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Its title is drawn from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

It was adapted for a film in and ; the version won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is rated as the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library[1] and it was chosen as one of Time magazine’s best novels since All the King’s Men portrays the dramatic, and theatrical political rise and governorship of Willie Stark, a cynical, liberal populist in warreh American South during the s.

The novel is narrated by Jack Burden, a political reporter who comes to work as Governor Stark’s right-hand man. The trajectory of Stark’s career is interwoven with Jack Burden’s life story and philosophical reflections: The novel evolved from a verse play that Warren began writing in entitled Proud Flesh. Warren claimed that All the King’s Men was “never intended to be a book about politics. One central motif of the novel is that all actions have consequences, and that it is impossible for an individual to stand aloof and be a mere observer of life, as Jack tries to do first as a graduate student doing historical research and later as a wisecracking newspaperman.

In the atmosphere of the s, the whole population seemed to abandon responsibility by living vicariously through messianic political figures like Willie Stark. Thus, Stark fulfills the wishes of many of the characters, or gubernwtor to do so.

For instance, his faithful bodyguard Sugar-Boy, who stutters, loves Stark because “the b-boss could t-talk so good”; Jack Burden cannot bring himself to sleep with Anne Stanton, whom he loves, but Stark does so; and so on. It is in this sense that the characters are “all the king’s men,” a line taken from the poem Humpty Dumpty Penn biographer Joseph Blotner also notes, “Like Humpty Dumpty, each of the major characters has experienced a fall of some kind”.

But this vicarious achievement will eventually fail; ultimately Jack realizes that one must “go out of history into history and wqrren awful responsibility of Time”. The novel explores conceptions of Calvinist theologysuch as original sin “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud,” says Willie when told that no adverse information about an opponent would be likely to be found.

Jack, Willie, and Adam all abandon idealism when they realize that nobody is pure and unblemished. Another motif in the novel is the “Great Twitch. Jack’s description of his trip contains overt and indirect references to the notion of Manifest Destinywhich becomes somewhat ironic when he comes back from it believing in the “Great Guberhator.

The “Great Twitch” is a particular brand of nihilism that Jack embraces during this journey westward: This image becomes for him the encapsulating metaphor for the idea that “all life is but pemn dark heave of blood and the twitch of the nerve. The concept is brought to life for Jack when he witnesses a lobotomy performed by Adam Stanton.

The emotional distance permitted by this revelation releases Jack from his own frustration stemming from the relationship between Anne Stanton and his boss, and allows him to return to circumstances which were previously unbearable. Subsequent events including the tragic deaths of Governor Stark, Jack’s lifelong friend Warrren Stanton, and Judge Irwin, Jack’s father convince Jack that the revelation of the “Great Twitch” is an insufficient paradigm to explain what he has seen of history.

They were doomed, but they lived in the agony of will. The book also touches on Oedipal themes, as Jack discovers his father’s real identity after having caused his death. The theme of one’s father’s identity and its effects on one’s own sense of identity is explored twice in the novel, first through Adam and Anne’s painful discovery that their father the late Governor Stanton once assisted in the cover-up of a bribery scandal.

Then Jack discovers that his biological father is Judge Irwin, not, as he previously believed, “the Scholarly Attorney”. In each case, the discovery catalyzes an upheaval in the character’s moral outlook. Time is another of the novel’s thematic fascinations. The idea that every moment in the past contains the seeds of the future is constantly explored through the novel’s non-chronological narrative, which reveals character continuities and thematic connections across different time periods.


The central character of Willie Stark guberantor simply referred to as “the Boss” undergoes a radical transformation from an idealistic lawyer and weak gubernatorial candidate into a charismatic and extraordinarily powerful governor. In achieving this office Stark comes to embrace various forms of corruption and builds an enormous political machine based on patronage and intimidation.

His approach to guebrnator earns him many enemies in the state legislature, but does not detract from his popular appeal among many of his constituents, who respond with enthusiasm to his fiery populist manner. Stark’s character is often thought to be inspired by the life of Gugernator P.

Robert Penn Warren – Wikipedia

Longformer governor of Louisiana and that state’s U. Huey Long was at the zenith of his career when he was assassinated in ; just a year earlier, Robert Penn Warren had begun teaching at Louisiana State Robedt. In his introduction to the Modern Library edition, Warren denied that the book should be read as either praise for Huey Long or praise for his assassination. However, Warren did not deny that Long served as an influence or inspiration for Stark:.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of our time is that the reception of a novel may depend on its journalistic relevance. It is a little graceless of me warre call this characteristic unfortunate, and to quarrel with it, for certainly the journalistic relevance of All the King’s Men had a good deal to do with what interest it evoked.

This equation led, in different quarters, to quite contradictory interpretations of the novel. On one hand, there were those who took the thing to be a not-so-covert biography of, and apologia for, Senator Long, and the author to be not less than a base minion of the great man.

Robert Penn Warren

There is really nothing to reply to this innocent boneheadedness or gospel-bit hysteria. As Louis Armstrong is reported to have said, there’s some folks that, if they don’t know, you can’t tell ’em But on the other hand, there were those who took the thing to be a rousing declaration of democratic principles and a tract for the assassination of dictators. This view, though somewhat more congenial to my personal political views, was almost as wide of the mark. For better or worse, Willie Stark was not Huey Long.

Willie [Stark] was only himself My conception grew wider, but that element always remained, and Willie Stark remained, in one way, Willie Talos. In other words, Talos is the kind of doom that democracy may invite upon itself. The book, however, was never intended to be a book about politics.

Politics merely provided the framework story in which the deeper concerns, whatever their final significance, might work themselves out. Jack Burden is the novel’s narrator, a former student of history, newspaper columnist, and personal aide to Governor Willie Stark. His narrative is propelled in part by a fascination with the mystery of Stark’s larger-than-life character, and equally by his struggle to discover some underlying principle to make sense of all that has happened.

In narrating the story, Jack commingles his own personal story with the political story of Governor Stark. His telling of these two stories side by side creates a striking contrast between the personal and the impersonal. While his wry, detached, often humorous tone suggests an attempt to stand apart from the other characters’ passions and intrigues, the highly personal content of his narrative suggests an awareness that he cannot truthfully remove himself and his own history from the story of Willie Stark, because his own story has paralleled and helped shape the tragic outcome of Stark’s story.

Jack’s overall character development might be roughly described as a journey away from an amoral perspective on human history as a chain of uncontrollable events, toward a belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all of history. In other words, he might be said to trace a path from refusal to acceptance of personal responsibility.

On the other hand, one defining trait that remains a constant throughout Jack’s development is a passion for discovering the truth of history. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. And we love truth. Anne is Jack Burden’s childhood sweetheart and the daughter of Willie Stark’s political predecessor, Governor Stanton.

Many of the novel’s passages recounting Jack’s life story revolve around memories of his relationship with Anne. Like many of Jack’s friends, Anne disapproves of Willie Stark. However, in the wake of a devastating revelation regarding one of her father’s moral lapses, she has an affair with Stark.


Adam is a highly successful doctor, Anne Stanton’s brother, and Jack Burden’s childhood friend.

All The Kings Men

Jack comes to view Adam Stanton as the polar opposite of Governor Stark, calling Adam “the man of idea” and Stark “the man of fact”. The position initially strikes Adam as repugnant because of his revulsion to Stark’s politics, but Jack and Anne ultimately persuade him to accept the invitation, essentially by removing his moral high ground.

Adam’s sense of violation as a result of his entanglement with Governor Stark proves violently tragic when he is informed by Lieutenant Governor Tiny Duffy that Stark has been sleeping with his sister.

Adam tells Anne, “he wouldn’t be paid pimp to his sister’s whore”. His pride demolished, Adam finds the Governor at the Capitol building and shoots him. To the extent that Willie Stark’s story may have been loosely based on real-life events, the inspiration behind Adam Stanton’s character would have been Dr. Judge Irwin is an elderly gentleman whom Jack has known since childhood, a man who is essentially a father-figure to him.

Willie Stark assigns Jack the awrren of digging through Irwin’s past to find something with which Irwin can be blackmailed. Jack investigates thoroughly and finds what he is looking for: Jack presents the incriminating evidence to Irwin, and before he has a chance to use it against him, Irwin commits suicide.

Only at this point does Jack learn from his mother that Irwin was his father. One of Jack Burden’s first major historical robwrt projects revolves around the life of a 19th-century collateral ancestorCass Mastern, a man of high moral standards and a student at Transylvania College in Kentucky Robert Penn Warren’s native state. Cass’s story, as revealed through his journals and letters, is essentially about a single betrayal of a friend that seems to ripple endlessly outward with negative consequences for many people.

In studying this fragment of Civil War —era history, Jack begins to suspect but cannot yet bring himself to accept wargen idea that every event has unforeseen and unknowable implications, and that all actions and all persons are connected to other actions and other persons.

Jack suggests that one reason he is unable to complete his dissertation on Cass’s life is that perhaps “he was afraid to understand for what might be understood there was a reproach to him.

Cass Mastern and his moral challenges parallel those of Jack, something Jack does not understand when he is doing his doctoral dissertation on Mastern and one of the reasons that Burden abandons it. It is only at the end of the novel that Jack realizes this.

Besides the early verse play version Proud FleshRobert Penn Warren has written several stage adaptations of All the King’s Men[14] one of them in close collaboration with famous German theatre director Erwin Piscator in All the King’s Mena movie made based on Warren’s novel, was released several months later psnn The film won three Oscars that year: The movie was also nominated for four more categories.

Inthe United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant”, robwrt selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

It is noted, however, for deviating significantly from the novel’s storyline. However, it was a critical and commercial disappointment. American composer Carlisle Floyd adapted the novel as a full-length grand opera entitled Willie Starkcommissioned and premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in The New York Times Book Review ‘s Orville Prescott praised the book’s energy, writing that “[i]t isn’t a great novel or a completely finished work of art.

It is as bumpy and uneven as a corduroy road, somewhat irresolute and confused in its approach to vital problems and not always convincing. Nevertheless, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks, a book so drenched with fierce emotion, narrative pace rogert poetic imagery that its stature as a ‘readin’ book,’ as some of its characters would call it, dwarfs that of most current publications.

Robert Penn Warren’s novel was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the book.

For other uses, see All the King’s Men disambiguation.