In the spring of 1951, Faulkner was in Paris, New York, and Lexington, Kentucky, where he covered the Kentucky Derby for Sports Illustrated. He had planned to return to Oxford and resume work on Requiem for a Nun; however, "Jill had telephoned him in New York to say that the principal of the high school had asked if he would talk to her high-school class. It sounded like some sort of informal talk, and he found it difficult to refuse Jill anything within reason. On arriving home, he found that it was the featured address at the commencement ceremonies for her graduating class. He would have to write another speech, for a formal event before more than a thousand people" (Blotner).
In addressing the graduating seniors and their families, Faulkner begins with the threat of the atomic bomb and informs his audience that there are more sinister forces then even the bomb at work in the post-war world. As early as 1945, he had expressed in private letters his distaste for communism and the Soviet Union. He chose not to name these threats to individuality and personal freedon in his Nobel speech. Here, by contrast, he zeroes in on his target. "Our danger is the forces in the world today which are trying to use man's fear to rob him of his individuality, his soul, trying to reduce him to an unthinking mass by fear and bribery—giving him free food which he has not earned, easy and valueless money which he has not worked for; — the economies or ideologies or political systems, communist, or socialist or democratic … whatever they wish to call themselves, who would reduce man to one obedient mass for their own aggrandisement and power, or because they themselves are baffled and afraid, afraid of, or incapable of, believing in man's capacity for courage and endurance and sacrifice." The typescript reads "man's capacity for courage and honor and compassion and sacrifice." Toughening his stance and reenforcing his tempered pessissimism, he scores through "honor and compassion," replacing them with "endurance" in ink.
After exhorting the students to retain their individuality, and thus change life on earth, he ends by telling them, "In one generation all the Napoleons and Hitlers, Caesars and Mussolinis and Stalins and all the other tyrants who want power and aggrandisement, and the simple politicians and time-servers who themselves are merely baffled or ignorant or afraid, who have used, or are using, or hope to use, man's fear and greed for man's enslavement, will have vanished from the face of it." It is interesting to note that of the tyrants named by Faulkner, only one, Josef Stalin, was still alive and in power on 28 May 1951.
As in Stockholm, Faulkner spoke softly and rapidly and many in the audience could not understand his words, despite the fact that a he was using a public-address system. It was the largest graduation audience Oxford had ever seen and the applause was thunderous. At four and a half minutes, it was also the shortest graduation address on record.
This major public address, often overshadowed by the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, shows William Faulkner as vigilant Cold Warrior, not to mention distinguished citizen of Oxford and proud parent of a graduating high school senior.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale