In William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, what does he say young writers of the day have forgotten about in their writing?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Faulker says that the physical fear in the age of World War II has made young writers forget what being human is about: the older emotions and truths from a time when fear was not the only thing one could focus on. I have quoted the section of the speech...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

Faulker says that the physical fear in the age of World War II has made young writers forget what being human is about: the older emotions and truths from a time when fear was not the only thing one could focus on. I have quoted the section of the speech in which Faulkner discusses this topic.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, 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 suggests here that the main problem people have to contend with is the physical fear wrought by World War II. In light of this physical fear that overwhelms other struggles, young writers have forgotten "problems of the spirit," such as love, passion, sacrifice, or endurance. He suggests that, in order to overcome this forgetfulness, writers must be able to look past their physical fear. He writes that they must forget being afraid in order to look to "old verities and truths of the heart."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team