William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, just four years after the end of World War II, when the Atomic Age was in full swing and the Cold War was a deep red sunrise on the horizon. In this war-ravaged era of anticipatory fear, Faulkner laments in his speech that “There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?” The youth of the age had been forced outside themselves - due to the political and moral conflicts of their era, young people’s emotions and struggles, and their relationship with these things, were all coming from an external place. The state of the world they lived in overshadowed anything that could have been going on within them, and this loss of introspection – fear, perhaps, of introspection – had led to young writers forgetting where good, honest writing comes from – within.
Faulkner says this quite plainly in his speech: “The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
He goes on to say that these inner conflicts, those which alone make writing worthwhile, do so because they alone are universal – the internal trappings of man, emotions which stem from a place deep within the individual, are what resonate with readers. And by ignoring these things in their writing, young people are creating empty fiction, words without truth – because it is these human truths that have permeated literature for centuries. The age-old tales of valor and bravery, of fear and sacrifice and love – what are these things without their human elements? And how can one write about them if one cannot understand their effects within oneself?
Faulkner says of the writer that “it is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart….” And harkening back to the old adage, write what you know, the young writers he is addressing must first re-learn what it means to examine the self and the conflicts found within, before being able to commit these truths to the page.