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Free Study Guide-All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 2

Summary

The flashback into the past of Jack Burden and Willie Stark continues in this chapter. Burden relates how he had met Willie the second time. As a newspaper reporter for Chronicle, he had gone to meet Willie Stark in connection with the building of the Schoolhouse of Mason City. During the course of a conversation with the Sheriff and the Commissioner, Burden gets to know about the building of the Schoolhouse by J.H. Moore whose bid is high. Stark is opposed to this idea because he favors Jeffers’ Construction Company, which is reliable and reasonable. When Jack goes to meet him, Stark looks disturbed and voices his protest against the decision of the Sheriff.

Shortly afterwards, he raises an anti-Pillsbury faction but his efforts prove futile. Pillsbury succeeds in making Moore build the Schoolhouse. Everything appears fine till the day the Schoolhouse collapses under its weight and kills three children and injures several others. Inquiry reveals the use of sub-standard bricks in constructing the Schoolhouse. People raise their voice against Pillsbury but remember the warning given by Stark. Thus Willie earns the sympathy of the people who later support him as their candidate for the post Governor.

Willie Stark is not aware of the fact that Harrison is using him to split the votes of MacMurfee. He feels honored to have been given the responsibility. Thus he conducts his election campaign on a note of idealism. He loads his speeches with factual details, but fails to provoke his audience. Willie is disturbed. To make matters worse, Sadie Burke reveals Harrison’s wily plan. She also points out Willie’s shortcoming as a speaker. Willie is hurt but makes amends for the mistakes he had committed in the past. The next time he goes to address the people he talks to them like a friend. He also exposes the dirty plan of Harrison and withdraws his candidature in favor of MacMurfee. As a result, MacMurfee wins. Willie goes back to Mason City to work on his farm and also practice law. Soon he establishes a name as a capable lawyer and wins the heart of the people. Thus when he fights as a Democratic candidate for the election of Governor, he wins.


During this time, Jack Burden befriends Willie Stark. However, as Willie gets elected, Jack loses his job. Burden does not get dejected but makes the most of his freedom. He sleeps for long hours, renews his friendship with old acquaintances and enjoys life in general. However, his leisurely activities are interrupted when he gets a call from Willie Stark. The Governor calls him over to his mansion to offer him a job.

Notes

This chapter deals completely with the past of Willie Stark and Jack Burden. It takes us back to the time when the Schoolhouse was built. Willie Stark as the conscientious citizen of Mason City had opposed the building of the schoolhouse by J.H. Moore whose bid was high and who used sub-standard bricks. Stark had tried to expose Pillsbury and his tie-up with Moore through his brother-in-law who was a brick-kiln owner. Pillsbury had been infuriated and in retaliation had called Jeffers, the building contractor recommended by Stark, a ‘Nigger.’ As a result of the animosity of Pillsbury, Lucy had lost her job as a schoolteacher and Willie his post as a treasurer of Mason County. To cover the controversy, Jack Burden as reporter of Chronicle had gone to meet Stark in Mason City.

Warren presents a few ironical situations in the chapter. First, he shows the editor of the Chronicle sending Burden to get incriminating information against Willie Stark. However, Jack gets information, which favors Stark. Later, Burden is sent to cover the campaigns during the elections. Since the editor of the newspaper favors MacMurfee, he expects Burden to present a positive picture of his candidate. However, Jack Burden exposes the cunning of MacMurfee and reveals Willie Stark as the ideal candidate. Thus Burden loses his job, even as Willie Stark prepares himself to become the Governor.

The chapter also exposes the dirty games politicians play. Pillsbury gives the contract for building the Schoolhouse to J. H. Moore, even though he charges more and uses poor quality bricks. This is because Moore is prepared to buy bricks from the brother-in-law of Pillsbury. As a result of this shady transaction, the building collapses a few years later killing a few innocent children and injuring several other students. Harrison is another leader who plays dirty politics. He nominates Willie Stark to fight the elections against MacMurfee not because he favors Stark but because he opposes MacMurfee. Thus he uses Stark to split the votes of MacMurfee.

It is ironical that after every victory of his opponent, Willie Stark emerges morally victorious. Pillsbury does succeed in building the Schoolhouse but when the educational institution collapses killing a few children, the people understand the worth of Stark and start appreciating his views. This results in Willie getting nominated for the post of Governor. Later, when the wily plan of Harrison is exposed, Willie withdraws his name from the elections and allows MacMurfee to win. This gesture earns him the sympathy of the people. Slowly and steadily, he wins the support of the people and gets elected as the Governor of the State. Thus, Willie Stark is helped to achieve his aim by his adversaries.

The chapter convincingly traces the growth of Willie Stark as a politician. And as we follow the course of his struggle, we get to understand his character. Willie Stark as the son of a humble farmer is a man of conscience and conviction. He raises his voice against injustice and tries to undo the wrong done by others. He believes in the maxim "Time will bring things to light" and it proves true. Pillsbury and Harrison are exposed and MacMurfee is defeated.

As he climbs up the ladder of success, he transforms himself from an idealist to an opportunist. No more does he live on dreams. He gets down to business and acts according to his interests. In the process, he hurts the sentiments of a few good people like Irwin and Lucy too. Willie the humble citizen of Mason City becomes an imposing and arrogant leader.

Willie Stark is a strong and rounded character. In comparison, others look unimpressive. Jack Burden is a mere Shadow of Stark. He is a passive observer who hardly acts and only reacts. He has no ambition in life and drifts along the wave of life. Lucy Stark is a subdued character in contrast to her energetic husband. She is strong-willed and sensitive but not exciting like Stark. She is Willie’s suppressed conscience.

The affair between Stark and Sadie Burke gets initiated in the chapter. Sadie exposes the idealism of Willie and provokes his ego. When he acts like a wounded lion, she helps to tame him. By unraveling the bitter truth, she makes him come to terms with reality. Through her he gets the strength to face the people and bear his heart. Thus, he establishes a rapport with the people and wins their support. Sadie helps Stark to reach out to the people and in the process, gets close to him.

This chapter is quite significant as it reveals the personal relationships of the main characters and exposes political intrigues. It contains both emotional and melodramatic elements in it. Warren convincingly presents the feelings of the characters and the atmosphere of the scene through his descriptive ability, native speech and informal style in the chapter.

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