Faulkner's Writer's Duty In Growing Up

Faulkner's Writer's Duty In Growing Up

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On December 10, 1950, William Faulkner delivered his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Today his speech is considered one of the most brilliant and inspiring speeches ever to be read at the Nobel ceremony. Faulkner stressed the "writer's duty" to write only of "the old verities and truths of the heart." He spoke of avoiding writing anything that is not worth writing about. He felt concerned about new writing where authors gave in to America's shallow desires to read "not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity of compassion." Faulkner wanted his optimistic views on life to be reflected in all writing and the optimism within the "courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity" to assist the human spirit in conquering and becoming something more than it was before. Why is it that writing today lacks so much of the substance that Faulkner speaks about? Is it the American population's desire for unreachable fantasies? Within the thousands of books that are deficient in truth and are willing to be temporarily "blown up", there are some books that fulfill many of Faulkner's wishes—one of these books is Growing Up by Russell Baker. Somewhere between the truthful descriptions of people, the honest opinions of work and adulthood, and the pressure to "make something of himself", Russell Baker fills in many of the potholes left from much of today's writing.
The voice of a child is the human spirit that Faulkner hopes to grasp in modern writing. The innocence creates depth and reminds the reader of themselves. After seeing his father in a car, about to go to the hospital, Russell describes his father as "…wearing his blue serge suit, white shirt, and necktie, and [he] looked alright to me." This captures the innocence Faulkner wants to see more of. His description is so unaware and truthful and it seems as though the reader could have said it when they were younger. The description is frank, not metaphorical, complex, or insightful. The insight is left up to the reader. The quote is also affective because it does not glorify his father or himself. Unlike many readers who embellish their stories, making family members (and, in particular, themselves) look better, Baker leaves himself susceptible to being judged as immature and as treating a grave situation (his father's sickness) as though it was unimportant.

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This pure, unaltered type of writing captures the young human spirit—the base elements of man—and allows readers to grow and learn with Baker.
Baker's questions about adulthood while growing up mimic many of the questions asked by people today. Questions such as "What is ‘good'" and "What is ‘evil'" are questioned by Russell Baker. After falling in love with Mimi, he fears introducing her to his mother in fear that she will not be accepted. A "good woman" was "…conservative and had dreams of…having babies and owning a horse farm. It was true that Mimi was not promising "good woman" material" (234). His mother and his love for Mimi pull him from side to side. He says that he shared his mother's belief in a ‘good woman', but that his "…feelings about Mimi were so complex that I was far beyond thinking of her as either good woman or bad" (234). This difficult situation puts him in a position that everyone will feel at least once in their lifetime. Those that have unfortunately had to decide can get tied up in this portion of the story, connecting to the emotions that he goes through and relating to the sacrifices he has to make. This type of writing is not only truthful, but page-turning. These questions help man "endure and prevail" and we can make something of the spirit we were given.
Faulkner emphasizes the importance of making something out of the human soul, a strong motif in Growing Up. This universal pressure to make a mark on the world before passing on is displayed well between Russell and his mother. When asked if he wants to be the President, Russell replies with a ‘no' and says that he wants "…to be a garbage man." Numerous times throughout the book, his mother answers in both anger and disappointment "Have a little gumption, Russell." Does his lack of interest in being the president mean that he doesn't have any character? Do his goals have to be unrealistic? They should not have to be. However, in today's society, goals are extremely high. The pressure to be accepted at a great college and become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or other respectable job is very strong. Including a motif of the pressure to become something makes the book relate to readers' daily lives. While the pressure motif looms over the head of the reader, it also looms over the head of the book.
Upon receiving the Nobel Prize, Faulkner said that he felt the award was not made to him as a man, but to his work. He thought that man would survive because of his spirit, pride, compassion, honor, sacrifice, and truth, and that the truth would take a writer to the spirit of the reader. Baker did not live his live according to what Faulkner said, preparing to write a memoir with every step that he took. He simply followed the path of truth and honesty which created a vibrant, thought-provoking book. After reading Growing Up, I feel like I have lived through another childhood. The pressures, decisions, and innocence that is exposed through his writing comes through not with force, but with clean, honest writing. It does not take a story-teller to write a story following Faulkner's proposals, it simply takes growing up.
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