As I Lay Dying Culminating Essay

This week Nicole’s 20th Century American Novel class begins to officially wrap up As I Lay Dying.  A quick glance at the syllabus indicates that we will spend the next few class periods working on developing our thesis statements and drafting our culminating essay.

Throughout the semester thus far, Faulkner has emerged as a character in and of himself.  So, how fitting that one of our essay options looks at the meaning behind his 1950 Nobel Prize Speech and how this speech relates to the message he is trying to convey in As I Lay Dying. (Click here for an audio recording of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech)

The assignment:

In his 1950 Nobel Prize Speech, Faulkner reflects on one of the biggest hurdles in 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, worth the agony and the sweat.”  As a result, he suggests, “[writers] write not of love but lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and worst of all, without pity of compassion.  His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars.  He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”

However, despite his grievances, Faulkner expresses sincere hope for the future of literature and man.  He says, “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.  He is immortal, not becuase he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about those things.”

Faulkner suggests that his work is “of the heart” and based on the “universal bones” of the world in which everyone can access.  In a clear, concise essay of 4-5 pages, discuss how Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is a novel “of the heart” and one that is founded on the “universal bones” of  humanity.

Some suggestions:
– Feel free to use just one of the universal truths that Faulkner lists – courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity, sacrifice – as the basis of your essay.
– Dig deep.  Don’t summarize plot; instead analyze how Faulkner’s choices (in language, character, plot, symbolism, etc) support your specific argument.
– Be creative in your analysis – aim to go beyond what we talked about in class.  Zoom in and out; look at both “big picture” and “small picture” questions.

Homework – Create a thesis statement and outline for your AILD essay.

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