All the Kings Men
Robert Penn Warren
Contributed by Machelle Schuler
Chapter 6

Jack reviews some of the events that took place during the seven or so months he was researching the Judge’s life, up to March 1937. Tom Stark was involved in an auto accident while driving drunk, and his female passenger was badly wounded. Willie and Lucy argued in the hospital, with Lucy claiming that Willie’s permissiveness would ruin their son.

In this period, Willie’s goal of building a six-million-dollar free hospital intensified, and Tiny Duffy persistently tried to sell him the idea of giving the contract to Gummy Larson, an ally of MacMurfee who would be converted to the governor’s side and provide a kickback for Duffy. In a heated meeting Willie, drunk, tells Jack that his hospital will be his legacy, and that he will build it without letting "those bastards muck with it" (321). Willie requests that Jack get Dr. Adam Stanton, childhood friend and world-renowned physician, to run it.

Jack goes to Adam’s cluttered apartment and pitches Willie’s request. Adam, who is referred to as the "Friend of Your Youth," refuses, implicitly because he dislikes Willie’s corrupt methods (322). Jack charges that Adam wants to "do good," and that Willie’s hospital will help a lot of people even if it might be born out of corruption (326).

These events are revealed to have taken place just prior to Jack’s meeting with Miss Littlepaugh at the end of Chapter Five. When Jack returns with the evidence of Judge Irwin and Governor Stanton’s corruption, Anne Stanton calls him and asks to meet at Slade’s place in the state capital. That night, Anne pleads with Jack to get Adam to take the position at Willie’s hospital. Adam told her that he could not because of his pride and refusal to "touch filth" (339). He accuses her of selling her own pride by working with the governor to solicit funds for her Children’s Home.

In response to Anne’s desperation, Jack tells her about the dirt he uncovered about their father and the Judge as a way to convince Adam, whose morality, he reasons, comes from the morality of his forebears. Anne, however, reacts hysterically to the revelations, running down a pier. A cop approaches them and threatens to arrest them, but Jack uses his position as a close associate of the governor to bully the cop. Anne is offended by this event.

A few days later, Anne calls with a cooler head to request the evidence. After showing the letter and the deposition to Adam, she returns to Jack dejected, to say that he will run the hospital. She then asks Jack to show the papers to Judge Irwin before he ever uses them, and he agrees.

Later Jack, Sugar-Boy, and Willie visit Adam’s apartment to formalize the arrangement. The meeting between the polar characters of Governor Willie Stark and Dr. Adam Stanton is awkward. Adam makes explicit his criticisms of Willie’s administration. Willie likens Adam to resigned Attorney-General Hugh Miller, saying both of them desire to make good in the world, yet neither realizes that it has to be made "out of badness," as Willie believes (353). When Adam presses Willie about how he distinguishes good and bad, Willie simply says that he and everyone else make it up as they go along.

On the way home, Jack wonders why Willie was so mad that "Tiny’s brand of Bad might get mixed in the raw materials from which he was going to make some Good" in light of what the Boss said to Adam (358). Jack thinks back to watching with Anne the fiery, populist speech Willie made after beating impeachment. After the address, Jack asked Willie if he meant it when he said, "Your need is my justice" (360). Willie answered:

"God damn it," he exclaimed, violently, still staring at me, "God damn it--" he clenched his right fist and struck himself twice on the chest--"God damn it, there’s something inside you--there’s something inside you--" (361)

While thinking about inconsistencies in the Boss’s rhetoric, Jack begins wondering how Anne knew about the Boss’s offer of the hospital directorship to Adam. In May, Jack finds out from an incensed Sadie Burke that Anne Stanton was having an affair with Willie. Dazed, Jack walks to Anne’s home and looks in her face. She nods in affirmation.


In Chapter Six, three characters are mentally ruined by Jack’s actions. Adam and Anne lose their idealism because of Jack’s discovery, and Anne’s subsequent relationship with Willie Stark, which is enabled by the discovery, crushes Jack’s spirit. Sadly, "Jack’s search for the truth, which he thought could not harm anyone, has just destroyed the cherished ideal of his best friend" (Woodell, 78).

The revelation that Governor Stanton defended Judge Irwin’s corruption ruins the characters of Adam and Anne. Adam and Anne were driven to do good deeds their entire lives because of their upbringing in a wealthy Southern family concerned with notions of honor and complete morality. They had a deep respect for their father, whom they had perceived as faultless. The proof that he committed such an impropriety causes them to lose their faith in their heritage and essentially concede defeat to Willie Stark’s brand of moral ambiguity. Adam, once was convinced that he could do good without getitng involved with such a corrupt figure as Willie, has been broken in agreeing to take the position. And Anne, an aristocratic girl with a respect for power and direction and who was turned off by Willie’s methods, at last surrenders herself to Willie.

The theme of the "New South" versus the "Old South" comes into focus in this chapter. Willie Stark represents the morally ambiguous "New South": he is a young, brash demogogue willing to use corrupt and amoral tactics in order to help out his impoverished countrymen. Adam and Anne Stanton represent the good parts of the dying "Old South": they are staid aristocrats who intend to do good while completely rejecting Willie’s disgusting tactics. When Adam and Anne lose their ideals because of the death of their father’s image, though, the New South achieves a great victory against the Old South, and the novel’s characters slouch further down the path to moral dissolution.

Jack and Adam are vitally contrasted in their arguments over Willie’s hospital. At the heart of the argument, Jack is irritated by Adam’s idealism and refusal to work with the corrupt Governor Stark. As a cold realist with ambiguous morals, he finds ridiculous Adam’s refusal to do an immense amount of good for the poor in his state. Adam, meanwhile, espouses staunch, Calvinistic morals and a sense of honor. In short, Adam still believes in the ideals of the Old South and the basic goodness of people; Jack does not.

Moreover, the chosen professions of Jack and Adam symbolically highlight the differences between the two. Jack perfectly defines such differences when discussing the issue with Anne:

Yes, I am a student of history, don’t you remember? 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 bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost. But Adam, he is a scientist, and everything is tidy for him, and one molecule of oxygen always behaves the same way when it gets around two molecules of hydrogen, and a thing is always what it is, and so Adam the romantic makes a picture of the world in his head, it is just like the picture of the world Adam the scientist works with, all tidy ... The molecules of good always behave the same way. The molecules of bad always behave the same way. (341)

Along with his contrast with Adam, Jack reveals more of his character through his relationship with Willie. Jack is not one of Willie’s mistresses or sycophants; he snaps to the Boss, "I’m not any of your scum, and I’m still grinning when I please" (321). Jack cannot be bought (like Tiny Duffy), seduced (like Sadie Burke and Anne Stanton), or threatened and smeared (like Adam Stanton and Judge Irwin) by the Boss, meaning he is the only human being in the narrative who is immune to Willie’s tactics.

Still, Jack is not invincible. As readers realize by this chapter, his cynicism and self-sufficiency are a front masking his emotional confusion and pain. Jack’s immunity to the Boss only sets him up for an even greater downfall that comes as a consequence of his harmful actions. Jack’s discovery about Judge Irwin’s life comes back to haunt him when the evidence impels Anne to enter into a relationship with Willie. Jack loves Anne precisely because she represents the pure ideals of the Old South, ideals that Jack, in his self-consciously cynical state, is afraid to sully. "Jack’s southern belle has tumbled from her pedestal" (Woodell, 81).

Jack Burden is a cold realist, one who is emotionally and philosophically empty. He works for Willie Stark with no regard for either the Boss’s systemic abuses or an intense drive to help humanity. He lashes out at the idealistic attitudes of the two men closest to him, Adam and Willie. In the argument between pragmatism and moral absolutism, Jack takes the former position, but only because pragmatism suits his nihilistic attitudes. Jack’s realism bears little resemblance to the charity-driven realism of Willie Stark. In this chapter, these three characters become further tangled in the "spider web" that binds them together. Jack personally has yet to discover that his actions have deep, painful consequences for others and for himself. In the next chapter, he will depart the state, and a long, introspective revelation of his past with the "high-toned" Anne Stanton is to come.

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