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Free Study Guide-All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Book Notes
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The novel opens with a description of the surroundings of Highway number 58, which pass from the Mason City to the northeast. Jack Burden, the narrator is traveling in a Cadillac with the Governor of the State, his family and staff. Burden describes the transition from the city to the countryside as the Governor travels to visit his hometown. The road has been bumpy in the past but now it is smooth and even. Cotton fields, red hills and pine trees form the backdrop of the country surrounding Mason City.

The Sugar Boy drives the car swiftly but deftly dodging vehicles and men on the way. Whenever someone blocks his way, he curses him. Then he stops in front of a Drug store as instructed by the Boss. Willie Stark enters the shop with his wife, son and staff in tow. The shop is crowded and the salesmen are busy. Stark finds his way through the shop like any other customer. The salesgirls and the shopkeeper recognizing him, come forward to welcome him. Soon a crowd gathers to see the Governor. Stark acknowledges their greetings and exchanges pleasantries with them. When he is asked to make a speech, he obliges them by addressing them informally. As he leaves the place, his admirers cheer him.

On their way home, they pass by the Schoolhouse. Jack Burden remembers the past when he had got acquainted with Willie Stark as the Treasurer of the Mason County. At that time he had waited in the back room of Slade’s place. Alex had introduced him to Stark, who had come there in connection with Bond issue for the Schoolhouse. Twelve years had gone by and now Jack was Willie’s confidante.

At the farmhouse, Old Stark welcomes them. After they consume drinks, the Boss poses for photographs in different postures. Jack Burden strolls outside to view the scenery. Boss joins him to have a chat. However, Sadie Burke, who informs them about the support given to MacMurfee’s candidate by Judge Irwin, interrupts their conversation. Boss is disturbed and decides to visit Irwin after dinner. Thus they undertake the journey during the night and impose themselves on the Judge at an odd hour. The Boss tries to persuade the Judge to change his opinion. When his efforts prove futile, he threatens the elderly man of dire consequences. Driving back home in the car, Stark asks Jack Burden to unearth incriminating evidence against Irwin.


This chapter introduces the plot of the story, which is about the rise of Willie Stark, the politician. Parallel to this plot is the story of Jack Burden, his personal life and his career. Both the stories are inter-linked, as the two characters they project are inseparable. Burden’s life gains significance after his association with Willie Stark, just as Stark’s career plummets after his meeting with Burden. The novel thus unfurls the character of Willie Stark, the man and the politician. Along with it, it also reveals Jack Burden as an individual and an employee of the Boss.

In this chapter the technique of flashback is effectively used. The novel opens with the scene where Willie Stark is travelling with his family in a car on Highway number 58 leading to Mason City. However, when they pass a Schoolhouse, Burden remembers the day when he had met the Boss for the first time. After relating that incident, the narrator comes back to the present.

The chapter shows a contrast in attitude between Willie Stark, the Treasurer of Mason City and Boss, the governor of the State. When Jack Burden meets Willie Stark for the first time, Stark appears unassuming and reticent. In the words of Burden "Only it was not the Boss. Not to the crude eye of the homme sensuel." Twelve years later, Willie Stark assumes an imposing manner and tries to bully people to accept his views. As the politician overshadows the man, Willie stark gets transformed into the Boss.

Willie Stark as the Governor always tries to project himself as a common man endowed with a generous heart. Thus when he enters the shop in Mason City, he casts aside his image as the Boss and becomes a friendly neighbor. He mixes freely with the salesmen in the shop and exchanges friendly notes with the shopkeeper. However, while enacting such a role he is particular that the people should appreciate his gesture. Thus when they request him to give a speech, he reveals himself as a humble leader reluctant to speak pompously. At home, he is happy to meet his father and have his dinner with him but he does not mind his privacy intruded upon by reporters and photographers. Thus he obliges the photographers by posing not only with his family but also with his reluctant dog.

Robert Penn Warren is at his ironical best when he makes the dog pose with Willie Stark. The Boss expects the dog to be as passive as his human followers. He wants the animal to obey his orders and act in an affectionate manner. When the dog refuses to budge from its position, Willie Stark gets irritated. He makes the dog brought forcibly and strikes a cozy pose with him for the photograph. He pretends to pat the animal lovingly but feels revolted by the disgusting smell it emanates.

As already mentioned, the first chapter gives a glimpse into the character of Willie Stark. Stark is good to people who are humble and subservient. However, those who oppose him earn his wrath. When he meets his admirers in and outside the shop, he tries to please them by acting according to their wishes. He shows his sympathy for the shopkeeper’s son and decides to look into his case. However, when he hears about Judge Irwin’s supporting Callahan, he is infuriated. He visits the Judge in the middle of the night and expects hospitality from the old man. He persuades the Judge to change his decision. When he is unable to influence Irwin, he warns the Judge. Later, he asks Burden to unravel incriminating evidence against the Judge to use it against the elderly man. Through his attitude towards the Judge, the Boss reveals himself as a ruthless politician who would do anything to outwit his enemy.

Jack Burden also undergoes a transformation after he attaches himself with the Boss. As a student and as a journalist, he projected himself as a passive observer who never went beyond his task. After he starts working for Willie Stark, he becomes bolder and more confident. Though he does as he is asked to do, he is more assertive.

The chapter shows glimpses of Warren as a poet. As he narrates events and describes people, he makes profuse use of Similes to emphasize his point. For example, as he describes Willie Stark assuming an attitude before going forward to give a speech in front of the shop, he highlights the manner of the Boss thus: "You saw the eyes bulge suddenly like that, as though something had happened inside him, and there was that glitter... There were the bulge and the glitter, and there was the cold grip way down in the stomach as though somebody had laid hold of something in there, in the dark, which is you with a cold hand in a cold rubber glove. It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don’t open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there’s an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself like a clammy, sad little fetus you carry around inside yourself." Thus, Warren goes on to describe the intensity in the eyes of Stark as he prepares himself to give a speech.

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