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Faulkner's Human Spirit Essay

2595 words - 10 pages

William Faulkner accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in December 1950. During his acceptance speech, Faulkner proclaimed that the award was made not to him as a man, but to his life’s work, which was created, “out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.” (PF ) He felt that the modern writer had lost connection to his spirit and that he must reconnect with the universal truths of the heart—“love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” (PF ) Through his characters voice and exposure of their spirit, Faulkner solidified man’s immortality by “lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”(PF ) Although some critics have characterized his work as violet, dealing with immoral themes and the miseries and brutality of life; it can be argued that even his most sad and depraved characters express positive virtues and personal strengths, even if by a negative example. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the portrayal and manifestation of the human spirit in a select few of William Faulkner’s literary characters, showing that they possess both human strength and flaws.
So what is the human spirit and why is it significant? It is a somewhat indefinable concept. According to Faulkner the human spirit is the connection to the universal truths of the heart—“love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” (PF) But more than that, he was concerned with the idea that man had become oblivious to the problems of the spirit; that he lost his awareness of the inner struggle of heart in conflict with itself. The human spirit can also be described in terms of surviving adversity, adapting to change, and displaying courage. Dr. John Teske is a psychologist who has studied and written about The Social Construction of the Human Spirit. He defines the human spirit as: “that aspect of human mental life by which we can apprehend meanings and purposes extending beyond our individual lives.” (Teske ) He also suggests that within man is a neurologically based “moral space” and that the individual communicates with his own moral space by a kind of internal narration. The moral space is created in part out of cultural values. This ideology is significant as applied to Faulkner and his characterization; as his cast of characters lives within the microcosm of the post Civil War South, and is certainly influenced by culture steeped in tradition, honor, war and slavery.

Faulkner places his characters in Yoknapatawpa County, where they are struggling to recover from the devastation of the Civil War and the burden of guilt caused by slavery. Family pride and reverence for ancestors pervade the social stratum. Two families, the Compsons and the Sartoris, represent the declining southern aristocracy. Historically both of these families possess traditional values: they believe in honor,...

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