American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"William Faulkner of Oxford" (1952)


William Faulkner Delivers Address to the Graduating Class at University High School in Oxford

Audio mp3 delivered by William Faulkner


What threatens us today is fear.

Not the atom bomb, nor even fear of it, because if the atom bomb fell on Oxford tonight, all it could do would be to kill us, which is nothing, since in doing that, it would have robbed itself of its only power over us --  which is fear of it, the being afraid of it.

  Our danger is not that. Our danger is in the forces of the world today which are trying to use manís 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.

That is what we must resist, if we are to change the world for manís peace and security.

It is not men in the mass who can and will save Man; it is Man himself, created in the image of God so that he shall have the power and the will to choose right from wrong, and so be able to save himself because he is worth saving.

Man, the individual men and women, who will refuse always to be tricked or frightened or bribed into surrendering, not just the right but the duty too, to choose between justice and injustice, courage and cowardice, sacrifice and greed, pity and self -- who will believe always not only in the right of man to be free of injustice and rapacity and deception, but the duty and responsibility of man to see that justice and truth and pity and compassion are done.

So never be afraid.

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed.

If you, not just you in this room tonight but in all the thousands of other rooms like this one about the world today and tomorrow and next week, will do this, not as a class or classes, but as but individuals, men and women, you will change the earth.

In one generation, all the Napoleons and Hitlers and Caesars and Mussolinis and Stalins, and all the other tyrants who want power and aggrandizement, and all 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 manís enslavement, will have vanished from the face of it.


Research Note 1: Movie speech content adapted from Mr. Faulkner's originally delivered address to the graduating class of University High School in Oxford, Mississippi, on 28 May 1951.

Research Note 2: Further information on the film artifact here and here.

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