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All the King's Men

Robert Penn Warren

Chapter 6

Chapter 5

Chapter 7

Summary

During the time Jack is investigating Judge Irwin's background, Tommy Stark, drunk, wraps his car around a tree, severely injuring the young girl riding with him. Her father, a trucker, raises a tremendous noise about the accident, but he is quieted when he is reminded that truckers drive on state highways and many truckers have state contracts. Lucy is livid about Tommy's crash, even though Tommy is unhurt; she insists that Willie make him stop playing football and living his rambunctious life, but Willie says that he won't see his son turn into a sissy, and that he wants Tommy to have fun.

Willie is, during this time, completely committed to his six-million-dollar hospital project, and he insists, to Jack's bemusement, that it will be completed without any illicit wheeling and dealing. Willie is furious when Tiny Duffy tries to convince him to give the contract to Gummy Larson, a MacMurfee supporter who would throw his support to Willie if he received the building contract. (He would also throw a substantial sum of money to Tiny himself.) But Willie insists that the project will be completely clean, and seems to think of it as his legacy--he even says that he does not care whether it wins him any votes. He insists as well that Jack convince Adam Stanton to run it.

Jack knows that Adam hates the entire Stark administration, but he visits his friend's apartment to make the offer nevertheless. Adam is outraged, but he seems tempted when Jack points out how much good he would be able to do as director of the hospital. Eventually, after Anne becomes involved, Adam agrees to take the job. He has a conversation with Willie during which Willie espouses his moral theory--that the only thing for a man to do is create goodness out of badness, because everything is bad, and the only reason something becomes good is because a person thinks it makes things better. Adam is wary of Willie, but he still takes the job--after he receives Willie's promise not to interfere in the running of the hospital.

During this time Jack learns that Anne has found out that Adam received the offer to run the hospital. She visits Jack, and says that she desperately wants Adam to take it. In a moment of bitterness, Jack tells her about how her father illegally protected Judge Irwin after he took the bribe. Anne is crushed; but she visits Adam with the information, and that is what prompts Adam to compromise his ideals and take the directorship. Anne, Adam, and Jack attend a speech Willie gives, during which he announces his intention to give the citizens of the state free medical care and free educations. Anne asks urgently if Willie really means it, and Jack replies, "How the hell should I know?"

But something nags the back of Jack's mind: he is unable to figure out how Anne learned that Adam had been offered the directorship of the hospital. Adam didn't tell her, and Willie says that he didn't tell her, and Jack didn't tell her. He finds out that Sadie Burke told her, in a jealous rage--for Sadie says that Anne is Willie's new slut, that she has become his mistress. Jack is shocked, but when he visits Anne, she gives him a wordless nod that confirms Sadie's accusation.

Commentary

The increasingly important roles Anne and Adam Stanton have been assuming in Jack's life are cemented in this chapter, as both siblings become involved with Willie Stark. The information Jack has gathered about Judge Irwin and Governor Stanton comes as a severe shock to both Anne and Adam, and ultimately propels each into a closer association with Willie, the man who was once anathema to the Stantons' moral ideals. Adam is tempted by the possibility of doing great good, and when he learns that his father was not a paragon of ethical behavior, he gives in to his temptation. Anne seems to take the lesson that a certain amount of corruption is necessary for the achievement of good--she is drawn to Willie during his speech, and seems to have decided that, despite his underhanded tactics, he is attempting to do genuine good for the state.

The shock that Adam and Anne receive in this chapter is nothing to the shocks Jack receives, as he learns first that Judge Irwin accepted the bribe--a fact he had desperately hoped would not be true--and second that Anne has become Willie's mistress. The second shock is devastating to Jack, who has always placed Anne on something of a pedestal. The conflicting feelings of guilt and denial he feels when Anne confirms his suspicion at the end of the chapter will ultimately drive Jack to California, where he reconsiders his idea of responsibility and eventually arrives at the idea of the Great Twitch.

Thematically, perhaps the most important moment in this section comes when Willie meets Adam after Adam has agreed to accept the directorship. In this section, each man's moral philosophy is starkly exposed, and the two natural foils appear at their moment of greatest contrast. Willie proclaims that everything is bad, and that goodness is something man must create from badness. This idea is at the heart of Willie's frequent Biblical quotations, and would seem to explain how he can use such corrupt political tactics so guiltlessly--blackmail may be bad, but he uses it to create good. Adam, by contrast, still clings to the belief that good and bad exist in mutual conflict, and that certain things are good or evil by their very natures. (In this, Adam echoes the moral sense of Lucy Stark and Hugh Miller, who are each scandalized by Willie's decision to support Byram B. White in Chapter 3.)

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