|Huey P. Long, known as "The Kingfish," controlled Louisiana politics for some ten years, until he was assassinated in 1935. He was the law, he was above the law--he ruled with the force of royalty through an effective political machine while serving as governor of the state (1928-31) and U.S. Senator (1931-35). But just as Humpty Dumpty in the nursery rhyme toppled off his perch, so did Robert Penn Warren's fictionalized Huey Long, Willie Stark in All the King's Men. Willie sat high on a wall, but had a great fall--and as you read Warren's novel you will understand why all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Willie together again.
On one level, then, All the King's Men is the study of the rise and fall of a political dictator in the southern United States. On another level, it is the study of a man's journey toward self-knowledge along the winding and difficult paths that emerge from the past. Many elements of Warren's own past went into making this novel. And although the novel explores age-old philosophical ideas, the ideas are not stale or moldy. They come alive because Warren grounds them in his own experience and in vivid characters who flourish and perish in a particular landscape--the American South.
Warren was born in 1905 in the tobacco country of Guthrie, Kentucky, the eldest son of a businessman and a schoolteacher. Political violence was a part of his earliest memories, The Kentucky tobacco wars of 1905 to 1908 raged in the surrounding areas. Many tobacco growers organized themselves against the big buyers, often riding into the night to terrorize other growers who were unsympathetic to their crusade for better prices. These events provided the background for Warren's first published novel, Night Rider (1939).
Poetry and history were also a part of Warren's childhood. His maternal grandfather, a Confederate cavalry officer in the Civil War, frequently quoted poetry to Warren and introduced him to Southern history. As a boy, Warren developed an allegiance to the South, a sense of history, and a love for literature. He read widely, from the great biologist Charles Darwin to detective stories, from Boy Scout manuals to American history books.
At sixteen, Warren entered Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, intending to become a chemical engineer. But while taking a freshman English course with the famous poet John Crowe Ransom, he turned toward a career in literature. As an undergraduate, Warren helped edit The Fugitive--a literary journal named for the image of the wandering outcast--and in it he published his first poems. The group--particularly John Crowe Ransom, Donald G. Davidson, Allen Tate, and Warren--are credited with originating a Southern literary renaissance. They wrote poetry and ushered in a new movement of literary criticism, named the New Criticism by Ransom. As witnesses to the rapid industrialization of the South by Northern industries, the Fugitives feared that technology would strip nature, as well as humanity, of its sensuous and contemplative qualities. Through their poetry they expressed their belief in a return to reverence for land and for human experience. For the New Critics, however, the poem was more than a means of expression; it had a mystical authority of its own, separate from the poet's intentions or the reader's interpretation.
By 1925, when Warren graduated from Vanderbilt with highest honors, the Fugitives were going their separate ways, pursuing individual interests. Warren left the South to study literature as a graduate student first at the University of California at Berkeley, then at Yale University, and finally at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes scholar. While at Oxford, Warren published his first book, a biography called John Brown: The Making of a Martyr (1929), about the well-known abolitionist John Brown.
Meanwhile, several Fugitives adopted a more political position on social change and literature. They wanted to do something to stop nationwide industrialization and to show the entire country the importance of clinging to such traditional Southern values as devotion to the soil. A new group was formed--the Agrarians. Warren shared their antitechnological views and joined them in publishing a controversial book called I'll Take My Stand (1930). Warren's contribution, "The Briar Patch," argues that unless the Southern agricultural tradition is reinforced, blacks will continue to defect to their dream of the good life in the industrial North, which Warren believed brought them misery. Much later, in Segregation (1956), Warren modified his position and talked about the vast potential of blacks in American society. After their attempt at social criticism in I'll Take My Stand, Warren and the other Agrarians abandoned social reform and sought expression in literature.
In 1931, Warren returned to Vanderbilt as an assistant professor of English. There, during the depths of the Great Depression, the idea for All the King's Men began taking form. Warren saw how Tennessee, like the entire nation, was suffering from a devastated economy. He saw incredible poverty. He saw lives disrupted by political corruption and greed. And while witnessing this pervasive social and political melodrama, he experienced a misfortune of his own: The universities were cutting down on personnel, and he was let go by Vanderbilt. Louisiana, on the other hand, was expanding its educational system under the leadership of Senator Long. In September 1934, Warren left his Tennessee farm and drove to Baton Rouge to begin a new job as English professor at Louisiana State University. On the way he picked up a hitchhiker, a scruffy old fellow who told him about the miracles that Huey Long had wrought in Louisiana. Long had built toll-free highways and new hospitals and had provided public-school children with free textbooks. The senator, who came from a background of poverty, wanted to help the impoverished people of the state, but he often used bribery and blackmail, as well as rigged elections, to achieve his ends. He was loved by the poor, illiterate masses and despised by the wealthy, educated elite. From the hitchhiker's recital and from the hundreds of tales he heard later, Warren realized that the different accounts of Huey Long's use of power addressed a continuing problem--the conflict between the high-minded ideals of the wealthy class and the realistic demands of the poor.
While Warren was teaching literature and creative writing in Louisiana, he developed the idea for a story about a Southern demagogue, a leader who plays on the fears and prejudices of the people to gain power. Warren had no personal contact with Long, although Long's daughter, Rose, was in one of Warren's Shakespeare courses. In the same course, Warren lectured on the political background to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. During the two weeks he spent on this play, he thought about the ageless question of power and ethics and about the parallels between Caesar and Long. Both men were ambitious, vain, and arrogant; yet, they seemed to be the only leaders strong enough to hold their people together in times of strife. Apparently, the students also saw the similarities, because, as Warren noted, they were unusually attentive. Strangely, a little after the course ended, Huey Long, like Caesar, was assassinated. But, as you shall see, All the King's Men is more than a fictionalized presentation of a dictator. The author's major concern is with moral conflicts and their resolution.
Warren has said that Long was not the sole inspiration for All the King's Men. Even before he moved to Louisiana, he was intrigued by power struggles in the South. Warren's interests also included ancient and modern writings on political philosophy. And the career of Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator who held power from 1922 to 1943 and was allied with the German dictator Adolf Hitler in World War II, especially fascinated him.
In 1936, a year after Long's assassination, Warren began planning a play about a politician corrupted by the very evil he sets out to eliminate. With funds provided by a Guggenheim fellowship, he went to Italy where, in the summer of 1938, he began to write the verse drama Proud Flesh. Thus, in Mussolini's Italy, Warren wrote about Governor Willie Talos, who became Willie Stark in All the King's Men.
Warren's play was not performed or published for many years. He put it aside until 1943, when he was teaching at the University of Minnesota. That year he published his second novel, At Heaven's Gate, which also dealt with the themes of self-knowledge, responsibility, and spiritual emptiness. After rereading Proud Flesh, he decided that a novel was a better vehicle for his characters and ideas than a verse drama. But he didn't know from whose point of view to present the story. In the play, he had employed a chorus of surgeons to help the audience see Willie's tragic story from a detached perspective. In the novel, he eliminated the chorus and used Jack Burden as the narrator of Willie's life. As such, you do not get inside Willie's head. Willie's experiences are filtered through the observations and emotions of one of his men. This story-telling strategy imitates the way that Warren actually came to know Long--never personally, always through the perceptions of others.
All the King's Men, Warren's third novel, was published in 1946. The following year it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The film version appeared in 1949 and received the Academy Award for best movie of the year. Eventually, Proud Flesh became a theatrical production. It was staged off-Broadway in 1959 and the next year was published under the title All the King's Men: A Play. And in 1981 the novel was the source for Carlisle Floyd's music drama Willie Stark.
After All the King's Men, Warren wrote a number of additional novels, including the ambitious Southern novel World Enough and Time (1950). He also wrote many short stories and put together several distinguished collections of poetry. His poetry collection, Promises (1957), won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1958. Nevertheless, All the King's Men remains his best-known work. Indeed, its universal themes and its skillful and powerful use of language have made it an American classic and have led the influential critic Malcolm Cowley to call Warren "more richly endowed than any other American novelist born in the present century."
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: THE PLOT
Willie Stark, a young politician in an impoverished area of an unidentified Southern state, suddenly rises to prominence as a result of a local tragedy. He had previously warned everyone that the contractor for the new schoolhouse had a reputation for using inferior bricks. But no one listened. Now, the building had collapsed, killing three children. Willie's unwavering conviction that the local politicians were in collusion with the contractor gains him statewide publicity.
Eventually, Willie Stark is chosen to run for governor. However, he doesn't realize that the bosses are using him as a dummy candidate to split the rural vote. When he finds out, his rage overcomes his disillusionment. He is angry not only because he has been played for a fool but also because the state's poor people have been deceived. In a high-spirited, emotionally charged speech he tells the people that all "hicks," including himself, are the politicians' dummies. The crowd loves his speech. But Willie resigns from the race and energetically campaigns against the candidate of the people who fooled him. In the process, he makes a name for himself. Four years later, Willie is elected governor.
Jack Burden, a young reporter for the capital city's newspaper, has closely followed Willie's rise to power. He finds much to admire in the dynamic politician. Shortly after Willie moves into the governor's mansion, Jack begins working as one of Willie's aides. Jack is a trained historian, and Willie therefore assigns him research tasks. Jack's main job is to discover scandalous evidence against Willie's political enemies.
Unlike Willie, Jack grew up in a well-to-do, aristocratic community. One of the outstanding members of the community is Judge Irwin, a longtime friend of Jack's. When the Judge defies Willie on a political matter, Jack is assigned to dig up some dirt that will ruin the Judge's reputation. Jack hesitates because the Judge has always been like a father to him. But then he decides that the task is simply another piece of historical research. Besides, the Judge has a sterling reputation, which surely no amount of research can smear. Willie knows better; every person, he believes, is harboring some secret sin, and the Judge is no exception. Indeed, after seven months of research, Jack does uncover a scandal in the Judge's past. The scandal involves not only the Judge but also the former governor, Joel Stanton, the deceased father of Jack's best friends, Adam and Anne Stanton.
Jack hopes that he is never forced to use his information. But the old scandal becomes known to the Stantons when Jack has to convince Adam, a famous surgeon and a man of high ideals, to become director of Willie's new hospital. The hospital is Willie's grand plan for helping the poor people and for ensuring his own immortality. Adam does not want to become involved in Willie's corrupt administration. But when he discovers that his father was involved in a serious political scandal, he compromises his ideals and agrees to direct Willie's hospital. Adam's sister, Anne, also compromises her ideals upon learning of her father's indiscretion and becomes Willie's mistress. Jack, who has loved Anne since she was a teenager, feels betrayed, but he realizes that, in part, he is responsible for Anne's actions.
Meanwhile, Willie's administration becomes more and more corrupt. Yet, Willie holds on to one idealistic dream: He refuses to let his hospital be tainted by political wheeling and dealing. But fate takes another complex turn. Sam MacMurfee, Willie's most powerful political enemy, has discovered that Tom, Willie's son, may soon be the father of an illegitimate child. MacMurfee threatens to make the knowledge public, with a paternity suit against Tom, if Willie persists in thinking about running for the U.S. Senate. After several strategies for squelching the paternity suit fail, Willie remembers the research he asked Jack to do on Judge Irwin. The Judge has the power to make MacMurfee withdraw his threat. Willie, therefore, orders Jack to blackmail the Judge into helping Willie out of his dilemma. Jack tells the Judge that the old scandal will become known if he does not cooperate. Rather than submit to a blackmail attempt, the Judge, a man of honor, kills himself. In the commotion following the Judge's suicide, Jack discovers that the Judge was his real father. Suddenly, Jack, the detached historical researcher, must confront the truth of his own identity.
With the Judge dead, only one strategy remains for stopping the paternity suit. Gummy Larson, a building contractor and a powerful friend of MacMurfee's, has been wanting the hospital contract for a long time. Willie agrees to give Larson the job if Larson persuades MacMurfee to back off.
The deal is arranged, and all seems well until Willie's son is paralyzed in a football accident. The crippling of his only child causes Willie to reexamine his life. He cancels the hospital contract, a decision that angers the lieutenant-governor, Tiny Duffy, who had set up the deal in the first place. In retaliation, Tiny tells Adam that he was appointed hospital director because his sister, Anne, is Willie's mistress. Outraged, Adam shoots Willie, seriously wounding him, and is immediately killed by Willie's bodyguard. A few days later, Willies dies.
After this series of tragedies, Jack tries to make sense of his life. He marries Anne and begins writing a biography, not of Willie Stark but of a man whose own tragic experiences during the Civil War era reflect Jack's personal sense of responsibility to history.
All the King's Men has two major characters, Willie Stark and Jack Burden. By understanding their circumstances and motivations, you will grasp the ideas about human nature that Robert Penn Warren offers. But unless you also look into the personalities and motivations of the minor characters--those who surround Willie and Jack and insist on making themselves felt--the story will not come alive for you. Life, as Robert Penn Warren shows you, can be a tangled web of relationships among a large cast of characters; it is a continuing experience, in which historical events influence present circumstances.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: WILLIE STARK
Is Willie Stark the people's messiah or a dangerous dictator, a tragic hero or a smooth-tongued tyrant? Does he deserve to be assassinated? How you answer these questions will, in part, influence the meaning that the novel holds for you. And how you answer may also say as much about you as it says about Willie. Do you prefer to put fictional characters into the neat categories of hero and villain? Or do you prefer to see portrayals of life with a double vision, aware that some people are both good and bad? To understand Willie's character, you need to use your powers of double vision. The internal conflicts of his personality do not readily permit you to pass a quick verdict on his life. You will probably discover that Willie, like many powerful leaders, combines opposing elements, often resorting to foul means to achieve good ends.
Willie Stark is an imaginary character, inspired by an actual historical figure Huey Pierce Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1931 and then a U.S. Senator until his assassination in 1935. Some readers have commented that Willie Stark resembles Huey Long too closely. Without a doubt, Long's political career parallels the career that Robert Penn Warren designs for Willie. Both Long and Willie came from a poor Southern background and, through ambitious perseverance, became lawyers. Both held political office at an early age, and each had an unsuccessful first run for governor. As governors, both were charged with bribery and the misuse of state funds and threatened with impeachment. Nevertheless, each had a lifelong passion to improve the lot of his state's poor. By using blackmail and patronage, they financed roads and hospitals and reworked the state's tax structure in favor of the poor people. Finally, each met his death at the hands of a doctor who had a personal grievance against him.
Warren obviously had Huey Long in mind while constructing his novel. Yet, despite the uncanny similarities between these men, the story of Willie Stark is not merely the story of Huey Long. All the King's Men is not a fictional biography. Rather, Long's public career can be seen as the skeletal outline to which Warren adds flesh and into which he then breathes the life of a dynamic, complex personality who engages the reader's imagination.
In a sense, Willie is every man who rises to power by offering to save the people from their distress and who, during his struggles, becomes corrupted by power. Some, therefore, see him as a stereotype, the character of good intentions who becomes tainted by the system. But you may appreciate Willie, first and foremost, as a human being who has dreams, a family he loves, and passions he yields to, among them a desire for power. Warren doesn't just present a character who functions in a concrete political setting; he shows you a man torn between his visions of an ideal society and stark reality--what it takes in the real world to fulfill one's dreams. Willie's last name gives you a clue to his main way of dealing with power and conflict. He sacrifices his ideals for action. He is a man of stark fact, and he wants results. In the end, Willie reevaluates his life's goals. But it is too late for change. Willie, like his many actual and fictional counterparts, is not given a second chance.
Warren's portrayal of Willie raises the following questions: What psychological toll does the person with a deeply rooted political mission pay? Do the means of accomplishing the mission justify the ends? Can a well-intentioned man who becomes politically corrupt be a hero of the reader's imagination?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: JACK BURDEN
Jack Burden is the narrator of All the King's Men. He is supposedly telling Willie's story. Yet, you will begin to sense, after reading several chapters, that Jack is using Willie's story as a vehicle for clarifying the meaning of his own life. Warren says that he chose Jack as the narrator because he is one of the empty, powerless people who need a character like Willie to bring them to life. Also, because Jack is intelligent and perceptive, he is the best one to tell Willie's story. But still this does not explain why Jack becomes the central character, the most complex character and the one who undergoes the most changes. Why does Jack dominate the novel? Why is he embedding his own story inside of Willie's? Jack, like most people, is not easy to understand. Nevertheless, by examining several facets of his character, you can glean some insights into his motivations.
In contrast to Willie, who has a well-defined goal--to do good for the poor folk--Jack drifts without direction. He is a keen observer of the meaning that other people give to their lives. For instance, he knows that Willie's wife, Lucy, finds satisfaction in family life, and that Willie's secretary, Sadie, seeks fulfillment by subordinating her talents to the careers of powerful men. But Jack sees no meaning in his own existence. Why does such an intelligent, articulate man lack purpose? Does the cause stem from his childhood, from having been abandoned by his father and then having to compete with a series of stepfathers for his mother's affection? Was he spoiled by the luxuries of his aristocratic upbringing? Is he disillusioned because his love life has not come up to his expectations?
But Jack does have a love life, although, until the novel's end, it is no more than memories and fantasies. He still loves his childhood friend, Anne Stanton. The only goal he ever had, it seems, was to marry Anne. Thus, a second aspect of Jack's character to consider is his deep attachment to Anne. What is it about Anne that causes him to be obsessed with her? Or, looking at it from another angle, what does his memory of her do for him that no real woman can do? His failed marriage to Lois Seager was based on sex, not love. And since his divorce, he has not established any meaningful relationships with women, except perhaps with Lucy Stark. Jack admires Lucy's devotion to her family and her strength of character. But he pays more attention to her appearance than to her personality or character. On each visit to Lucy's farm, he describes in detail her hair, clothing, and furniture.
A third facet of Jack's character, then, is his inability to become emotionally involved--with women, with friends, or with a career. When Jack was in graduate school studying American history, he was on the verge of becoming involved in the life of a man, Cass Mastern, who had died in the Civil War and whose motivations perplexed him. His Ph.D. project was to write a historical account of Mastern. But he walked away from the project and never received his doctorate. As an aide to Willie Stark, he completed an extensive research project--finding a scandalous incident in Judge Irwin's past--and refused to let his friendship for the Judge obstruct his objectivity. "Emotions begone! Truth to the fore!" seemed to be his guiding principle. How could Jack be so detached from his own professional possibilities in graduate school and from his feelings of friendship for the Judge during his research?
Jack, as you'll see, becomes a tireless researcher when he begins to work for Willie; he doesn't let go of a project until he has discovered the truth--regardless of how ugly it may be--of a person's past. As such, a fourth facet to note is his attitude toward history and truth. Jack Burden carries with him the burden of history, and while rejecting his own past, he takes refuge in investigations into the pasts of other people. Nevertheless, he has no more than a dim notion--at least until the end--of why history is important. The technical aspects of historical research fascinate him and, at the same time, help him to avoid confronting his own lack of personal historical consciousness. Why does Jack do Willie's bidding? Why is he interested in the phenomenon of Willie Stark? When does he realize his own vital significance in the flow of history?
Finally, you should consider the question of self-knowledge in trying to understand Jack. Some readers believe that the quest for self-knowledge is subordinate to, and supportive of, all other facets of Jack's character. Such periodic episodes as the "Great Sleep" and the comfort he takes in the mechanistic theory of the "Great Twitch" reveal that Jack is escaping from reality. In a sense, he is a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, who lets the world around him change while he waits and hopes for his life to fall in step with the times. Jack doesn't actively seek self-knowledge. The changes in his attitude, in his willingness to get involved and to accept responsibility, appear to result from events outside of his control. Or do they? Is Jack an active seeker of self-knowledge or a fortunate man who comes by it through no effort of his own?
These, then, are some aspects of Jack to consider while attempting to understand him. Other facets of his character will emerge as the novel unfolds.
The following characters are discussed in order of appearance in All the King's Men.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: SUGAR-BOY O'SHEEAN
Sugar-Boy, a sugar cube-eating Irishman, is the first character you meet. He is Willie's driver and bodyguard. He can drive a Cadillac with great speed and agility, and he's a deadly accurate target shooter. Beyond that, he stutters, appears to be mentally retarded, and is dominated by one emotion--intense loyalty to Willie.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: TINY DUFFY
When you first meet Tiny Duffy, he is Willie Stark's lieutenant governor, the second in command of the state. Later you discover that he was one of the men who deceived Willie during Willie's first campaign for governor. Willie, however, wooed Tiny away from another political camp and made Tiny his chief lackey. Tiny has no loyalty to any political faction--he seeks his own selfish interests and will grovel, if that's what it takes, to maintain a position in state government. But Tiny should not be underestimated; he is a dangerous man. So, like Jack, you may wonder why Willie has raised Tiny to such a powerful place in state politics.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: LUCY STARK
Most of all Lucy, Willie's wife, wants to be a good mother and a good wife. She supports Willie's political ambitions but appears uncomfortable in the role of governor's wife. When she can no longer tolerate seeing what politics has done to Willie and what football stardom has done to their son, she returns to farm life, leaving Willie to his political and sexual intrigues. Yet, she doesn't divorce Willie. Like most other Southern women of her generation, she is devoted to the soil, to the family, and to tradition. But this in itself doesn't explain her loyalty to Willie. She loved him deeply when he was only a county politician. Does she love him later or does she merely love the memory of their good times together?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: TOM STARK
Willie adores Tom, his only child. But his love blinds him. Unlike Lucy, he doesn't see that Tom is becoming an unbearably arrogant young man. Once Tom becomes the star quarterback of the state university football team, he cannot stay out of trouble. His father, however, always comes to his aid. By refusing to discipline Tom, Willie widens the rift between Lucy and himself. Finally, one of Tom's sexual escapades requires Willie to put his reputation and power on the line. Still, Willie doesn't blame him; after all, he says, Tom is just a boy.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: SADIE BURKE
Sadie is always in love with politicians who never marry her. She came from the wrong side of the tracks and will never let anyone forget it. She can curse as well as anyone, and, all in all, she puts on a good show. But behind the mask of a tough, no-nonsense career woman, she desperately wants someone to love her, and for most of the novel she wants that someone to be Willie. She is both Willie's personal secretary and his mistress. With a keen business sense and a quick wit, she comes across as unfeminine and coarse. Consider the ways in which Sadie is similar to, and different from, Anne Stanton and Lucy.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: JUDGE IRWIN
When Jack was growing up, Judge Irwin lived down the street and taught the boy to ride, shoot, and hunt. As Jack says, the Judge was like a father to him. Why, then, as an adult working for Governor Stark, does Jack pursue his research into the Judge's past? How can he betray a lifelong friend? Unlike Jack, the Judge is unswervingly loyal to friends and to tradition. A brilliant man, he has had a distinguished political career--except for one serious indiscretion, the scandal that Jack discovers in the Judge's past. Even when faced with exposure, Judge Irwin does not sacrifice his integrity and self-esteem. After courageously refusing to let Willie blackmail him, he shoots himself.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: JACK'S MOTHER
Whenever Jack visits his mother, he is torn between enjoying her attention to him and experiencing hostility toward her. Some readers believe that Jack's ambivalent feelings for his mother are indicative of an Oedipus complex, the unconscious desire of a son to be attached to his mother. When Ellis Burden abandoned six-year-old Jack and his mother, Jack concentrated all his affections on his mother. But she remarried, bringing first one stepfather into the house, then another. Jack had to share his mother's love with strangers. The resulting resentments, according to psychiatrists, could cause deep-seated emotional conflicts toward one's mother as well as toward all women. Does this theory help to explain Jack's emotional detachment or his love-hate relationship to his mother? Or could it be that his mother's materialistic nature and lack of commitment to marriage are responsible for Jack's behavior toward her?
Jack's mother is not given a name, yet she remains a fascinating character. Despite her apparent fickleness, when she realizes that Jack's natural father, Judge Irwin, has been her only true love, she becomes the ultimate source for Jack's reentry into the rich stream of life.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: ANNE STANTON
Since college Jack has been in love with Anne. The two grew up together and planned to be married. But when Jack actually got around to proposing, Anne put him off. She was waiting for him to find direction--a career or a social cause or whatever her "Jackie-Bird" wanted to do. Jack, however, had no ambitions. Thus, in contrast to Anne's highly respected father, Governor Stanton, and to her brother, Adam, the famous surgeon, Jack was a poor marriage risk. What do Anne's expectations in a husband reveal about her character?
When you first meet Anne, she is an unmarried woman approaching middle age, a volunteer charity worker. Her life seems empty, and she relies upon the traditions of her aristocratic upbringing to give her support. Jack still regards her as an unblemished, highly desirable woman; he is fascinated by her graceful movements and her "woman's laugh"--until he learns she has become Willie's mistress. He can't understand her actions and blames himself. Why has Anne gravitated toward Willie? What does Willie do for her that Jack can't?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: ADAM STANTON
A product of Southern aristocracy, Adam is proud of his heritage, even driven to live up to its ideals, as embodied by his father, Governor Stanton. Like Willie, he is committed to doing good for people, A famous surgeon, he works tirelessly, often without pay, to provide the people with excellent health care. He is striving to achieve the same ends as Willie, but their views on how to get things done clash. Adam thinks in terms of honorable traditions; Willie thinks in terms of manipulating people.
Ironically, each man's strength is also his fatal weakness. Willie's ideal of economic well-being can be accomplished, he believes, only by using bad practices to get good results, at least to get them quickly. And he'll do whatever it takes to get Adam as director of his hospital. But he lets Anne and Jack do the dirty work. When Anne confronts Adam with his father's role in Judge Irwin's scandal, his ideals are shattered. He agrees to direct the hospital. Does he do so as some kind of atonement (payment) for his father's sin? Does the revelation weaken his resistance to being employed by a corrupt politician? Or has he all along wanted to have the power, as well as the vast opportunity to do good, that the directorship brings?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: ELLIS BURDEN
Jack impersonally refers to Ellis Burden, who he thought was his father, as the Scholarly Attorney. When Jack was six, the Scholarly Attorney left his luxurious home, his lucrative law practice, and his attractive wife. He went to the capital city to write religious pamphlets and to help the "unfortunates." Jack never understood Burden's desertion. Many years later, after Judge Irwin's death, Jack discovers the reason: The Scholarly Attorney was not his natural father. Jack was conceived during an affair between the Judge and his mother. After this revelation, Jack's view of the Scholarly Attorney as a weak man is reinforced. Nevertheless, Jack acknowledges the man's sensitivity and compassion.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: SAM MACMURFEE
Sam MacMurfee, a powerful politician, is Willie's archenemy. He is often mentioned, but never makes an appearance in the novel. Why do you think he is never shown in a face-to-face confrontation with Willie? What reasons could Jack Burden, the narrator, have for not showing MacMurfee in action?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: CASS MASTERN
Cass Mastern appears as part of a story within the story. While a college student, Cass had an affair with the wife of his best friend, Duncan Trice. When Duncan found out, he killed himself. Hence, Cass spent the rest of his life trying to atone for his intense feelings of guilt. As a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, Cass sought death. Finally, a bullet found him. Cass's story was to be the subject of the Ph.D. dissertation that Jack never wrote.
Some readers view the Cass Mastern story in Chapter 4 as an unnecessary digression in the novel. Others, however, see Cass as a major figure and compare him with other characters--for instance, with Willie and the Scholarly Attorney and even with Adam Stanton and Judge Irwin. Is Jack's inability to understand Cass's sense of guilt a symptom of Jack's withdrawal from human involvement? Why do you think the novel ends with Jack's writing a book on Cass Mastern?
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: SETTING
Robert Penn Warren began Proud Flesh, the unpublished verse drama that became All the King's Men, in Italy during the days preceding World War II. Mussolini, Italy's Fascist dictator, regularly marched his black-shirted thugs through the cobbled streets of Rome. Warren saw this display of force and was reminded of Louisiana governor Huey Long's private army, called "Huey's Cossacks," composed of members of the National Guard and the highway police. Impressed by both these leaders' rise to, and adept use of, power, he sought to explore how and why a person obtains power. In particular, he was intrigued by the roles that time and geography play in the creation of such leaders, who rely on strong-arm tactics to acquire and hold on to power. But Warren didn't write about Italian politics; he set his story in the place he knew best, the southern region of the United States.
During the years after the Civil War and through the 1930s, parts of the southern United States were so poor that many people lived in shacks with holes in the roof large enough to make stargazing possible. Other people lived the comfortable lives of Southern aristocrats and, for the most part, ignored the poor folk. The poor felt helpless. Thus, when leaders emerged who understood their despair and promised to alleviate their suffering, the poor raised their voices in a roar of approval. But these leaders, alas, too often resorted to unethical and corrupt practices for righting decades of wrongs.
The Southern setting of All the King's Men offers a vivid landscape for exploring the universal theme of power--its use and the effect it has on those who use it. Nevertheless, a story similar to Willie Stark's rise to power and Jack Burden's dependence on a man of power could be told in a variety of settings. The ingredients for such a story include a time and place in which the masses are helplessly grasping for a messiah to pull them out of the meaningless chaos of their lives.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: THEMES
One mark of an outstanding novel is its power to stimulate a variety of interpretations. All the King's Men has generated many interpretations because it offers a wide scope of thematic questions, from politics to psychology, from philosophy to religion.
1. POWER AND CORRUPTION
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
You can see that, on one level, All the King's Men is about a great man's fall. If you consider Willie Stark the king (and there is some disagreement on who is the king in the title), one of the main themes of the novel is Willie's moral deterioration. His early political activities were directed toward the welfare of the people. But his growing concern for power and his increased need to preserve it transform the honest politician into a ruthless governor.
Some readers call this the Huey Long theme. Long's early political career was devoted to helping the underprivileged. But as his power grew, wealthy individuals and industries joined his camp; graft, blackmail, and frenzied rhetoric became standard strategies for maintaining control. Then, at the age of forty-three, Long was slain by a physician whose exact reasons for wanting to kill Long still remain a mystery. Long's bodyguards immediately shot the assailant dead.
Very little is known about Long's private life. Whether he experienced psychological conflicts similar to Willie's--that is, internal battles between ideals and results--is uncertain. Thus, although Warren's novel certainly follows the external course of Long's life, it may or may not reflect Long's private character in its depiction of Willie's path of moral decay.
If you are interested in pursuing the Huey Long theme, you may want to read three other novels inspired by Long's assassination. Hamilton Basso's Sun in Capricorn (1942), a thriller about a political scoundrel and one of his victims; John Dos Passos's Number One (1943), the second volume of a trilogy about the aide of a powerful demagogue; and Andria Locke Langley's A Lion in the Street (1945), a study of the proposition that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
2. GOODNESS OUT OF EVIL
Willie believes that goodness derives from evil because there is nothing else from which to make it. This idea comes from the mature, disillusioned Willie, who has become a tough-minded politician after losing his first political job--when he refused to kowtow to the local kingpins--and after discovering he was manipulated by the bosses who wanted to split rural votes. Willie tells Jack, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud." As he sees it, goodness is not an inherent human characteristic. People, basically, are prone to corruption and evil. Goodness has to be made. Adam Stanton hears Willie's philosophy and asks how, then, anyone recognizes what is good. Willie responds, "You just make it up as you go along." And he explains that goodness becomes whatever is in the best interests of society at the time.
Yet, in his innermost being, has the young idealistic Willie been totally annihilated by the mature Willie's pessimistic attitude toward human nature? Has he abandoned all hope in the goodness of mankind? Perhaps the epigraph on the title page of the novel offers you a clue. Warren quotes from Dante's Divine Comedy: "Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde." ("As long as hope still has its bit of green.") As you read the novel, consider what relation the epigraph has to the novel in general and to Willie's philosophy of human nature in particular.
3. THE SEARCH FOR A SPIRITUAL FATHER
Most readers believe that All the King's Men is more Jack Burden's story than Willie's. Jack is one of the king's men but not one of his stooges. He keeps his distance from the internal politics of Willie's administration. Nevertheless, Jack needs Willie. Some readers interpret Jack's relation to Willie as one of son to father. At an early age, Jack was abandoned by the man who he thought was his father, Ellis Burden. Jack could never understand Burden's actions or respect him. He regarded him as weak. He felt dispossessed and sought a spiritual father in the strong and energetic Willie Stark, but even Willie disappoints him. Thus, Jack's discovery of his actual father--Judge Irwin, whom Jack has always respected--is a turning point in his life.
4. THE SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE
Some readers believe that man's search for knowledge is the primary theme of All the King's Men. For them, every aspect of the novel revolves around Jack's journey toward self-knowledge. Jack's path twists through the politics of his times and frequently leads back into the past. Like other characters, Jack finds that his greatest problem is his lack of knowledge. Specifically, he doesn't understand why his parents got divorced, what meaning life holds for him, or how he fits into the patterns of history. Self-knowledge, he learns, is not easily gained. He pays dearly for it, through the deaths of his closest friends--Judge Irwin, Adam Stanton, and Willie Stark. He concludes that "all knowledge that is worth anything is maybe paid for by blood." Perhaps self-knowledge is gained through suffering. It's not a pleasant prospect. What do you think? Do you learn the most about yourself through your successes and good times or through your failures and disappointments?
5. IDEALISM VS. MATERIALISM
Who are the happiest, most self-fulfilled, most admirable people--those who cling to ideals or those who are willing to abandon ideals when they stand in the way of pleasure and power? All the King's Men asks this question by presenting you with characters such as Adam Stanton and Lucy Stark, who live in accordance with traditional values, and Tiny Duffy and Sadie Burke, who seek gratification through any available means. Jack and Willie, however, live the more complex lives; the conflicting traits of being idealistic and practical at the same time are at war in their own personalities. They seem to have a vision of what counts as excellent human attributes, but their behavior often reflects the belief that the world is merely a set of physical circumstances to be manipulated. As you'll see, Willie uses people to put his ideas into action, and Jack embraces the "Great Twitch"--which says that human actions are no more significant than a facial tic--to avoid heartfelt pain. But note that in the end both men return to the importance of such human values as responsibility and loyalty to loved ones.
6. FREE WILL VS. DETERMINISM
All the King's Men in part is an exploration of the age-old philosophical debate between free will and determinism. Jack's theory of the Great Twitch, which he concocts after learning that Anne Stanton has become Willie Stark's mistress, is a deterministic theory. A twitch on an old man's face fascinates Jack because the man is not aware of the involuntary jerks. Jack generalizes from this phenomenon to all of life and says that human action results merely from physical stimuli, not from such ideas as moral principles. This theory allows him to deny his responsibility in what he sees as Anne's fall from purity and to believe that Anne herself is not responsible for her actions. According to Jack, human beings are no more than cogs in the wheels of a mechanical universe. But Jack does not remain a strict determinist, that is, a person who denies the possibility of human will altering the course of events. Throughout the novel, he vacillates between believing that people are tangled in a web of events over which they have no control and believing that they are ultimately responsible--by virtue of their free will to choose one action over another--for what happens to them and to others.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: STYLE
When discussing an author's style, you are referring to the distinctive way in which the writer uses language to tell a story or to express ideas. In All the King's Men, Warren brings together images of the real world and ideas he has fashioned from experience, and through the voice of Jack Burden he weaves these elements of style into a conversation with you. In general, then, the style of the novel is conversational, yet at times, as you'll see, the conversation goes beyond casual talk--it reveals the actual structure of Jack's way of thinking.
The following brief analysis of an excerpt from the novel may help you to get a grasp on Warren's narrative style. Here, from Chapter 8, Jack is telling you about his trip home from California, where he fled after learning that Anne, the woman he has always loved, is now Willie's mistress.
In a settlement named Don Jon, New Mexico, I talked to a man propped against the shady side of a filling station, enjoying the only patch of shade in a hundred miles due east. He was an old fellow, seventy-five if a day, with a face like sun-brittled leather and pale-blue eyes under the brim of a felt hat which had once been black. The only thing remarkable about him was the fact that while you looked into the sun-brittled leather of the face, which seemed as stiff and devitalized as the hide on a mummy's jaw, you would suddenly see a twitch in the left cheek, up toward the pale-blue eye. You would think he was going to wink, but he wasn't going to wink. The twitch was simply an independent phenomenon, unrelated to the face or to what was behind the face or to anything in the whole tissue of phenomena which is the world we are lost in. It was remarkable, in that face, the twitch which lived that little life all its own. I squatted by his side, where he sat on a bundle of rags from which the handle of a tin skillet protruded, and listened to him talk. But the words were not alive. What was alive was the twitch, of which he was no longer aware.
One of the first things you probably noticed about this passage is that most of the sentences are long and descriptive (word pictures are drawn so that you can see the old man as Jack saw him). The sentence length and structure mimics speech. There are word repetitions (for example, "sun-brittled leather," "remarkable") and tag-on phrases ("which once was black," "up toward the pale-blue eye")--all typical of conversation. Also, you may have noticed that Jack is talking to you, as if you and he were passengers together on a trip. Jack shares his impressions by using colloquial phrases ("seventy-five if a day") and pictorial comparisons ("as still and devitalized as the hide on a mummy's jaw").
In the fifth sentence, Jack switches from describing the old man to giving you some insight into his view of the world. From the concrete experience of meeting the old man, Jack presents a philosophy of life. Instead of describing felt hats and winks, he talks about "the whole tissue of phenomena which is the world we are lost in." Jack is telling you how he feels-human actions and words are insignificant; the world is a mechanism so complicated that no one can ever understand it, nor should anyone even try to do so. Jack, of course, is depressed and disillusioned. At the moment, he has a narrow, insulated perspective and can't see the larger texture of life. How do you know? Not because Jack tells you, but because Warren shows you the structure of Jack's way of thinking, through the organization of Jack's talk and through the concrete image of the twitch.
The form of language used by Warren tells you almost as much about the personality and attitude of a character as the content of the speech. For example, Sadie Burke's language is the equivalent, for her time, of today's street talk. It is often coarse, vulgar, and candid. Willie's speech is subdued and subservient in his early political career, but once he wields power, he speaks quickly and usually says whatever is on his mind, without regard for other people's feelings. You might compare the changes in Willie's use of language with the changes in his personality, looking at the parallels between his rise to power and his increasingly pointed speech.
Another significant aspect of Warren's style is his use of images. Keep in mind that Warren is a poet as well as a novelist. In poetry an image is a word or a series of words that paint mind-pictures of someone's sensory experiences or emotions. For Warren, then, images are vivid, concrete ways of expressing characters' perceptions, feelings, motivations. The following are some key images in All the King's Men.
Light and Darkness. Jack often describes his world in terms of light and darkness. Things blaze in the sun, dazzle on the horizon, glitter in someone's eyes, shine in the starlight, flash from the train. Also, things are shuttered in shadows, plunged into blackness, split by darkness, blurred by the speed of a black Cadillac.
Water. Jack often uses water images in talking about his innocent childhood and his love for Anne Stanton. He grew up by the sea. Anne's youthful figure during her puberty fascinates Jack as he watches her float on her back. Both Anne and Jack become sexually aroused by a kiss, as Anne rises from a deep dive into a swimming pool. The night they almost make love, it rains. And when Anne becomes Willie's mistress, Jack sees green scum on a shrunken pool.
Machines and buildings are two other pervasive images in the novel. The novel begins in a black, speeding Cadillac that zips past shacks along the highway and plantations among the distant trees. Willie is often associated with machines--he controls a political machine and he wants to improve the economy of the state through technology. Lucy, on the other hand, is more associated with buildings, especially farmhouses. For Lucy, the homestead on the farm represents the secure, simple, happy life that she seeks for her family.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: POINT OF VIEW
Jack Burden is both the narrator and the central character of All the King's Men. He tells you about his experiences and shares his reactions to, and reflections on, these events. Thus, the point of view of almost all of All the King's Men is first-person subjective. Jack's biting wit, detached attitude, and suppressed passion are evident throughout the story. He is keenly alert, and, as he tells you, he is a trained historian and an experienced journalist. As such, he attempts to be an objective reporter by recording dialogue, thereby providing insight into the personalities of other characters. But it still remains true that whatever you learn about Willie or Anne or any of the others, you learn from Jack. What you see is what he shows you. Whether you can trust him to give you an accurate account of events is for you to decide.
Only in Chapter 4 does Jack depart from using the first person. Here, he relates the story of another man, Cass Mastern, who lived during the Civil War era, and he uses the third person to tell this story within a story. In fact, during most of this chapter Jack disappears altogether. When he does mention himself, he talks about what Jack Burden--not "I"--did. Using the third-person point of view has the effect of drawing you into Cass's tale of a sour romance. Jack withdraws and gives Cass the spotlight.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: FORM AND STRUCTURE
Robert Penn Warren's fascination with the concept of time is reflected in the structure of All the King's Men, which moves forward in time and backward in memory. And through the use of flashbacks, Warren seeks to show that past, present, and future are bound up with one another in the web of life. The flashback, then, is the distinctive feature of the novel's structure. Yet, Warren's frequent use of flashbacks--even flashbacks within flashbacks--can sometimes be confusing to readers.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
1850s Cass Mastern's college days and romance with Annabelle.
1860s Cass's death from a Civil War wound.
1914 Foreclosure proceedings on Judge Irwin's plantation;
Judge's marriage and mortgage payment in full; Jack, Anne,
and Adam's youth in Burden's Landing.
1918 Anne and Jack's romance begins.
1920-21 Jack's graduate studies in history and his marriage to
1922 Willie and Jack meet.
1924 The schoolhouse tragedy.
1926 Willie's first campaign for governor.
1930 Willie is elected governor; Jack becomes his aide.
1933 The Byram White affair.
1936 Willie's visit to Pappy's farm; beginning of Jack's
research on Judge Irwin.
1937 Anne's affair with Willie; Jack's trip to California; the
Judge's suicide; Willie's assassination.
1938 Anne and Jack's marriage.
1939 Perspective from which Jack narrates novel.
Warren manipulates time in All the King's Men. Making leaps from one time to another is consistent with the way a person's memory generally works and, in this case, reflects the way that Jack associates events. As mentioned in the Style section, the novel presents you with the structure of Jack's thought, but is also a showpiece for Warren's belief that human action and meaning are a consequence of a complex interaction among the past, present, and future.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: THE STORY
All the King's Men has a complex structure, and the relationships among events can be difficult to grasp at the first reading. To clarify the structure, the following discussion divides most chapters into sections. The title of each section refers to the main topic of the section.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL THE KING'S MEN: SECTION ONE: MASON CITY
Jack Burden begins his story by taking you on a trip from the capital in the southern part of an unnamed state to Mason City, the home of Governor Willie Stark, in the northern part. It's a dazzling, hot day. You pass through the flat country where blacks are working the cotton fields. In the distance you see clumps of live oaks, among which the big houses of the landowners are safely hidden. On the sides of the new blacktop highway are rows of whitewashed shacks, with black children sitting on doorsteps sucking their thumbs.
Then, you pass through the land of red clay hills, on which pine forests once stood. Now the trees are gone. The mills are gone. And the millowners have left, with their pockets full and with diamond rings on their fingers. On the land remain only the poor, unemployed "hicks." You are entering Mason City.
NOTE: THE LANDSCAPE The landscape of All the King's Men is the most subtle "character" in the novel. It is poor in resources and economically stripped--a portrait of the Depression-era South, ravaged by industry and personal greed. To call the landscape a character may seem odd, but to narrator Jack Burden it is a living thing that forms the characters of men and women. And, in turn, the landscape is formed by men and women. This reciprocal process also occurs within the political structure of the state: Kingmakers form kings and kingmakers are formed by kings. Thus, the intertwining of the landscape's character and the human political character is a significant aspect of the story that Jack tells.
Key words to note in the descriptive opening passages are "black" and "dazzle." Amid the black conditions of the times ("black dirt," "black smoke," "blackstrap molasses," "black skull and crossbones"), Jack Burden is dazzled by the changes that are taking place. Also, notice the narrator's use of "you" in his attempt to make you, the reader, a part of his experience.
At this point Jack tells you he is remembering an event that happened three years ago in 1936. The Boss, Governor Willie Stark, has assembled an entourage to accompany him to his father's farmhouse in Mason City for family photographs. Driving the Boss's Cadillac is Sugar-Boy, a young, short, balding Irishman who eats sugar cubes, stutters, and carries a handgun. Also in the Cadillac are the Boss's son and wife, political lackey Tiny Duffy, and Jack. In the other car are the Boss's secretary, a photographer, and some reporters.
The party arrives in Mason City on a Saturday afternoon. An unusual feature of the town is the clock on the courthouse tower. It is not a real clock; its painted hands always point to five o'clock. Could the interpretation be that time stands still in Mason City? How might time be said to stand still in this part of the rural South?
NOTE: TIME AND MEMORY Throughout All the King's Men the concept of time is enormously important. Jack Burden is trying to understand his present situation by looking into his own past and into the past of the major figures in his life. He is struggling to accept his past, so that he can go on with his life.
In order to portray the struggle within Jack's consciousness, Robert Penn Warren uses the narrator's memory of events to organize this tale. Thus, Warren does not employ a strict chronological sequence of events. Memory is spurred by associating one idea with another. One technique to simulate the way that memory works is the flashback. This novel has many flashbacks. Some are elaborate--that is, they tell a minor yet relevant story within the major story--and some are brief remembrances associated with the immediate story.
Willie walks into the drugstore. Suddenly, the crowd of people come alive, because Willie has been recognized. He grabs the hand of an old man, Malaciah, and asks how he's been doing. Malaciah tells him about his son, who has had some "bad luck" and is now in prison for stabbing someone. Meanwhile, the drugstore owner sets up the house with free colas. And all the people beg Willie to make a speech.
With his head slightly bowed, Willie walks outside and climbs to the top of the courthouse steps. Jack observes the Boss closely. He sees the bulge and glitter of Willie's eyes, which suggest the coming of something important. For Jack, the suspenseful moment before Willie speaks is as cold and clammy as the moment before opening a telegram. Why does Jack experience suspense in this moment? What is he waiting for?
Here, Jack reveals that he is something of a philosopher--that is, a person who seeks to understand the nature of human beings and their place in the universe. He shares a bit of his wisdom with the reader when he says: "The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't do. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him." Jack wants to acquire a certain kind of knowledge--self-knowledge. And part of what he wants to know about himself is why he is attracted to Willie. Is it possible that by understanding Willie Jack will understand himself? Why?
Willie tells the crowd of home folk that he is not going to make a speech. But make a speech he does--a speech about not making a speech, about not doing any "politickin'" today. He says that he has come home to visit his pappy and to eat smokehouse sausage. What the Boss has to say doesn't matter to the crowd. They take pleasure simply in basking in his glow.
As the Cadillac leaves the town square, heading for the Stark homestead, it passes the schoolhouse. This building reminds Jack of the first time he met Willie. It was in 1922, during Prohibition times, in a speakeasy. Willie, in his capacity as Mason County Treasurer, was in the capital on business about a bond issue for a new schoolhouse.
NOTE: PROHIBITION In 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. It outlawed the sale and consumption of all intoxicating liquors. Supporters of Prohibition saw it as a means of cleansing Americans of sin and corruption. But during the "Roaring Twenties," traditional "Puritan morality" was giving way to a new freedom. Many Americans turned their backs on efforts to legislate personal behavior. They flocked to "speakeasies," illegal liquor establishments that were often ignored by law-enforcement agencies. Lax enforcement led to the growth of organized crime--the gangster Al Capone, for example, got his start in the illegal "booze" business. When the Depression created a need for more jobs, anti-Prohibitionists argued that the legalization of liquor would increase the market for grain. So, in 1933, Prohibition was repealed.
Jack ends his reminiscence of his first meeting with Willie by telling you that the bond issue passed, and that the new schoolhouse, now more than twelve years old, stands in Mason City. (The schoolhouse issue takes on greater significance in the next chapter.) Still in the speeding Cadillac, the Boss tells Jack to find a good lawyer to represent Malaciah's boy. Willie believes that the stabbing occurred during a fair fight. But, fair or not, without appearing to be involved, he wants the boy freed. This is a political matter, as are most things in the Boss's life.
The entourage pulls up to Pappy's two-story, unpainted farmhouse. The crepe myrtle are blooming, and chickens are wallowing in the dust under the magnolias. The house has not been painted, in order, no doubt, to remind people that Willie and his family are regular, poor country folk. But inside the house, out of the sight of passersby, modern plumbing and a new linoleum floor have been installed.
At the farmhouse, the photographer goes into action, taking pictures of Willie in various poses--with an old dog, with his family, in his childhood bedroom with an old schoolbook in his hands. Reporters take notes. And Jack imagines how the Boss must have been as a boy, freckled and serious, with a nameless feeling of something big inside of him.
Leaving the photography session, Jack walks past the stables, leans against a fence, and admires the sunset. After taking a swig of whiskey from his pocket flask, he hears a gate creak. Feeling that nothing is real, he thinks of himself as an idealist because of his ability to ignore the facts presented by his senses--in this case, the sound warning of another person's approach.
NOTE: IDEALISM The theory of idealism is that true reality lies in consciousness or reason, not in material objects. The most famous supporter of idealism was the British philosopher and theologian Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753). Berkeley claimed that there is no evidence to support the belief that anything "outside the mind" exists, with the notable exception of minds other than your own. Materialism, the belief that physical things are the only reality and that even the mind can be explained in terms of physical processes, is the doctrine opposed to idealism.
Jack says, "If you are an Idealist it does not matter what you do or what goes on around you because it isn't real anyway." He seems to be seeking an escape from the brute facts of his life. But the curious thing about Jack's brand of idealism is that it does not seem consistent with the way he has been telling the story. He has gone to great lengths to describe the importance to the Boss of appearances--the secret hiring of a lawyer for Malaciah's son, Pappy's unpainted house, the