All the King's Men

by: Robert Penn Warren

Chapter 10

Summary Chapter 10

But Jack realizes something after his confrontation with Tiny that forces him to reassess his handling of the situation. He realizes that he has blamed Tiny in full for Willie's death, and that blaming Tiny is an admission that someone was directly responsible for what happened. If someone is responsible for an action, then the Great Twitch theory cannot hold up; and if someone is responsible for Willie's death, Jack is forced to face the measure of responsibility that he himself bears. Had he not told Anne about her father's role in Judge Irwin's bribe, Anne would not have become Willie's lover, and there would have been nothing for Tiny to provoke Adam with. Had he not convinced Adam to take the hospital job, Adam would not have been in the middle of a moral crisis that would have left him vulnerable to Tiny's manipulations. And so forth. (In fact, had Willie not ordered Jack to dig up information on Judge Irwin, the chain of events that led to his murder would never have been set into motion.)

Forced to confront his measure of responsibility for Willie's death, Jack descends into a numbness and abjures all human contact, even refusing to open a letter from Anne. But when he learns that his mother was truly in love with Judge Irwin, the knowledge that his mother was capable of love helps him to overcome his numbness, and to return to Anne. Out of tenderness, he takes in the Scholarly Attorney, the man who is not his father, and nurses him through his dying days. He marries Anne at last, and at the end of the novel, he has at last reopened Cass Mastern's papers, and begins to write the book that is a resumption of his PhD thesis. The fact that Jack is now able to understand the sense of responsibility that defined Cass Mastern's life indicates that he is also able to accept responsibility for his own actions, and to accept the idea of responsibility generally. As the book closes, Jack says that he and Anne are preparing to move away from Burden's Landing--the place of their past--and into an uncertain future. In this future, they will understand and accept "the awful responsibility of Time"--the fact that each present action carries future consequences, which can in turn be traced back to causes in the past.