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Alayna Kennedy
Dr. Mary Miles
Engl 137H
6 October 2014
Rhetorical Analysis: Faulkners 1950 Nobel Prize Acceptance
On December 10th, 1950, brilliant, revolutionary, and little-known American author
William Faulkner addressed the universal question of the atomic age: When will I be blown
up? Throughout his speech, Faulkner employs the appropriate forms of ethos and pathos in
order to sway his audience emotionally. By taking advantage of the kairotic sense of anxiety
during this time, addressing the fears of his audience, and structuring his speech in the form of a
literary epic, Faulkner was able to overcome the imperfect delivery of his speech and create one
of the most enduring masterpieces of rhetoric and speechmaking.
William Faulkners 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech epitomizes the use of rhetoric,
specifically kairos, to transcend the individual and address a universal human emotion. From the
very first line of his speech, Faulkner shifts the glory and fame of winning a Nobel Prize away
from himself; instead he directs the attention of the speech to a universal audience, saying that
this award was not made to me as a man. Although he redirects the focus of the speech to the
audience, the fact that he was just awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in literature before giving
the speech gives Faulkner a stronger sense of ethos. Because his audience knows that he has just
received this well-renowned award, they perceive him as a figure with more ethical credibility,
someone who is knowledgeable and worth listening to. After capturing the audience with this
appeal to ethos, Faulkner addresses the kairotic dilemma of the atomic age, using this moment

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as a pinnacle from which [he] might be listened to by the young men and women already
dedicated to the same anguish and travail. During the 1950s, atomic warfare and weaponry had
become so advanced that, for the first time in recorded history, humanity itself could very well
have been wiped out by the push of a button. People across the world were consumed by the
possibility that they would soon be killed. This frightening new age constitutes a kairotic
moment that not only provided an opportunity for Faulkner to address the universal anxiety of
the atomic age, but also called upon him to do so.
In discussing the universal issue of fear in the atomic age, Faulkner first succinctly
summarizes the insubstantial feeling of fear that haunted each individual in the atomic age,
saying Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that
we can even bear it. While this statement lacks extrinsic proofs or logos, it exemplifies an
appeal to kairotic intrinsic proofs and individuals senses of pathos. In true literary style,
Faulkner then takes these fears to their worst possible conclusion, a hellish future when the last
dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last
red and dying evening. This depiction of the future utilizes pathos as Faulkner plays of off the
audiences fears to depict a frightening future. However, in the very next paragraph, he provides
emotional reassurance that humanity will not fall victim to atomic weapons, using pathos to
further emphasize his musings on the nature of humanity. He writes:
I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because
he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit
capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
Faulkner structures his speech in the style of a literary epic to enhance the overall
emotional impact of his speech on his audience. As he describes the story of humanity rising

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from a hellish future, he presents it as a tale that has already gone by. Therefore, the idea that
humanity has already defeated the atomic fear of the 1950s is immersed in the story itself.
Through this rhetorical structure, Faulkner takes his audience out of the present moment of
atomic fear and allows them to see the possibility of human success. In this epic narrative,
Faulkner makes humanity a character that transcends the fear of atomic annihilation and retains
his immortal soul. By placing humanity in the role of an epic hero, Faulkner provided the
audience with a sense of assurance that they too would eventually forget their fear and remember
the beautiful, universal truths of the human heart.
In keeping with his structure of a literary epic, Faulkner casts the fear, anxiety, and apathy
of the day as antagonists in the epic, referring to fear as the basest of all things and the curse
under which humanity labors. During the atomic age, the world had begun to change in new,
dangerous ways, and people were frightened. Instead of ignoring the reasons behind this global
shift to fear, Faulkner first legitimized this fear by casting it as a powerful antagonist in the story,
then swiftly dismisses this fear by reassuring his audience of the triumphant nature of the human
spirit. As a result of his explicitly addressing the source of their fear as when they would be
blown up, the audience was able to relate to Faulkners epic about humanity, and therefore,
they were encouraged to respond to their fear in the same way that the protagonist of the story
did: by overcoming it.
While Faulkners speech is undeniably eloquent and moving when written down on a
page, due to a combination of binge drinking and a high fever, his delivery at the Nobel
ceremony itself is slow, halting, and unsure. However, because of the prestigious nature of the
setting and audience of the speech, his words still reached a world0wide audience. Although his
performance at the Nobel conference itself was less than stellar, his words still reached a large

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audience because of the nature of his speech. Nobel acceptance speeches are important affairs;
because of this, Faulkners speech was reprinted throughout the world, and his initially poor
oration was overshadowed by the beauty of his words and his exceptional use of rhetoric.
Often cited as one of the most brilliant Nobel lectures of all time, Faulkners 1950 speech
masterfully employs rhetoric to produce a powerful and enduring impact. By taking advantage of
the crucial kairotic moment of the atomic age, utilizing appeals to ethos and pathos, and
successfully addressing the fears of his audience through the structure of a literary epic, Faulkner
crafts an astounding tribute to the human spirit that still stirs the hearts of audiences to this day.

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Works Cited
LaVoie, Mark. "William Faulkner's "Speech Accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature": A
Language for Ameliorating Atomic Anxiety." Project MUSE. N.p., Summer 2014. Web.
06 Oct. 2014.
"William Faulkner - Banquet Speech". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 6 Oct 2014.

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