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When it comes to All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, there are many members of the general public whose minds may conjure images of the movie starring Sean Penn of the same name.  The popular film is based on Warren's classic novel; however, the novel as well as the plays it inspired are the things that came first, and it is a piece of literature that has become part of the American culture over the course of time.  The setting for the book is the South.  The American South is a part of the world that those who are avid students of the subject of history associate with the slavery that existed in in the US before the civil war era was well as the injustices of the earlier portions of the twentieth century.  It is a location that is one that is an interesting background for All the King's Men, and that is something that adds to the depth of the characters, to their own personal histories, and to each character's individual traits and background.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren is a novel that concerns the life of a grandiose political figure located within the southern portion of the United States.  The political figure, a character who readers of Warren's novel come to know as Willie Stark, is a fictional character introduced as one of the main characters in Warren's story, and readers of the book have the opportunity to follow along with the fictional Willie Stark's political career as the plot progresses.  Readers witness events that occur in the life of the fictional Willie Stark, and they have the opportunity to see the fictional Willie Stark's political career move upwards as well as downwards.  Many plays and dramatizations with regards to Warren's novel have been written, and Warren has written a few plays with regards to his novel himself; however, Robert Penn Warren's original novel, All the King's Men, presented the character that served to inspire the character that has been one of the main components of each and every theatrical and film adaptation of Warren's timeless tale.

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Willie Stark is a character who comes from an upbringing marked by poverty, and readers of All the King's Men follow Stark as he transcends his poor beginnings in order to grow into a person who holds a position of authority within the state in America that he calls home.  Readers come to understand Stark as a character who will stop at nothing to subdue his enemies, and Stark has friends and associates who assist him with accomplishing that endeavor.  Warren makes an intriguing character out of Willie Stark throughout the novel, “When you get born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back, and you are it.  They know they can't get it all back but they will get as big a chunk out of you as they can”(p. 39).  As Willie Stark goes from poverty to the governor's mansion, he becomes a man that loses something within himself, and this is something that comes through in terms of the progression of events within the novel.  For followers of history, the character of Willie Stark is one that is thought to be intended to be a poorly, barely covered replica of a real-life character who happened to be alive during that particular era in the southern part of the United States.  Huey Long was a popular political figure at the time, and some people make the speculative claim that Willie Stark is a character that was invented by Warren because of him.

A few of the other characters in Warren's Pulitzer Prize winning novel other than Willie Stark include Jack Burden, Anne Stanton, Adam Stanton, Judge Irwin, and Sadie Burke.  The novel is narrated from Jack Burden's perspective, and he is a character that is Willie Stark's personal aide; Anne and Adam Stanton are two associates of Jack Burden's.  Anne Stanton is Burden's old flame, and her brother Adam is one of Burden's close companions.  Judge Irwin is a character in the novel that Willie Stark prompts his personal aide to assist with blackmailing, and readers have the chance to observe some of the consequences of Willie Stark and Jack Burden's actions.  What is interesting is that Jack Burden looks up to Willie Stark, but is a little bit careful of him at the same time,“He gave you the impression of being a slow and deliberate man to look at him, and he had a way of sitting loose as though he and sunk inside himself and was going down for the third time and his eyes would blink like an owl's in a cage.  Then all of a sudden he would make a move”(p. 24).  Sadie Burke is someone that readers get to know in the novel as Willie Stark's mistress.  There are many more characters, and readers of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men have the opportunity to intimately come to know many of them by the time Willie Stark is assassinated. 

As the multitude of different characters are introduced throughout the novel's progression, readers get a chance to get to know them and get a taste for the political culture of the American South as the plot moves forward.  One of the themes that comes thorough from the perspective of the reader  that many readers can clearly identify as well as identify with is the theme of political responsibility.   A significant number of people who live in the year two thousand nine and watch the news understand what goes on in terms of political scandals that might have occurred in the past, and an aspect of reality that is echoed in Warren's classic novel is that those who make a career out of the field of politics are rise into positions of authority as political leaders do not always behave in a responsible manner.

What a reader is able to see with regards to the characters in Robert Penn Warren's classic, award winning, fictional composition is that the political decisions that the characters choose to make, particularly when they choose to abandon any and all attempts to advocate a position of political responsibility, are decisions that sometimes have the tendency to result in unpleasant, unforeseen, complicated, dramatic consequences.  Characters such as Willie Stark are willing to do whatever it takes in order to get their way; however, something that they also get is often a result that they didn't originally intended to have happen, and it is often also a result that characters such as Willie Stark would rather not have.  Jack is a character who was interested in walking away from his past, and it was something he went ahead and did,“Then one morning he went out into that world and did not come back to the room and the pine table.  The black books, in which the journal was written, the ring, the photograph, the packet of letters were left there, beside the thick stack of manuscript, the complete works of Jack Burden, which was already beginning to curl at the edges under the paperweight”(p. 201). 

Political responsibility, from the standpoint of someone who might have a position as a politician or a job concerning an aspect of the political realm, means behaving in a way that serves the interests of the voting public instead of the personal goals of any one particular politician.  What is fascinating about Warren's novel is what happens to the characters in it when political responsibility isn't something that is regarded as a priority.  Some readers who perceive Willie Stark to be crafted with the real life politician Huey Long in mind who happen to think of Huey Long in a positive light have the opinion that the novel is somewhat unpatriotic.  Whether it is unpatriotic or not depends more on a person's perception than the intentions of the author of the original novel, Robert Penn Warren.  The fact that the main character is one that has a lot of parallels with a real life political figure from the time period is a trait that makes the story within the novel seem a great deal more relevant.  All The King's Men becomes a novel that draws readers in and catches their attention because the main character introduced and developed throughout the book is one that seems real and drawn out of real life. 

Something that a significant number of readers may notice about Willie Stark as well as a number of other characters developed throughout the novel is that many are the type that started out as idealists, were idealistic with regards to certain values that they may have had at on point in time or another, or went forward with certain actions at one instance during some point in time or another; however, that idealism turned into a standpoint that began to stem from self interest at one point in time or another, and what were once the best of intentions eventually turned into corruption marked by a lack of political responsibility.  Willie Stark isn't the only character in Warren's novel that makes decisions that serve only to gratify his own self interest. 

Some of what happens to the other characters in the novel when they do make choices that serve their own interests do contribute to a similar theme, and a few of the things which happen to the other characters in the novel support themes related to responsibility versus self-gratification, as well.  The “Spider Web Theory” as well as the “Great Twitch” are aspects of the novel that can attest to that; the path towards corruption is a trail that is marked with the best of intentions and the most idealistic of values.  However, according to Robert Penn Warren, the best of intentions don't always come into fruition,“And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost”(p. 263), and what readers can tell about some of the struggles that the characters face is that some of them seem to come from a perspective twinged with moral ambiguity and ambivalence. 

The most recent popular film which was based on Warren's novel was a spectacular film depiction of Robert Penn Warren's nineteen forty six no novel in spite of the fact that there were minor details that might have been a strong part of the novel which appeared absent from the film.  In the two thousand six film starring Sean Penn, the strong central character of Willie Stark appeared to be portrayed a bit differently than readers of the novel would recognize him to be.  The nineteen forty six novel characterized Willie Stark as someone who existed during what was known as the Great Depression, and he was naturally a character who readers could describe as being a little racist.  The most recent movie wasn't a spectacular success at the box office, but Robert Penn Warren's novel will always be a classic tale.

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