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When discussing an author's style, you are referring to the distinctive way in which the writer uses language to tell a story or to express ideas. In All the King's Men, Warren brings together images of the real world and ideas he has fashioned from experience, and through the voice of Jack Burden he weaves these elements of style into a conversation with you. In general, then, the style of the novel is conversational, yet at times, as you'll see, the conversation goes beyond casual talk-it reveals the actual structure of Jack's way of thinking.
The following brief analysis of an excerpt from the novel may help you to get a grasp on Warren's narrative style. Here, from Chapter 8, Jack is telling you about his trip home from California, where he fled after learning that Anne, the woman he has always loved, is now Willie's mistress.
In a settlement named Don Jon, New Mexico, I talked to a man propped against the shady side of a filling station, enjoying the only patch of shade in a hundred miles due east. He was an old fellow, seventy-five if a day, with a face like sun-brittled leather and pale-blue eyes under the brim of a felt hat which had once been black. The only thing remarkable about him was the fact that while you looked into the sunbrittled leather of the face, which seemed as stiff and devitalized as the hide on a mummy's jaw, you would suddenly see a twitch in the left cheek, up toward the pale-blue eye. You would think he was going to wink, but he wasn't going to wink. The twitch was simply an independent phenomenon, unrelated to the face or to what was behind the face or to anything in the whole tissue of phenomena which is the world we are lost in. It was remarkable, in that face, the twitch which lived that little life all its own. I squatted by his side, where he sat on a bundle of rags from which the handle of a tin skillet protruded, and listened to him talk. But the words were not alive. What was alive was the twitch, of which he was no longer aware.
One of the first things you probably noticed about this passage is that most of the sentences are long and descriptive (word pictures are drawn so that you can see the old man as Jack saw him). The sentence length and structure mimics speech. There are word repetitions (for example, "sun-brittled leather," "remarkable") and tag-on phrases ("which once was black," "up toward the pale-blue eye")- all typical of conversation. Also, you may have noticed that Jack is talking to you, as if you and he were passengers together on a trip. Jack shares his impressions by using colloquial phrases ("seventy-five if a day") and pictorial comparisons ("as still and devitalized as the hide on a mummy's jaw").
In the fifth sentence, Jack switches from describing the old man to giving you some insight into his view of the world. From the concrete experience of meeting the old man, Jack presents a philosophy of life. Instead of describing felt hats and winks, he talks about "the whole tissue of phenomena which is the world we are lost in." Jack is telling you how he feels-human actions and words are insignificant; the world is a mechanism so complicated that no one can ever understand it, nor should anyone even try to do so. Jack, of course, is depressed and disillusioned. At the moment, he has a narrow, insulated perspective and can't see the larger texture of life. How do you know? Not because Jack tells you, but because Warren shows you the structure of Jack's way of thinking, through the organization of Jack's talk and through the concrete image of the twitch.
The form of language used by Warren tells you almost as much about the personality and attitude of a character as the content of the speech. For example, Sadie Burke's language is the equivalent, for her time, of today's street talk. It is often coarse, vulgar, and candid. Willie's speech is subdued and subservient in his early political career, but once he wields power, he speaks quickly and usually says whatever is on his mind, without regard for other people's feelings. You might compare the changes in Willie's use of language with the changes in his personality, looking at the parallels between his rise to power and his increasingly pointed speech.
Another significant aspect of Warren's style is his use of images. Keep in mind that Warren is a poet as well as a novelist. In poetry an image is a word or a series of words that paint mind-pictures of someone's sensory experiences or emotions. For Warren, then, images are vivid, concrete ways of expressing characters' perceptions, feelings, motivations. The following are some key images in All the King's Men. Light and Darkness. Jack often describes his world in terms of light and darkness. Things blaze in the sun, dazzle on the horizon, glitter in someone's eyes, shine in the starlight, flash from the train. Also, things are shuttered in shadows, plunged into blackness, split by darkness, blurred by the speed of a black Cadillac.
Water. Jack often uses water images in talking about his innocent childhood and his love for Anne Stanton. He grew up by the sea. Anne's youthful figure during her puberty fascinates Jack as he watches her float on her back. Both Anne and Jack become sexually aroused by a kiss, as Anne rises from a deep dive into a swimming pool. The night they almost make love, it rains. And when Anne becomes Willie's mistress, Jack sees green scum on a shrunken pool.
Machines and buildings are two other pervasive images in the novel. The novel begins in a black, speeding Cadillac that zips past shacks along the highway and plantations among the distant trees. Willie is often associated with machines-he controls a political machine and he wants to improve the economy of the state through technology. Lucy, on the other hand, is more associated with buildings, especially farmhouses. For Lucy, the homestead on the farm represents the secure, simple, happy life that she seeks for her family.