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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
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SECTION TWO: THE AWFUL RESPONSIBILITY OF TIME

After Jack meets with Sugar-Boy, his need for revenge vanishes but his need to become involved grows. He decides to visit Lucy. She seems fine and asks Jack whether he knows that Tom is dead. He does. Then she shows him a baby, Tom's baby. She has named him Willie Stark, because, she says, "Willie was a great man." And she adds, "I have to believe that."

Jack realizes that he, too, has to believe that Willie was a great man. By believing in Willie's inherent goodness, Jack can believe in the goodness of other people, including himself. But it also gives him the right to condemn himself. In particular, he is thinking of his relationship to his mother.

His mother calls and asks him to come to Burden's Landing as soon as he can. When he arrives, she tells him that she is leaving her husband, Theodore. She explains that the Judge's death shocked her into realizing that he had been the only man she ever loved. She cannot go on living a lie with Theodore. Jack walks into the garden and thinks that, by killing his father, perhaps he had saved his mother's soul. Then he thinks that "all knowledge that is worth anything is maybe paid for by blood." If so, Jack has paid dearly for his growth in self-knowledge. The cost has been the blood of his three closest friends-the Judge, Adam, and Willie.

Before Jack's mother leaves to get a divorce in Reno, she wants Jack to tell her what he and Judge Irwin talked about that afternoon before the Judge killed himself. Jack tells her that the Judge talked mostly about his failing health. As her train pulls away, he wonders whether he lied to protect himself or to protect his mother. He decides that his lie had been his going-away present to her, perhaps even a kind of wedding present. In a sense, Jack's mother and the Judge have had a spiritual reunion.

And Jack's mother gave him a present. She gave him back the past and filled in the empty spot in his heart. For years he had condemned her as a heartless woman who amused herself with a parade of husbands. He even felt that she used him. And he hated himself for being both attracted to and repelled by her. Now, however, he understands that she loved deeply and continues to love deeply the man who was his father, Judge Irwin. Now Jack has a past he can embrace, and he feels at peace.

That evening Jack visits Anne. He shares with her the story of his mother and Judge Irwin. And together, Jack and Anne share the wisdom of time that you must accept the past, because out of the past you make the future. That night Jack sleeps in his father's house. And not long thereafter, he and Anne live there together as man and wife.


NOTE:

Jack's new perspective on life grew out of tragedy and is nurtured by an awareness of "the awful responsibility of time." Jack has learned the most by reflecting on the deaths of Adam and Willie. Adam was a man of high ideals who did not really belong to this world. On the other hand, Willie was a man of fact, a man who got things done. One man thought that goodness is an idea valuable for its own sake; the other thought that nothing is valuable until it is a realized fact. In the end, they were doomed to destroy each other.

Jack took lessons from both of them. In a sense, he is a blend of the two. But to say that ignores the complexity of Jack's character. In Chapter 9, Jack compares himself with Willie. He suggests that he is an intellectual who sees history with detachment, while Willie is a man who makes history. Before the assassination, Jack was indeed a detached, cynical intellectual, who believed in the moral neutrality of the Great Twitch. But now he has come down into the real world and is heading "out of history into history."

After Jack and Anne are married, the Scholarly Attorney lives with them. He is very sick and will soon die. Yet, he occasionally has the energy to dictate to Anne or Jack material for his religious pamphlets. And Jack is writing, too. He is writing a book on the life of Cass Mastern. When the old man dies and Jack's book is finished, Anne and Jack plan to leave Burden's Landing. And here the novel ends. But as Jack said earlier, no story is ever over.

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