All the Kings Men
Robert Penn Warren
Contributed by Machelle Schuler
Chapter 5

Chapter Five now takes up the part of the story where Willie has instructed Jack to dig up dirt on Judge Irwin. The chapter chronicles Jack’s location of a long-buried incident from the Judge’s past that led to a man’s death, "The Case of the Upright Judge."

Jack begins by reasoning that money, leading among the tetrarchy of ambition, love, fear, and money, is likely the cause for Judge to have committed such an indiscretion. Starting his search for leads, he visits his father Ellis Burden, the "Scholarly Attorney" and an old friend of the Judge. The Scholarly Attorney lives above a Mexican restaurant in a decidedly poor, ethnic area of the state capital. The restaurant Jack enters is covered in decorated Biblical signs and scrolls. Downstairs he meets his father, who is surprised to see him, and the Scholarly Attorney retrieves a bag of bread crusts.

Upstairs, the Scholarly Attorney introduces his son to George, a manchild, one of a series of "unfortunates" he has taken in over time. George takes the bread crusts, chews them, then spits them out, moulding the paste into angel sculptures. When asked why George makes angel sculptures, the Scholarly Attorney, with childish interjections by George, explains that he and his wife were circus aerialists. George’s wife performed an angel act with white wings and died when the rope broke one day. George, whose act was playing a man who got hanged, became paralyzed and deeply afraid of heights. Additionally, George is only willing to eat chocolate out of the Scholarly Attorney’s hand.

When Jack observes his father feeding George in an immensely doting way, he feels a surge of jealousy, disgust--ultimately anger. Jack overcomes these feelings and quickly proceeds to ask his father if Judge Irwin was ever broke. His father refuses to reflect on his past, then criticizes politics as "foulness" after Jack reveals why he is asking. Jack explodes in a tirade at his father, then leaves in a huff, having wheedled out the tacit confession from his father’s demeanor that the Judge was indeed broke at some point.

At this point in the narrative, Jack cuts into a brief scene where he attends a football game with Willie, Lucy, Tiny Duffy, and Sadie. Willie’s son Tom Stark has become a college football star, and his father is intensely proud. Jack (in the narrative) reacts with cynicism at Tom’s popularity and his womanizing, Tiny Duffy’s backpatting, and, most of all, Willie’s fatherly pride.

Jack cuts back to the case. He meets next with Adam and Anne Stanton for a night in the house of Governor Stanton, where Anne resided in Burden’s Landing. At first he is just with Anne, and Jack enjoys the brief intimacy they share in her laughter. Impulsively, as he holds her hand, Jack asks if she knew if the Judge was ever broke. Anne chastises Jack for ruining the moment and for working for Willie. Jack brings up the point that he is building a massive charity hospital. The two bicker, and Anne lets out that she ate lunch with Willie to procure funding for the Children’s Home at which she volunteers.

Adam arrives at last, and Jack quickly asks him about Judge Irwin ever being broke. Adam playfully deflects the question, and the three have a wonderful time, as if the argument between Anne and Jack had not happened earlier.

A few days later, Anne calls Jack tauntingly, informing him of her discovery that Judge Irwin had been broke but fixed his situation by marrying a rich woman. Jack considers the first woman the Judge married, who was ill and bedridden for several years while Jack was a young child, then the second woman, Mabel Carruthers, who seemed to have come from a well-off family. Undeterred, he delves deeper into the situation, ultimately traveling to Savannah, where he discovers that Mabel had actually been broke as well when she married the Judge.

Researching further, Jack learns that Judge Irwin, who was Attorney General under Governor Stanton (Anne and Adam’s father) at the time of these events in the 1910s, had been given 500 shares of stock in the American Electric Power Company, which he sold to pay off his debts. Later, in 1915, Irwin resigned from his position as Attorney General to work as legal counsel for the company--at six times the pay of his high government position.

Jack considers an incident in which the Judge, as Attorney General, chose not to sue a fuel company for breach of contract for $150,000 in back royalties. When Jack goes to sleep, the name Mortimer L. Littlepaugh comes to him, and the next morning he recalls from somewhere in his memory the headline Mortimer L. Littlepaugh’s Death Accident, Coroner’s Jury Decides and the phrase Counsel for the American Electric Power Company. Jack tracks down Mortimer’s sister, Lily Mae Littlepaugh, who was then working in a Memphis slum as a medium. Through guile and bribery, Jack forces Lily Mae to break down and admit that Mortimer killed himself after being fired when his bosses chose to bribe Irwin and make him vice-president rather than keep his services. Both Mortimer and his sister went to Governor Stanton to protest, but they were dismissed, implicitly because the governor chose to protect his friend, Judge Irwin.

This concludes Jack’s extensive research. He thus implicates both Judge Irwin and Governor Stanton in bribery, corruption, and conspiracy to conceal these events, all of which resulted in the death of an honest man.


The first four chapters of All the King’s Men set the necessary characterization and groundwork that enable the plot to move in the final five chapters. In Chapter Five, the novel turns from exposition and backstory to a rapid movement of plot. The discovery about Judge Irwin and Governor Stanton by Jack in Chapter Five sets off the dramatic events of the rest of the novel. For instance, Anne Stanton and Adam Stanton are driven closer to Willie Stark after hearing of their celebrated father’s corruption, and Judge Irwin commits suicide. These consequences touch off subsequent events that rattle Jack’s life. This is the spider web effects rippling through the characters’ lives.

Jack’s emotional interaction with his father Ellis in the beginning of the chapter explains part of his character. He is intensely jealous at the simpleton for whom his father cares, and he nearly cries at the sight of his father feeding George a piece of chocolate with his hand. Despite that one human moment, throughout the rest of the scene and the narration in this chapter, Jack is combative, ironic, and cynical. Thus it is implied that his father’s abandonment has fostered his cynicism. His father’s bizarre religious views, one could say, have pushed Jack towards nihilism and dissolution.

Two short scenes involving Willie and his retinue take place in this chapter. Jack’s feelings about fatherhood come out in the football scene, where he bitterly reacts to Willie’s pride in his son Tom. The scene’s description is also intensely cold, in contrast with the roaring pride Willie expresses. Willie is proud of Tom, who has grown to become a football star; Tiny Duffy remains sycophantic; Sadie Burke remains dryly cynical; and Lucy grows more distant from her son and nominal husband. She is marginalized from the decision of whether or not Tom should play football for fear of injury; Willie has brushed away her concerns and pushes his son hard. A later scene briefly shows Tiny Duffy discussing his plan to neutralize Willie’s primary opponent, Sam MacMurfee, by slipping the hospital contract to his close associate, contractor Gummy Larson.

As narrator, Jack cuts into these scenes abruptly, introducing the topic to which he turns with the words "Which was:" (279). This shift highlights the fact that Chapter Five is setting the groundwork for the dramatic events that follow: Tom is now a football star, and he will later suffer an injury that radically changes Willie’s decision on the hospital contract. Meanwhile, Tiny Duffy’s plan will factor into the series of events that result in Willie’s death.

Jack’s gathering with Anne and Adam sheds light on all three characters. Jack poetically describes Anne, further implying his deep love for her. The two get into an argument when Jack tries to get information about Irwin--but she too might compromise her principles for a greater good on occasion. Jack, while defending his boss, is taken aback when Anne reveals that she has had lunch with Willie to discuss charity funding. He immediately switches his allegiance in the argument and insults Anne for dealing with the governor. The implication of this scene is that Jack is being emotionally driven by his affection for Anne, which translates into deep jealousy. Jack brings up Willie’s hospital in the argument to defend the Boss, yet when Willie described his plan in Chapter Three, Jack was unenthused. The entire emotional situation among Jack, Anne, and Willie is not fully revealed here, but in subsequent chapters, Jack will learn that Anne and Willie have been engaged in an affair, and Jack will reveal to the reader his past relationship with Anne.

At the end of the scene, Jack tries to figure out why the three were so happy that night. "Were we happy tonight because we were happy or because once, a long time back, we had been happy?" (292). Jack is unable to comprehend or deal with his own feelings, so he quickly gives up trying to do so: "To hell with it, I thought, listening to the leaves" (292). He falls right back into his work, indicating that he engages in historical research as a form of evasion of his own emotional troubles.

As we learned in Chapter Four, Jack is an intense historical researcher, one who is eminently skilled and fit for his work with Willie. Yet, the key irony of All the King’s Men is that despite his prowess and luck at research, Jack is unable to comprehend or deal with much of what he finds (e.g., Cass Mastern’s motivations). He works in a cold, machinelike manner without regard for those he abuses emotionally in order to uncover the past (e.g., his father and Lily Mae Littlepaugh). Furthermore, Jack seems to completely avoid the quandary of what would happen to his childhood father-figure Judge Irwin once the dirt is reported back to Willie. As his harsh interrogation of Lily Mae shows, Jack coaxes the truth out of the past not out of any sense of justice or righteousness; instead, he does so solely because of Willie Stark’s direction.

An even greater irony of All the King’s Men is that Jack is a historical researcher who "cannot or will not make sense out of his own past" (Woodell, 62). Jack searches history with great success, yet he proves incapable of retrieving a greater personal understanding from his own past. This is the meaning of Chapter Five’s final, haunting lines:

And all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us.

That is what all of us historical researchers believe.

And we love truth. (313)

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