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All the King's Men

Robert Penn Warren

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Summary

Jack Burden tells about going home to Burden's Landing to visit his mother, some time in 1933. His mother disapproves of his working for Willie, and Theodore Murrell (his mother's husband, whom Jack thinks of as "the Young Executive") irritates him with his questions about politics. Jack remembers being happy in the family's mansion until he was six years old, when his father ("the Scholarly Attorney") left home to distribute religious pamphlets, and Jack's mother told him he had gone because he didn't love her anymore. She then married a succession of men: the Tycoon, the Count, and finally the Young Executive. Jack remembers picnicking with Adam and Anne Stanton, and swimming with Anne. He remembers arguing with his mother in 1915 over his decision to go to the State University instead of to Harvard.

That night in 1933, Jack, his mother, and the Young Executive go to Judge Irwin's for a dinner party; the assembled aristocrats talk politics, and are staunchly opposed to Willie Stark's liberal reforms. Jack is forced to entertain the pretty young Miss Dumonde, who irritates him. When he drives back to Willie's hotel, he kisses Sadie Burke on the forehead, simply because she isn't named Dumonde. On the drive back, Jack thinks about his parents in their youth, when his father brought his mother to Burden's Landing from her home in Arkansas.

In Willie's room, hell is breaking loose: MacMurfee's men in the Legislature are mounting an impeachment attempt on Byram B. White, the state auditor, who has been involved in a graft scandal. Willie humiliates and insults White, but decides to protect him. This decision causes Hugh Miller, Willie's Attorney General, to resign from office, and nearly provokes Lucy into leaving Willie. Willie orders Jack to dig up dirt on MacMurfee's men in the Legislature, and he begins frenetically stumping the state, giving speeches during the day and intimidating and blackmailing MacMurfee's men at night. Stunned by his aggressive activity, MacMurfee's men attempt to seize the offensive by impeaching Willie himself. But the blackmailing efforts work, and the impeachment is called off before the vote can be taken. Still, the day of the impeachment, a huge crowd descends on the capital in support of Willie. Willie tells Jack that after the impeachment he is going to build a massive, state-of-the-art hospital; Willie wins his next election by a landslide.

During all this time, Jack reflects on Willie's sexual conquests--he has begun a long-term affair with Sadie Burke, who is fiercely jealous of his other mistresses, but Lucy seems to know nothing about it. Lucy does eventually leave Willie, spending time in St. Augustine and then at her sister's poultry farm, but they keep up the appearance of marriage. Jack speculates that Lucy does not sever all her ties with Willie for Tommy's sake, though teen-aged Tommy has become an arrogant football star with a string of sexual exploits of his own.

Commentary

The first part of this chapter illustrates the two worlds in which Jack Burden moves: the genteel world of Burden's Landing and the tough, cynical world of the state capital. Jack is not fully at home in either world, but has grown to feel more comfortable around "all the king's men"--he kisses Sadie Burke simply because she represents the capital and not Burden's Landing.

The second part of the chapter, which deals with the Byram White scandal, shows Jack at work for Willie, and also shows the extent to which Willie has become a corrupt political mastermind. When the impeachment ball starts rolling, Willie and Jack waste no time, and Willie throws himself utterly into crushing his enemies. Through a combination of shoring up his overwhelming popular support and blackmailing his enemies with the information Jack uncovers, Willie is able to squelch the impeachment attempt before it really starts. The scene in which Jack confronts the leader of the rebel legislators really shows how powerful Jack and Willie have become--they are able to casually bully their enemies into submission, and the sense is that their enemies cannot even understand how they have done it.

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