All the Kings Men
Robert Penn Warren
Contributed by Machelle Schuler
Chapter 7

Chapter Seven delves back into Jack Burden’s past by telling the story of his failed relationship with Anne Stanton and his failed marriage to Lois Seager. The chapter begins with Jack’s impulsive trip west to Long Beach, California, after receiving the news of Anne’s affair with Governor Stark.

Jack spends 36 hours in a hotel in Long Beach, then heads back in a car trip that takes 78 hours. In the narration, Jack’s mind wanders through events of his childhood. He zeroes in on a summer when at age 21, he was home on a break from college and Anne, at 17, was on vacation from finishing school. He spent much of his time with Adam and Anne, swimming, picnicking, and playing tennis. One night, Jack and Anne were reclining in a car together after a movie, watching the sky. Jack considered reaching over and making a move on her, but he did not. Later, when he was alone, he thought about how Anne sitting back in the car with her eyes closed resembled how she looked leaning back in the ocean before a storm when they were out at the beach years back. Jack realized then that he was in love with Anne.

The next day, Jack and Anne went on a walk together, during which he kissed her and told her he was in love. Anne was taken by surprise, and when they returned, she went upstairs to be alone. Jack considered that she went to her room to consider her new self and her supposed love for him.

Jack and Anne playfully spent the rest of the summer together in a youthful love affair. Towards the end of the summer, Anne asked Jack what he would do with his life. He was unambitious, but he said he would support her. And she told him that she did not care what he earned, so long as he did something he wanted and would not end up as someone working in a job just for money. The next day she told him that she really meant what she had said.

Late in the summer, Jack did not see Anne for two days. When she returned, he seriously demanded to know if she loved him, and she told him yes.

At the very end of the vacation, Jack and Anne were in his mother’s home alone when they tacitly felt it was time for the two to consummate their relationship. After they undressed in Jack’s bedroom, he hesitated and told her it was not right. Jack’s mother returned unexpectedly then, and the two rushed to get dressed. The next day, before Anne was to return to finishing school, she assured him that they would get married.

That Christmas, the two met again, but they did not have sex, and Anne said she would not marry him just then. The two fought about it then, and they fought again when they saw each other briefly during the next summer, when Jack had gotten his B.A. and was dithering about attending law school (as Anne now wanted him to do). Anne left to attend to her sick father at a hospital in Maine, and during this time she kissed another boy. Later in the summer, before Anne left to attend college, although the two spent time together and "made all the motions" they had made before, Jack felt "it was not the way it had been" (411).

The next Christmas, after Jack had gone off to law school, the two were home again, and Jack pressured Anne to marry him right then. Jack assumed the problem was money, so he said he would get a job through a family friend he detested--but Anne again said that she wanted him to do what he desired. Later, Jack was kicked out of law school, and he ended up in a scandal that involved two girls while celebrating. Quietly, without seeing each other, Anne and Jack went their separate ways.

Jack took his job at the Chronicle then, but then he left to embark on his Ph.D. (as described in part in Chapter 4). After failing to complete that work, he returned to his newspaper job and married a woman named Lois. She married him in part for his family name; he married her because the two were "perfectly adjusted sexually" (416).

Jack’s marriage withered when he began to feel suffocated by the vacuousness of Lois and her friends, and when Lois began to grow irritated by Jack’s lack of grooming. The two started fighting frequently, their marriage only being held together by their perfect sexual adjustment. At last, Jack fell into his second Great Sleep. Then, finally, he packed his suitcase and walked out on Lois forever.

Anne, meanwhile, left college after two years, then lived alone in a small apartment in the city, mostly spending her time reading and volunteering at a children’s home. She was engaged to a lawyer briefly, but nothing came of it. At 35, unmarried, she and Willie began their affair.

Jack, narrating his thoughts following the trip to California, writes of his realization that Anne understood his lack of self-confidence and unconcern for the future. Jack at last realizes that the affair between Anne and the Boss is the consequence of his actions--two important causes were his lack of confidence and the revelation about her father that he dug up.

Jack, in California, discovers a dream that all life is "the twitch of the blood" and that all humans act on random passions (427). Thus, Jack believes he is not responsible for anything. He derives willpower from this idea:

First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West, after all.

If you believe the dream you dream when you go there. (427)


Much like Chapters Two and Four, Chapter Seven is another flashback. Here, the portions of the history and motivations of Jack Burden that had been just hinted up to this point in the novel are revealed through the descriptions of the two primary romantic relationships in Jack’s life. The reader discovers exactly what the nature of Jack’s and Anne’s relationship was, and the story behind Jack’s passive-aggressive cynicism is divulged.

Jack’s passiveness and tendency to run away from his problems are the central character traits that fully form in this chapter. First, Jack’s passionate affair with Anne ends due to his own indecisiveness. Anne, even as a young girl, realizes the immaturity and fear in Jack’s indecisiveness; although she has no doubts that Jack would provide for her, the fact that he cannot do what he loves in life is unacceptable and unattractive to her, a girl who had been raised by an upright and prestigious father. Later, Jack could not have sex with Anne because he feared that doing so would rob him of some aspect of his past, particularly the image he has of Anne floating on her back in the ocean. He gets himself kicked out of law school rather than finding a decisive solution to his problems.

Jack’s marriage to Lois fares poorly due to his low self-esteem, which is partially catalyzed by his break-up with Anne. Lois truly loves Jack, yet he only treats her as a sex object. He treats her with terrible disregard, then falls into another passive Great Sleep, and he ultimately walks out the door: "Good-bye, Lois, and I forgive you for everything I did to you" (422). This line ironically plays on Jack’s past inability to take responsibility for what was largely his fault.

I did not trust myself, and looked back upon the past as something precious about to be snatched away from us and was afraid of the future. I had not understood then what I think I have now come to understand: that we can keep the past only by having the future, for they are forever tied together. (426)

Jack’s departure to the West is his physical escape from his problems, an extension of his continuing inability to deal with notions of ethical responsibility and the consequences of one’s actions. Jack’s lifelong lack of ambition was a result of his fear of the future; he goes so far as to begin the study of history because of this very fear, as a mechanism with which to flee the present and the burden of responsibility (411). He fails to recognize that inaction is still action and that the lack of any intentions can still cause disaster. Anne’s attraction to Jack burned out precisely because of Jack’s lack of ambition. And Jack’s research into the past for Willie’s sake ended up ruining Anne’s ideals and bringing her together with Willie.

Jack comes to a false realization at the end of this chapter, not the true epiphany he experiences in Chapter Ten. After fleeing to the West, Jack recalls a dream at the end of the chapter that all people are controlled by a random, inscrutable "twitch of the nerve" (427). This comforts him, since it becomes yet another excuse to avoid responsibility for his actions and the actions of others. Jack is thus able to avoid realizing that Anne loves Willie because of Willie’s social place and Willie’s ambition. Jack Burden’s self-delusion accomplishes a transformation into even more of an unambitious, bitter person, one who waits idly as three people he loves die as a result of the things he has done. The "very great truths" he learns represent this delusion:

First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West, after all.

If you believe the dream you dream when you go there. (427)

Jack believes that he never had any potential in life or with Anne, and that he is not responsible for any indirect consequences of his actions. And he is able to cling to these falsehoods only by forcing himself to believe his solitary dream.

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