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A Vast and Enduring Monument: William Faulkner’s Literary lesson plan


Mississippi native William Faulkner is considered one of the world’s greatest writers and perhaps the most significant writer the United States has yet produced. In 1949, William Faulkner received the world’s highest literary award, the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his acceptance speech he stated that it was the writer’s duty to “help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” This approach to writing is certainly reflected in his work. Faulkner was born in 1897, during the post-Civil War era of the South. His literary work captivates the emotional transition faced by southerners as they emerged from an era gone-by to a new, more modern period. The characters he created exemplified the conflict that was embedded deep within the human spirit of southerners who live in this changing society. Reading Faulkner allows today’s society to take a step back in time and capture a glimpse of one of the most evolutionary periods in American society.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 3 and 6.


Grades 7 through 12.



Notebook paper

Unlined paper

Chalk/chalkboard (optional)

Overhead project/projector pen (optional)

Computer for various web sites (optional)

Mississippi History Now article, “A Vast and Enduring Monument: William Faulkner’s Literary Reputation”

Mississippi wall map

Copies of William Faulkner’s Acceptance Speech for Nobel Prize in Literature

Copies of William Faulkner’s short stories

“A Rose for Emily”

“Two Soldiers”

“The Bear”

Mississippi History On Loan videos (see ordering information in Extending the Lesson)

“A Rose for Emily” — 27 minutes

“Two Soldiers” — 30 minutes

“The Bear” — 25 minutes


Students will:

describe the characteristics of William Faulkner’s writing.

explain William Faulkner’s significance in the literary world.

analyze a primary source.

analyze a William Faulkner short story.


The teacher will ask the students to think about how individuals who are the best in their field are recognized for their special talents. The teacher could ask the students how the following would be publicly recognized for special recognition:

The Best Football Team

The Best Baseball Team

The Best Actor or Actress

The Most Successful Musicians

Their school band, choir, student achievement, etc.

The teacher will inform the students that they will learn about a native Mississippian who is considered to be the best in his field. The teacher will tell the students that they will learn about Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner, whose literary talent is considered the best in the world. The teacher might also ask the students if it is important to give recognition for special talents and skills (It can set a standard for others to follow).


The teacher will lead a class discussion about William Faulkner, which is based on the Mississippi History Now article (students should read article prior to class). The following questions or topics should be addressed in the class discussion.

Where was William Faulkner born?

Which town and county in Mississippi is considered his hometown as well as the setting for most of his novels? (a student volunteer could point out locations on a Mississippi wall map)

How did the nation react to Faulkner’s death in 1962?

How can you tell that this native Mississippian’s literary work is still widely read and appreciated?

How was William Faulkner recognized for his literary accomplishments?

How have the views about Faulkner’s work changed over the past fifty years?

The teacher will allow the students to work in groups of three in order to analyze William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Remind the students that this speech is considered a primary source. Found at the end of this lesson plan is an example of an analysis sheet for primary sources. The students can be allowed to use this in order to gather information from Faulkner’s speech. You may also want to tell the students that William Faulkner’s acceptance speech is one of the most quoted Nobel Prize acceptance speeches in history.

The teacher will ask for student volunteers from each group to share the information recorded during the analysis of the primary source. The teacher can record the answers on the chalkboard or overhead projector.

Be sure to address what Faulkner felt was the only thing worth writing about — problems of the human heart. Be sure to address what Faulkner felt was the duty of the writer – write about capabilities of the human spirit. Be sure to address how the writer could lift the heart of man, according to Faulkner – write about the glory of the past and the courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity and sacrifice, which is the essence of the past.

Allow the students to read one of William Faulkner’s short stories. If the teacher prefers, videos of some of Faulkner’s short stories are available from Mississippi History On Loan. The following short stories are suggested and videos are available for all three.

“A Rose for Emily” — Recommended for high school (27 minutes). This story focuses on a southern woman whose inability to let go of the past affects her capacity to live in the present.

“The Bear” — Recommended for junior high and high school (25 minutes). The setting for this story is post-Civil War Mississippi. The main character makes the transition from childhood to young manhood, while in pursuit of a legendary bear.

“Two Soldiers” — Recommended for junior high and high school (30 minutes). This Faulkner short story is set in the rural South at the onset of World War II. The story centers on a young boy who wants to go to war with his older brother.

Suggestions for short story activities:

After reading the short story and/or viewing the film, the teacher can instruct students to work in groups of three or four to analyze the story. Students can be asked to find examples of the values that Faulkner felt were so greatly tied to the past: courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity and sacrifice. The groups can record their information on a chart. The teacher will ask a member from each group to share their examples with the class.

Students can read the Faulkner short story and then view the film. Have the students analyze how seeing the film either enhanced or deterred their perception of the story. Students can be asked to reflect, in writing, on their thoughts about the short story after reading the story and then again after watching the film. Have the students share their thoughts with a partner. The teacher can ask for volunteers to share their thoughts with the class. This class discussion could focus on whether the content or meaning of stories might be lost or enhanced when books and short stories are made into movies.

The teacher can conduct a traditional literary analysis by analyzing the elements of the selected Faulkner short story. The students could be asked to list their analysis on a chart.

Optional activities for junior high or high school:

If the teacher feels that junior high school students would have difficulty in reading and analyzing Faulkner’s short stories, the following activities could be substituted. The students could be asked to work in groups and develop a timeline of significant events in the life of William Faulkner. The students could complete a comparison timeline in which they plot the events of Faulkner’s life as well as state, national, and world events of the same period.

The students could create a resume for William Faulkner. This activity is very informative for the students as well as a creative way to research the life of a person. The teacher could show the class a copy of their own resume or create a resume on another historical figure as an example. The activity could certainly be completed in history class prior to the study of Faulkner’s short stories. A sample historical resume is located at the end of this lesson plan.

History and Language Arts teachers could also plan a project together. The history students could create historical resumes and timelines while the language arts teacher analyzes Faulkner’s work with the students.

Information about William Faulkner’s life and literary works can be found at the following web site: (this is only one of many Faulkner web sites)



The conclusion of this lesson certainly depends upon which activities the teacher chose to assign. The students could share their timelines with the class. Resumes could be shared with the class. Students could be asked to share the most interesting facts they learned about William Faulkner. Students could speculate on which events in Faulkner’s life exemplified the values he felt were so important to the past. Students can be asked to share what they enjoyed most about Faulkner’s work as well as their criticism of his work.



Class discussion


Primary source analysis


Charts, written work or class discussion for short story activities







A field trip could be planned to Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi.


Students could compose an essay in which they address how the values typically found in Faulkner’s literary work have been experienced in their own personal lives.


Students could work alone or in groups, in order to write a short story which shows a character’s struggle with the past, as they deal with the present.


Have students interview an older adult or family member about the changes they have seen in their lifetime. The interview could focus on accepting change in society.


Students could compare and contrast the lives of William Faulkner and his contemporaries such as Richard Wright and Eudora Welty.


Students could research Oxford, Mississippi, and Lafayette County, which is the setting for Faulkner novels.


Students could research southern society in the post-Civil War era, which is the “past” many Faulkner characters have trouble letting go of.


The videos mentioned in this lesson plan, as well as other William Faulkner videos, can be ordered from Mississippi History On Loan, a service offered by the Museum Division, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Videos listed in its catalog are available free of charge to Mississippi public schools and to eligible private schools. Complete the required form (if you do not have one, call 601-961-4724 and ask the audiovisual coordinator to mail one to you). Mail the completed form to: Mississippi History On Loan, Manship House Museum, 420 East Fortification Street, Jackson, Mississippi 39202-2340

Some of Faulkner’s short stories, his Nobel Prize acceptance speech as well as other works can be found in the following book: Mississippi Writers: An Anthology, edited by Dorothy Abbott, University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Sample Analysis Sheet (PDF Format)

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