If truth is one thing to me and another thing to you, how will we choose which is truth? You don’t need to choose. The heart already knows. He didn’t have His Book written to be read by what must elect and choose, but by the heart, not by the wise of the earth because maybe they don’t need it or maybe the wise no longer have any heart, but by the doomed and lowly of the earth who have nothing else to read with but the heart. Because the men who wrote his Book for Him were writing about truth and there is only one truth and it covers all things that touch the heart.
[Truth] had to be expounded in the everyday terms which they were familiar with and could comprehend, not only those who listened but those who told it too.
-Quotes from William Faulkner, “The Bear”
Faulkner tackles massive themes in each of his books, and one of the themes he chose for the short story “The Bear” is the nature of truth.
I think I’m in the minority in my class when I say this, but I love Faulkner; his prose is beautiful. I’m not sure I agree with his conclusion that the heart knows what truth is, but the discussion is well worth having. The question is everyman’s throughout history: What is truth? Is it relative, or absolute? How do we know? And when you know the truth, what do you do with it?
Faulkner gives his take on the issue.
He nods to relativism by acknowledging that truth can be “one thing to me and another to you,” but he refuses to leave the issue unresolved. We all know truth, he says; the heart recognizes it. Wisdom sometimes fails to point us to the truth, but when wisdom fails the heart steps in to guide.
I find Faulkner’s answer a bit problematic because it seems simplistic. The heart is as unreliable a guide as anything else, and if minds disagree it seems overly optimistic to assume that our hearts will lead us to agree. I think he makes a profound point, though, when he says that truth will be understood not by the wise of the earth but by the “doomed and lowly” who have realized they have nothing of their own to fall back on.
Faulkner goes on to say that truth must be shared in terms we can understand. A professor of mine said once that fairy tales like Lord of the Rings and other fantasy stories are popular in our time because our world is so distorted that it cannot recognize truth if it’s presented as cold facts; a lens of distortion is necessary to see the truth clearly.
As a side note, Word’s grammar check tool is going crazy with the Faulkner passages. Just goes to prove the well-known fact that a great writer can forego all conventional rules of grammar…