Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 8 | Words: 2346
Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Those who have taken the time to read All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren might be aware that there are many members of the general public who may have not read the novel whose minds may think of the the movie starring Sean Penn of the same name that was in theaters a few years ago. The Sean Penn film was based on Warren’s classic novel, but the novel as well as the plays it inspired are the things that came first. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is a piece of literature that has become part of the American culture over the course of time. The place where the events within the book take place is located in the American South. The injustice of slavery that took place during the generations before the Civil War in the United States is one of the things that students of history may recall in relation to the setting of the novel. It is a place that is one that makes for a fascinating backdrop 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 attributes.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is a novel in which most of the action centers around a corrupt, somewhat racist, and seemingly larger than life fictional political figure named Willie Stark. Readers of Robert Penn Warren’s novel get the chance to know Willie Stark rather well through the plot and supporting characters of the story, and Willie Stark is the novel’s main character. Readers of Robert Penn Warren’s novel follow Willie Stark through his political career. Willie Stark’s political career moves in both positive and negative directions through the course of Robert Penn Warren’s piece of writing, and Willie Stark ends up being assassinated towards the novel’s end. This classic piece of literature has served as a basis of a number of plays as well as at least two full length feature films, but the novel is a piece of writing with a great deal of originality that has won a Pulitzer Prize in the past.

Something that is intriguing about the character of Willie Stark is that although he is presented to readers as the central character in the novel and presented as a central character with a great deal of power and influence, Willie Stark is a figure whose beginnings were marked by a background of poverty. Willie Stark is a character who happens to have been poor towards the earlier years of his life, and the novel goes about presenting this detail to readers in an interesting way, “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).

The idealistic, poor, humble beginnings add to Willie Stark as a character and provide support to ideas that readers may have concerning Willie Stark with respect to Willie Stark being a character that once came from a beginning marked by idealism as opposed to always having been a politician that acted out of self interest with no regards to any obligation he might otherwise have to act in a manner marked by political responsibility. Willie Stark is a character that started out in life as a straightforward, trustworthy, open and honest type of person with the best of intentions on his mind, and what he became thoughout the course of having a career in politics was a person who would stop at nothing in order to get his way and move himself forward in terms of his career goals and personal interests, and that is something that readers of Robert Penn Warren’s novel can observe through a thorough analysis of the character. Willie Stark is a character who is aware that his actions have an influence on the other characters around him; however, something that occurs after a while is that Willie Stark turns into a person that cares primarily about his own interests, and that is a trait that has an influence on those around him as well.

The background of poverty makes Willie Stark a more interesting character and adds depth to his background that can be witnessed from the perspective of the reader. As readers see Willie Stark go from being a man with humble beginnings to a fat cat with a comfortable seat in the governor’s mansion, the fact that he was a character with humble a background towards the beginning of his life makes his fall from innocence to corruption something that has a great deal more weight and significance. When Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men was first published, there were those who speculated that the character of Willie Stark was based on a real life political figure who happened to be around at the time who was named Huey Long. Unlike Willie Stark, Huey Long was not a fictional figure, but many saw parallels between the two.

Some of the supporting characters of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men include fictional supporting players such as Jack Burden, Sadie Burke, Anne Stanton, Judge Irwin, Adam Stanton, and other minor players. Readers get to know Jack Burden as the narrator of the novel, and he is a character that abandons certain dreams of his own in order to lend support to Willie Stanton. Jack Burden is Willie Stark’s personal aide, and readers see Jack Burden do things that some people might prefer not to be in a position to be made to do in order to help out Willie Stanton. Anne Stanton and Adam Stanton are siblings, and Anne Stanton is Jack Burden’s former love. Adam Stanton, Anne Stanton’s brother, is someone who has been close to Willie Stark for a significant amount of time. Judge Irwin is a character who plays an important part in Robert Penn Warren’s plot. Judge Irwin is a character in the novel that Willie Stark prompts his personal aide, Jack Burden, to aid him with blackmailing. Readers have the unique opportunity to bear witness to some of the consequences of Willie Stark and Jack Burden’s doings. Something that is a fascinating aspect of the relations between the characters is that Jack Burden looks up to Willie Stark and yet is somewhat uneasy around 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 chance to very closely learn about them and know each one of them by the time the assassination attempt on Willie Stark is completed.

As the novel moves forward, a number of unique characters are introduced. The plot of Robert Penn Warren’s story progresses, and what happens is that readers have the opportunity to learn about each character and see the characters interact with each other. In terms of the culture of the American South during the Great Depression, that is an aspect of the novel that readers get a feel for, as well. Something that readers can probably tell about Willie Stark is that by current standards, some aspects of his personality, beliefs, and general demeanor would be considered somewhat racist. In terms of the political culture of the American South during that particular era of the past, the way that the characters in Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel are constructed really provide the average reader with a certain feel in terms of politics and government in the American South. In terms of the political culture presented to readers, something which comes to mind that is bigger than the central character of Willie Stark is the general theme of political responsibility. Anyone who watches the news and attempts to maintain at least a small amount of familiarity with current events can tell what political responsibility is. Political responsibility happens when those elected to positions of office put the needs of those who elected them first and act in a way that could be described as responsible. A politically responsible governor would be one that didn’t make decisions based on self interest alone.

What is interesting about the characters in Robert Penn Warren’s novel is that they aren’t always individuals who behave in a politically responsible way, and it is fascinating to watch what happens to them when they don’t. Things usually don’t turn out the way that the characters originally intended for them to when the characters choose not to behave in a politically responsible way and to pursue their own self interest instead. Willie Stark does whatever it takes to push himself ahead, and Jack Burden helps him. Robert Penn Warren paints an intriguing picture with regards to Jack Burden,”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). Jack Burden had a kind of a past entrenched within the academic world, and he walked away from it.

With regards to Robert Penn Warren’s literary classic, All the King’s Men, what readers can see about the character of Jack Burden as well as a few of the other characters that have some similarities with him, including Willie Stark, is that they were all people who weren’t the kind of characters who, at least at some point in the past, didn’t always act out of self interest. The characters in Robert Penn Warren’s piece of literary work were characters that had character at one point. One of the special aspects of Robert Penn Warren’s novel is the way readers can see that the characters in it were idealists at one time or another. Players within the story such as Jack Burden, Willie Stark, and others held idealistic views at one point in time or another. The idealistic values and straightforward line of thinking that some of the characters can be seen as having at one point in time during their past or one moment or another within Robert Penn Warren’s novel is an aspect of each character that stands in sharp contrast to moments when some of the characters act out of pure self interest. When characters such as Willie Stark descend into corruption, the purity and innocence that they once had is something that pushes the contrasting corruption into the attention of readers. The way that Robert Penn Warren brings certain aspects of human nature to the attention of readers is certainly something that makes him an artist,”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).

Political responsibility as opposed to self gratification is a theme that resonates with readers throughout Robert Penn Warren’s classic tale, and the way that the characters and plot are developed serve to bring both to a readers attention. A great deal of what happens to the characters in terms of the consequences of their actions appears to make to assertion that acting out of self interest is something that can have unintended, unforeseen, often unpleasant results. Aspects of the novel such as the “Great Twitch” and the “Spider Web Theory” attest to the fact that the characters not only weren’t always the kind of people who acted out of self interest, but were also characters who were capable of not acting out of self interest. The novel makes an incredible display out of the single idea that the path towards corruption is one that is marked all along the way with the best of intentions. The characters what the best for themselves and others, and what ends up happening is that not all the characters are in a position to know what will end up happening. The characters begin with what each character believes is the best of intentions, and that is sometimes not quite enough.

The novel written by Robert Penn Warren was something that was put out for the public to read in nineteen forty six. More than one play that has been inspired by Robert Penn Warren’s original piece of work, All the King’s Men, has been performed on stage in the past. The most recent film, which starred Sean Penn and was in theaters in nineteen ninety six, was a piece of work that included almost all of the major portions of the plot of the original novel except for just a few. In the two thousand six feature film, Willie Stark wasn’t depicted as a character who had the characteristic racism that readers of the novel would expect from a character who was written to be a fictional southern politician of the nineteen thirties who was supposed to have been somewhat inspired by Huey Long. The Willie Stark of the feature film was a Willie Stark without that unique, pointed, minute flaw characteristic that readers of the novel might have become familiar with. Many plays and feature films have been made, but Robert Penn Warrens Pulitzer Prize winning novel will always be the start of the show for those who prefer a bit of reading.

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