Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Faulkner expressed what he considered the main themes of all his fiction in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech at Stockholm in December 1950. In that speech, he said modern humanity is suffering from a spiritual tragedy: "There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?" Fiction should help humanity to deal with this tragedy by returning readers to universal human concerns, "the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." He went on to say that the writer's duty and privilege is "to help man endure by lifting his heart." The writer does this by showing "the human heart in conflict with itself."

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Faulkner tends to focus his fiction on characters attempting to find or create meaning in a universe that does not provide meanings ready to be discovered. His is not the traditional Christian universe, created by an anthropomorphic God and made meaningful by God's communications with humanity. Instead, it is a universe like Herman Melville's, which sometimes seems to reveal fragmentary meanings, but never a whole meaning that one can base one's life on. In this respect, Faulkner seems directly influenced by some of the writers he admired most, such as Melville, Joseph Conrad, and Sherwood Anderson — for example, "The Book of the Grotesque" in Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919).

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