In December of 1950, William Faulkner was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, his acceptance speech titled “The Writer’s Duty”. Faulkner’s post WWII speech targets young writers and persuades them to see the importance of literature. He strategically arranges the speech, chooses specific stylistic elements to use, and appeals to his audience in many ways, to achieve his purpose of inspiring young writers.
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In William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “The Writer’s Duty”, he strategically arranges his speech in an attempt to best display his purpose. He begins his speech by introducing his topic, writing, and telling his audience how the process of writing takes lots of effort, “but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit”, also later refers to writing as “anguish and travail.” Then, he begins to show his target audience, by talking about the fallacies in the current literature, “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.” Following this, he displays his purpose, to get writers to fix the way they write, “The old verities a 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.” Then, he explains why his purpose is justified, “The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”, explaining that writing is essential to the endurance of humanity. Because of the way that Faulkner chooses to arrange his speech, he is able to get his point across and without the audience feeling like he shoved it down their throats.
Faulkner uses many different forms of figurative language and other stylistic elements to show his purpose. In his speech, he repeats important words, such as agony, pity, compassion, honor, endurance, and courage. By choosing to repeat these words he emphasizes them and gets the reader to pay attention to them. The same words that he chooses to repeat are also words which reflect strong emotion. People do not take words like endurance and courage lightly, because these words evoke emotions and memories. Faulkner knows this, and uses it to his advantage. These words also help display the tone in his speech. Words like sacrifice and love show us that Faulkner is writing in a very serious tone. All of the stylistic elements that Faulkner uses in his essay come together to display his purpose.
Faulkner strategically arranges and uses stylistic elements in his essay to appeal to his audience and achieve his purpose. He appeals logically to his audience, by relating to something they all understand and know, “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?” His audience could all relate to this because they had all lived during World War II and he was aware that this was what they thought. He appeals to his audience’s ethics many times throughout the speech, for example, “It is his privilege to help man endure 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.” Here, Faulkner puts great importance on writing, while making his audience feel it is a moral obligation to do right by humanity. Faulkner appeals to the audience’s emotions countless times, throughout his entire speech he uses such strong emotional diction that it catches the audience’s attention and pulls them by the heart strings. Although Faulkner uses many appeals to target his audience and achieve his purpose, it is the use and overlap of all of them which makes his appeal so successful.
In “The Writer’s Duty”, William Faulkner was overall successful in displaying his purpose and reaching his audience, however no text is perfect. One thing that Faulkner did exceptionally well was appeal to his audience’s emotions and ethics. He used emotionally charged words and made statements that targeted the morals of the audience often. However, Faulkner did not appeal to the logic of the reader very much at all. This is only a small weak spot in an already strong speech. If Faulkner was to logically explain, in better detail, how writing relates to the endurance of humanity, then this speech would have overall been much stronger.
In “The Writer’s Duty”, Faulkner combines arrangement of his speech, stylistic elements, and appeals to his target audience to achieve his purpose. William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “The Writer’s Duty”, is a very strong and sound speech, which has inspired many writers and continues to inspire more. Faulkner did achieve his purpose, or you could say, his duty.
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