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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
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NOTE: PROHIBITION

In 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. It outlawed the sale and consumption of all intoxicating liquors. Supporters of Prohibition saw it as a means of cleansing Americans of sin and corruption. But during the "Roaring Twenties," traditional "Puritan morality" was giving way to a new freedom. Many Americans turned their backs on efforts to legislate personal behavior. They flocked to "speakeasies," illegal liquor establishments that were often ignored by lawenforcement agencies. Lax enforcement led to the growth of organized crime-the gangster Al Capone, for example, got his start in the illegal "booze" business. When the Depression created a need for more jobs, anti-Prohibitionists argued that the legalization of liquor would increase the market for grain. So, in 1933, Prohibition was repealed.

Jack ends his reminiscence of his first meeting with Willie by telling you that the bond issue passed, and that the new schoolhouse, now more than twelve years old, stands in Mason City. (The schoolhouse issue takes on greater significance in the next chapter.) Still in the speeding Cadillac, the Boss tells Jack to find a good lawyer to represent Malaciah's boy. Willie believes that the stabbing occurred during a fair fight. But, fair or not, without appearing to be involved, he wants the boy freed. This is a political matter, as are most things in the Boss's life.

The entourage pulls up to Pappy's two-story, unpainted farmhouse. The crepe myrtle are blooming, and chickens are wallowing in the dust under the magnolias. The house has not been painted, in order, no doubt, to remind people that Willie and his family are regular, poor country folk. But inside the house, out of the sight of passersby, modern plumbing and a new linoleum floor have been installed.

At the farmhouse, the photographer goes into action, taking pictures of Willie in various poses-with an old dog, with his family, in his childhood bedroom with an old schoolbook in his hands. Reporters take notes. And Jack imagines how the Boss must have been as a boy, freckled and serious, with a nameless feeling of something big inside of him.

Leaving the photography session, Jack walks past the stables, leans against a fence, and admires the sunset. After taking a swig of whiskey from his pocket flask, he hears a gate creak. Feeling that nothing is real, he thinks of himself as an idealist because of his ability to ignore the facts presented by his sensesin this case, the sound warning of another person's approach.


NOTE: IDEALISM

The theory of idealism is that true reality lies in consciousness or reason, not in material objects. The most famous supporter of idealism was the British philosopher and theologian Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753). Berkeley claimed that there is no evidence to support the belief that anything "outside the mind" exists, with the notable exception of minds other than your own. Materialism, the belief that physical things are the only reality and that even the mind can be explained in terms of physical processes, is the doctrine opposed to idealism.

Jack says, "If you are an Idealist it does not matter what you do or what goes on around you because it isn't real anyway." He seems to be seeking an escape from the brute facts of his life. But the curious thing about Jack's brand of idealism is that it does not seem consistent with the way he has been telling the story. He has gone to great lengths to describe the importance to the Boss of appearances-the secret hiring of a lawyer for Malaciah's son, Pappy's unpainted house, the family photographs. He has, in fact, relied heavily on descriptions of physical things-places, people, events-in the tale so far. Why, then, does he suddenly want to deny the reality of his surroundings?

When a voice asks for a slug of his whiskey, Jack realizes that the Boss has been leaning on the fence with him. The gate creaks again. This time it is the Boss's secretary, Sadie Burke. She interrupts the peacefulness of dusk by announcing that Judge Irwin has endorsed a candidate for the Senate who is not the Boss's pick. Clearly disturbed by the news, Willie changes his plans. No quiet sitting around the homestead tonight. With Sugar-Boy driving and Jack in tow, the Boss heads for Judge Irwin's home in Burden's Landing, a bay shore town one hundred thirty miles away.

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