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All the King's Men

Robert Penn Warren

Chapter 9

Summary Chapter 9

For the first time in the novel, Willie loses his power to control a situation. When Tom's spine is crushed in the football injury, Willie does everything he can to pretend the situation is within his grasp. He continually asserts that Tom is fine, even backing up his belief in this assertion by watching the football game until the end before going to the hospital to see his son. He snarls, and yells, and declares Tom's toughness over and over again during the hospital wait; and when he does see a facet of the situation that he can control--for instance, when he decides to name the hospital after Tom, or when he sets up the motorcade for the Baltimore specialist--he leaps at it. He literally does not know how to act when he is unable to force affairs to conform to his wishes, and Warren handles the psychological portrayal brilliantly.

This chapter demonstrates quite literally the fall of Willie Stark, the irresistible force that has shaped almost all the action in the novel to this point. After Willie is metaphorically stripped of his power by Tom's injury, he is gunned down by Adam Stanton, in an act illustrating not only the contrast between the two men but also Adam's own fragile mental state. It is ironic that Adam murders Willie for sleeping with Anne only after Willie has broken off the relationship with the intention of returning to his wife. In fact, Willie seems to be in the process of a general reform--he withdraws the contract from Gummy Larson, goes back to Lucy, and so forth--and of accepting Lucy's overall system of values, which resembles Adam's own. But to Adam, perhaps, the damning piece of information was the implication (given to him by Tiny Duffy, whom we will later learn was responsible for informing Adam about the affair) that he was only given the hospital directorship because he was the brother of Willie's mistress. To Adam, this seems almost like a piece of graft, like the kind of corruption he is least able to tolerate. He murders Willie both for this reason and out of protective jealousy for Anne.