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All the King's Men

Robert Penn Warren

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Summary

After learning about Anne's affair with Willie Stark, Jack flees westward. He spends several days driving to California, then, after he arrives, three days in Long Beach. On the way, he remembers his past with Anne Stanton, and tries to understand what happened that led her to Willie.

When they were children, Jack spent most of his time with Adam Stanton, and Anne simply tagged along. But the summer after his junior year at the State University, when he was twenty-one and Anne was seventeen, Jack fell in love with Anne, and spent the summer with her. They played tennis together, and swam together at night, and pursued an increasingly intense physical relationship-- Jack remembers that Anne was not prudish, that she seemed to regard her body as something they both possessed, and that they had to explore together. Two nights before Anne was scheduled to leave for her boarding school, they found themselves alone in Jack's house during a thunderstorm, and nearly made love for the first time--but Jack hesitated, and then his mother came home early, ending their chance. The next day Jack tried to convince Anne to marry him, but she demurred, saying that she loved him, but seemed to feel that something in his unambitious character was an impediment to her giving in to her love.

After Anne left for school, they continued to write every day, but their feelings dwindled, and the next few times they saw each other, things were different between them. Over Christmas, Anne wouldn't let Jack make love to her, and they had a fight about it. Eventually the letters stopped, and Jack got thrown out of law school, and began to study history, and then eventually he was married to Lois, a beautiful sexpot whose friends he despised and who did not interest him as a person. Toward the end of their marriage, he entered into a phase of the Great Sleep, and then left her altogether.

After two years at a very refined women's college in Virginia, Anne returned to Burden's Landing to care for her ailing father. She was engaged several times but never married, and after her father died, she became an old maid, though she kept her looks and her charm. She devoted herself to her work at the orphanage and her other charities. Jack feels as though she could never marry him because of some essential confidence he lacked, and that she was drawn to Willie Stark because he possessed that confidence. Jack also feels that because he revealed to Anne the truth of her father's duplicity in protecting Judge Irwin after he accepted the bribe, he is responsible for Anne's affair with Willie. But he tries to convince himself that the only human motivation is a certain kind of biological compulsion, a kind of itch in the blood, and that therefore, he is not responsible for Anne's behavior. He says this attitude was a "dream" that made his trip west deliver on its promise of "innocence and a new start"--if he was able to believe the dream.

Commentary

In this chapter, Jack, who has spent most of the novel either cut off from or in direct denial of his real feelings, finally plunges himself back into his emotional history, remembering first his relationship with Anne Stanton and then with Lois Seager, his wife. Jack's relationship with Anne is a fairly typical, highly emotional youthful love relationship; what sticks out amid these recollections are the fact that Jack was once must more innocent than he is now, and the fact that Anne refuses to marry Jack because she senses his lack of direction. There is nothing in particular that Jack wants to do, and a certain kind of ambition is important to Anne's conception of her future husband. The implication is that Jack will have his direction supplied for him by Willie, and that Anne will become attracted to Willie because he is literally all ambition. The further implication is that Jack's lack of ambition is in some way due to his confusion with regard to the idea of responsibility: if one is determined to deny that one is responsible for the consequences of one's actions, then what actions one undertakes becomes an irrelevant point. But even at 17, it is not irrelevant to Anne.

Also important in this chapter is Jack's idea of the West, that he travels West to find "innocence and a fresh start" and renewal. Of course, the renewal Jack finds is centered upon his supreme act of denial in the novel, his argument that all human action simply results from instinctive responses or "an itch in the blood," and that, therefore, he cannot be responsible for Anne's affair with Willie. This denial is wonderfully comforting to Jack at the time, and will lead to his formulation of the Great Twitch theory in the next chapter--but it is an idea that Jack will reject following the death of Willie Stark.

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