed, and if their economic lot did not suffer drastically because of the outcome of the Civil War, it certainly did not improve. They were small farmers and sawmill hands, and though they would have resented being called peasants, they hardly attained even to the state of a strong yeomanry.
For the blacks and for the poorer whites, the American Dream had remained a largely unfulfilled promise. Southerners in general, even those in better economic circumstances, had intellectual reservations about the American Dream. As C.Vann Woodward has well said: “In that most optimistic of centuries in the most optimistic part of the world, the South remained basically pessimistic in its social outlook and its moral philosophy.”
Though the Founding Fathers had looked forward to a radiant future—”Long may our land be bright / With freedom’s holy light”—for the South it hadn’t quite worked out that way. For Faulkner in 1955, the American dream seemed to risk becoming the American nightmare. Salient features of this worsening condition as reflected in his novels are the loss of the wilderness and man’s close contact with nature, the loosening of the bonds of community, the weakening of the old heroic virtues, whether those of the old planter stock or of the yeomanry, and the rise of a nakedly commercial ethic.
In “Delta Autumn,” Faulkner’s emphasis is on the violation of nature, the reduction of its beauty and mystery to a fixed cash value. In “The Hamlet,” this theme had been developed even further through the activities of the anti-hero of the book, the unspeakable Flem Snopes, chief of that predatory clan whose family name has now entered the language as a common noun meaning an underbred rapacious rascal. Flem Snopes is the poor but dishonest boy who made good in a spectacular rise from rags to riches. No business venture is beneath his notice if it promises to yield a profit. Since he possesses not even a vestigial sense of pity to embarrass him, not even widows and orphans can escape his rapacity. Honor, of course, is irrelevant to Flem, and on him even the ties of blood and kinship exert no restraint. Furthermore, he is a man without appetites or temptations. He lacks such vices as might distract him from money-making. He is impotent; he doesn’t drink or smoke. His only vice is the love of money. It is a vice, not a passion, for Flem is not a warm-blooded animal. Nothing warmer than plain ice-water flows through his veins.
Flem is one of Faulkner’s most wonderful creations: an inhuman, human calculating machine—the very embodiment of the commercial spirit. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that Faulkner as a man scorned money, or that he assumed as a matter of course that all business men were rogues. Faulkner has placed, in the same novel with Flem, V.K.Ratliff, the itinerant sewing-machine agent, who loves to bargain, is successful enough as a trader, and takes a heartfelt delight in meeting a foeman worthy of his steel. Ratliff is a man of the plain people, keenly intelligent, for all his lack of formal education. He is an excellent judge of character, has a fine vein of humor, and is a wonderful raconteur. One of the best of his yarns is his hilarious account of how Ab Snopes, Flem’s father, was bested in a horse trade by that legendary trader, Pat Stamper of West Tennessee. More important for our purposes here, Ratliff is a man of honor, who would scorn to take advantage of the foolish, the poor, or the helpless. In “The Hamlet” Ratliff becomes something like the conscience of the county.
If Faulkner does not sourly dismiss all business men as base and contemptible, neither does he associate a huckstering commercialism with the poorer whites. In fact, Faulkner’s most truly evil character, a man so eaten up with the love of money that he will steal from his seventeen-year-old niece, comes of plantation stock. Jason Compson has ancestors who were governors and generals, but he is mean-spirited. He actually enjoys inflicting pain.
The commentators on Faulkner who are in the habit of praising those Faulknerian characters who are willing to repudiate the heritage of the Old South ought to take note of Jason Compson and draw in their horns a bit. For if any character in Faulkner makes a root-and-branch disavowal of his personal and sectional heritage, it is Jason Compson. What, he asks, have his honored ancestors done for him? He is all for a realistic approach to a world in which he has come to believe that only the dollar counts. For Jason, even romantic love is reduced to the cash nexus. He confides that what he really likes is a good, clean, honest whore. With that kind of woman you know where you stand.
About all that Jason retains from his Southern heritage is a fine flow of rhetoric, which, hardened and made acrid by his cynicism and urged on by his rapacious vitality, is something to hear. When his employer balks at using some sharp business practices, Jason sneers: “I’m glad I haven’t got the sort of conscience I’ve got to nurse like a sick puppy all the time.” Jason knows whereof he speaks: his conscience can digest almost anything.
Faulkner regarded as ominous the rise of the predatory Snopeses who had begun, with the help of such eager recruits to Snopesism as Jason Compson, to prey upon the old order. Faulkner once remarked to Malcolm Cowley that the question for the South was whether the Snopeses would take over the country. Later, he told the students at the University of Virginia that he was “terrified” of the Snopeses. Flem Snopes’s lust for money obliterated all claims of family, clan, friendship, honor, and affections of every kind. But ties of this sort may also, of course, be frayed and weakened by other forces, and the loss of these ties—whatever the cause—was to Faulkner the important matter. For with the disappearance of such ties, there is a loss of community, and where community is lost, the individual becomes alienated. In the worst cases, the individual finds himself confronting not other human beings but a great impersonal machine, a faceless and anonymous force.
A few sentences above I have used the term “community,” but what is a community? W.H.Auden has provided us with a helpful definition. It is more than a crowd—a crowd is a group of individuals who come together purely at random. An accident occurs and a crowd gathers, completely heterogeneous human beings, brought together merely by propinquity and curiosity. A community is also more than a society. A society is a group of individuals related by function: so many butchers, so many bakers, so many tailors and candle-stick makers. The individual members in a society find it mutually profitable to live in a relation of symbiosis. But a community is something more than a society: it is a group of people held together by common likes and dislikes, loves and hates held in common, shared values. Where there is a loss of shared values, communities may break down into mere societies or even be reduced to mobs. The loss isominous, for when men cease to love the same things, the culture itself is disintegrating.
The dissolution of community, the loss of the sense of participation in shared beliefs, is a matter of record in this country—and in Western Europe too. Many of the great works of the last fifty years—in fiction and in poetry—have to do with the breakup of an older order and the individual’s attempt to deal with a fragmented world. Much of the work of Pound, Joyce, and Eliot, for example, reflects this cultural situation. Robert Penn Warren furnishes a useful summary. He describes the modern world as one of “moral confusion.” It suffers “from a lack of discipline, of sanction, of community of values, or a sense of mission. . . . It is a world in which the individual has lost his relation to society, the world of the power state in which man is the victim of abstraction and mechanism, or at least at moments feels himself to be.”
Faulkner was quite aware of how some of the great twentieth-century masters had handled the theme of alienation, and he shows his debt to them in such early novels as “Soldiers’ Pay” and “Mosquitoes,” But whereas in writers such as Joyce and Eliot the alienated hero usually suffers his frustration in some great world city, Faulkner had, already in his third novel, silhouetted his despairing hero against a background of stability—against a traditional society in a small town in Mississippi—a society that was also an organic community, close-knit, provincial, even parochial. The very fact of its status as a community made its own ironic commentary on the hero’s experience of meaninglessness.
One of Faulkner’s masterpieces, “Light in August,” will furnish perhaps the clearest illustration of Faulkner’s method for treating the alien, the exile, the rootless individual. Joe Christmas begins his conscious life in an orphanage, acquires as foster parents a stern Calvinistic evangelical and his beaten-down and submissive wife, and finally bursts out of this dour household, to try to find out who he is and to what he really belongs.
His various experiences have warped him away from nature, away from womankind, away from any kind of community—even from humanity itself. For example, because of the circumstances of his early childhood, he does not know whether he is white or partially black. He easily passes for white, and there is in fact no decisive evidence in the novel that he has any blood that is not white. But though he has tried to live at one time as a white man and at another time as a black man, he cannot accommodate to either rôle. In the end, he rejects both. In rejecting both communities, however, he rejects the possibility of ever becoming fully human.
What does Joe Christmas really want? More than once in the closing weeks of his life he remarks that all that he wants “dont seem like a whole lot to ask.” Sometimes the desired thing seems to be peace, just to be let be; just not having “to carry my life like it was a basket of eggs.” Yet the novel as a whole suggests that what Joe really wanted was something more special and complicated: he wanted to find himself, to be himself, to live his own life without external pressures and restraint.
Yet if complete liberty to be himself is what Joe meant when he remarked “That dont seem like a whole lot to ask,” he had deluded himself. For in our present culture it has proved to be more and more difficult to discover who one is and to fulfill that self in complete freedom. Even men far less handicapped than Christmas have found it so.
A very concise and lucid account of the precise nature of this difficulty is to be found in a long essay by Richard N. Goodwin, entitled “Reflections: The American Condition.” Though Mr. Goodwin’s “reflections” range over a great number of topics, I shall cite only that portion of his essay that is most pertinent to Faulkner’s criticism of the modern world: that is, that in which Goodwin discusses the individual in relation to his community—the individual’s freedom considered as an absolute end in itself and freedom as an aspect of the individual’s fulfillment of himself.
Goodwin points out that more than one thinker of the nineteenth century saw that “only within a community” could the individual find a social environment in which he could live a fulfilled life. The assertion may strike the ears of some of us as startling, for we all are thoroughly imbued with an ideology which “equates liberty with the absence of all bonds, all commitments, all restraints upon individual action.” This ideology, Goodwin says, manifests itself quite clearly in the present-day “dissolution of the human connections traditionally sustained by social institutions such as family, community, common social purpose, and accepted moral authority.”
Yet these frequently disparaged institutions of family and community, so Goodwin argues, constitute in fact the very “means by which individuals in society can join to create order and rule themselves.” The phrase “rule themselves” is highly important. Lacking a common purpose and shared values, men cannot rule themselves; for when men really have no purposes in common, order is lost and true self-rule is rendered impossible. Individuals freed from all ties with their fellows have in common only wants, needs, and appetites. They thus become vulnerable to the pressures of the demagogue, the political manipulator, or the impersonal bureaucracies that today so effectually organize our activities.
In order to illuminate this crucial issue, I want to quote a little further from Goodwin. He insists that the purposes of the true individual are not mere individual preferences and opinions, but purposes which are “consistent with [those] of his fellows.[The true individual] seeks to satisfy his own wants and to cultivate his own faculties in a manner that is consonant with the well-being of others.” Goodwin reminds us that Plato, in “The Republic,” asserts that the greatest good is the “bond of unity” in which “there is community of pleasures and pains”—in which “all the citizens are glad or grieved on the same occasions of joy and sorrow.”
Goodwin adds his own comment: “Within such a “bond of unity” the apparent contradiction in our description of freedom is resolved. If one exists as part of an organic community, its wants and necessities are not external [to one’s self]. . . . The will of the individual [belonging to such a community] contains the social will, which is, then, an instrument of personal fulfillment rather than of external coercion.” In short, true freedom is to be found only in the fulfillment of purposes common to, and shared by, other human beings.
Faulkner’s story of Joe Christmas can thus be read as an account of a thoroughly alienated individual, a modern Ishmael who lives in chronic revolt against every kind of community, a man who feels that communal ties are simply shackles on his cherished independence, which is the only thing that gives meaning to his life. Joe’s misconceived defense of his freedom turns out to be destructive—most of all to himself. But, of course, Faulkner’s “Light in August” is not a political tract, but a study of a human being, in this case a man much more sinned against than sinning; who, if he is sick, has been mortally infected, and through no special fault of his own, with the disease of our times.
Mr. Goodwin’s essay not only throws light on the connection of true freedom to the community. He offers a plausible explanation for the problem posed by Faulkner in his essay “On Privacy.” There, as I have observed earlier, Faulkner remarks on the irony of the fact that, though the American nation had been created out of a desire to guarantee to every citizen freedom from the encroachments of arbitrary power, that very liberty had, in the course of two centuries, somehow led to the destruction of the inner core of man’s liberty. “The American air,” Faulkner there wrote, “which was once the living breath of liberty,” has “now become one vast down-crowding pressure to abolish [freedom], by destroying man’s individuality. . . .”
Faulkner’s point is uncannily close to Goodwin’s. Here is Goodwin: “. . .the ideology of individualism is [today] so powerful that we still look on bonds as restraints; on values as opinions or prejudices; on customs as impositions.
The remaining structures of shared experience—the ties that make it possible for people to live with and through, and not merely alongside, one another—are assaulted as unjust obstacles in the way of liberty, as impediments to the free assertions of the self.” Thus, Goodwin concludes, the “new consciousness” associated with the revolt against the old tyrannies of church and state, “now inevitably becomes the enemy of human freedom.” To sum up: the individual’s attempt to throw off every kind of restraint has developed through a logic of its own from a liberating to a destructive force which, by dissolving the community, has left the individual alienated and robbed of his humanity.
Were Faulkner alive, he might very well have accepted Goodwin’s essay as a detailed explanation of the question asked by the subtitle of his own essay “On Privacy.” The subtitle, one remembers, reads “The American Dream: What Happened to it?”
Conversely, Mr. Goodwin might have very appropriately used Faulkner’s subtitle as the subtitle of his own essay, for, like Faulkner’s, his essay is an attempt to explain what went wrong with the American dream. Goodwin traces the rise of individualism not merely, as Faulkner does, back to the days of America’s Founding Fathers in the late eighteenth century, but to the late Middle Ages. Thus, Goodwin’s analysis will throw additional light on Faulkner’s account of what happened to the American dream. In the Middle Ages, as Goodwin points out, the cash nexus scarcely existed. Medieval society was essentially a barter society. Men paid in kind or in service what they owed to their superiors. Cash settlements came later, only toward the breakup of the Middle Ages, and along with the rise of a middle class. The expansion of trade and the use of money payments brought to medieval society a welcome liberation, and with the development of better techniques in agriculture and manufactures, brought also a higher standard of living. But one has to set down on the debit side of the ledger facts such as these: there was a shift away from personal and concrete obligations to more abstract relations, those typically represented by money settlements. In the twentieth-century world, this development has gone so far that the individual frequently feels that he no longer has any personal relation to his employer nor any communication with him except through the computer. The loss of concrete and personal relationships, whatever the compensations gained elsewhere, is a genuine loss. As Goodwin sums up: “We citizens of the advanced-industrial, space-age West . . . .live under the domination of an individualism whose conquest has been so thorough that it has torn the thread of individual life from the fabric of humanity. . . . The new consciousness through which the Renaissance attacked the injustices, the stagnation, and the material misery of the Middle Ages now, inevitably, suffocates human freedom.”
The culture of the Old South stands in sharp contrast to this new consciousness. Though the Old South was not medieval, it was a society based on the land; it was paternalistic, and if not a society at the barter level, certainly one that lagged far behind the economic development of Western Europe and of the northeastern states of America. Life on the Southern frontier—and nearly everywhere else in the South after its defeat in the Civil War—was poor, provincial, pinched, and harsh. Yet it fostered highly concrete and personal relationships. If, for instance, you injured someone, it was hard to conceal from yourself the fact that you had done so. If you exploited a person, the fact of exploitation was quite naked. A slave was actually called a slave. A man’s de facto wage-slavery was not, as so frequently in Victorian England and nineteenth-century New England, denied under the pretence that the person exploited was a free citizen who had the right to change his job and might do so if he found that he was unhappy with the bargain he had made.
It is small wonder, then, that Faulkner, writing out of this land-based, paternalistic, backward-looking, highly conservative society, should have possessed a special sensitivity to such matters as the dissolution of the old personal and concrete relationships, the shift to the cash nexus, the pressure of purely economic considerations, and the increasing stress on selling yourself to your boss or to the public, rather than simply being yourself. Eugene Genovese’s “The World the Slaveholders Made” and “The Political Economy of Slavery” provide a massive documentation of the strength and pervasive character of paternalism in the Old South.
The abstract quality of space-age America goes back, however, to the very beginnings of the republic. Goodwin points out that our Founding Fathers took the “models” for their idea of the new nation from “centuries past”—such as the Republic of Rome or from the ideological constructions of eighteenth-century thinkers, particularly those of France and England.”To be French or British,” Goodwin says, “or Chinese or Egyptian is to be part of a cluster of events and beliefs transmitted across centuries. The American idea [on the other hand] could not be formed from such continuity. . . .[We Americans] could form a stabilizing association only with an idea derived from national character and direction. . . .[Our] national idea differed from that of other nations in a crucial quality: It had to be constantly renewed, always made contemporary.” It had to be constantly renewed because it was not the product of history and lived experience, but the reflex of an abstract idea that one must prove over and over if it is to be kept viable and relevant.
The American national idea so described differs markedly from the Southerner’s idea of the South. For the Southern idea of itself is—or at least was yesterday—firmly anchored in history. It had grown out of experiences endured by the region as a whole, and it reflects memories of guilt, loss, and defeat, and not merely bright promises for the future. It has the emotional force of lived experience as distinguished from an abstract ideal to which one simply aspires. Not surprisingly, the world reflected in Faulkner’s novels is drenched in history; it is knit together by a sense of community, and almost instinctively moves to resist whatever it regards as pressure from the world outside itself.
This is not at all to say that Faulkner judges his Southern world to be perfect. As a man and as an artist, Faulkner has been very sharp on his region’s faults. My argument is simply that his native region has provided him with a point of vantage from which to assess the characteristic failures of modernity.
Goodwin’s essential confirmation of Faulkner’s criticism of the modern world is highly pertinent to the matter of Faulkner’s credibility. For Goodwin’s indictment can hardly be dismissed as the peevish grumbling of a mere novelist, or the prejudices of a north Mississippi squire, whose ancestors were slaveholders. Goodwin is a Bostonian, a summa cum laude graduate of the Harvard law school, and an adviser and speech writer for the late President Kennedy.
Some might feel that Goodwin’s essay is powerful to Faulkner’s hurt. For, set beside his masterful discussion, Faulkner’s most considered essay on the subject is likely to appear awkward and fumbling.”On Privacy” is highly personal and almost turgidly concrete. But to put Faulkner’s essay into competition with Goodwin’s “Reflections” would be to miss the point entirely. Lucid exposition is Goodwin’s métier. Faulkner’s true métier is fiction.
Every great novelist has his wisdom, but he imparts it in his own mode. He doesn’t make statements and offer arguments. He dramatizes fictional characters. His judgments are normally implicit, not explicit. But they engage human interest in a way in which the abstract statements of the political scientist never can. They make their appeal to the imagination. They carry dramatic force.
The work of the great literary artist, as a matter of fact, has never been more necessary than now. In a world which increasingly resembles the innards of a vast IBM machine, a world in which the human integers are likely to feel themselves dehumanized and left at the mercy of forces which, even when benign, are impersonal, we need the rich particularity and the imaginative reach of the literary artist. What he gives us is not life itself, but perhaps the next best thing to life itself: a simulacrum of life that helps us to come to terms with ourselves, to understand our history, and to get a firmer grasp on reality and truth.
I use the word truth advisedly, for by truth Faulkner did not mean statistical averages or graphs showing the growth of the gross national product. One of his characters in “The Bear” says to his younger kinsman: “Truth is one. It doesn’t change. It covers all things which touch the heart—honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love. . . . They all touch the heart and what the heart holds to becomes the truth, as far as we know truth.”
This is the passage that Faulkner, years later, was to echo in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, but one remembers that Wordsworth and Keats also speak of truth in almost the same terms.
Yet note that Faulkner writes: “What the heart holds to becomes truth, as far as we know truth.” That last proviso is all important. The truth that the artist is concerned with is always truth accommodated to the human heart, truth, not about mathematical equations or the stellar galaxies, but about the human being, his limitations and his capacities. It is for such truth that we go to the great artist, and at his best, Faulkner is a very great artist indeed.