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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
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SECTION THREE: THE GREAT SLEEP

In 1930, while Willie is running his own campaign for Governor, Jack quits his job at the Chronicle. The paper is backing incumbent MacMurfee, but Jack's column does not reflect the editor's position. Jack leaves and thus begins the "Great Sleep."

Jack describes the Great Sleep as "dreaming of sleep, sleeping and dreaming of sleep infinitely inward to the center." Aimlessness, emptiness, and nothing are the order of the day, every day. He lies in his bed and lets his imagination wander. But this experience is not new to Jack. He reacted in the same way on two other occasions-just before he abandoned his Ph.D. dissertation in American history and just before he walked out on his wife, Lois.

The present Great Sleep, like the other two, occurs when Jack loses his direction. He reflects on what has happened and begins to look at what can be, a time of transition. Perhaps you have had your days of Great Sleep. If so, what was it like? Did you, like Jack, hang around familiar places? Did you let your thoughts wander wherever they would without making any effort to discipline or direct them?

During Jack's third Great Sleep you meet Adam Stanton, the friend of his youth. Adam, a bachelor and a famous surgeon, lives in a shabby apartment in the capital. Also, you meet Adam's sister, Anne. Anne is a trim, well-dressed, attractive woman who promotes certain charitable organizations. She, too, is unmarried.

Jack thinks of himself as a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, but he adds a wrinkle to the famous story: "You went to sleep for a long time, and when you woke up nothing whatsoever had changed." But things do change. Jack wakes up and finds himself working for Willie, who is now the governor. What will he do for Willie? Willie says, "Hell, I don't know. Something will turn up."


NOTE: RIP VAN WINKLE

"Rip Van Winkle" is a story in the American writer Washington Irving's first collection, The Sketch Book (1819-20). Rip, a simple, good-natured fellow, wanders away from the village and his nagging wife to spend a peaceful day in the Kaatskill (Catskill) mountains. After meeting a group of odd-looking, mysterious men and downing some of their liquor, he falls into a deep sleep. When he awakens and returns to town, he discovers that everything has changed-his wife is dead and the American Revolution has come and gone. He has slept for twenty years! Rip spends the rest of his days telling his tale to every passing stranger.

Recent literary studies explore the psychological dimensions of this story, interpreting Rip's sleep as an escape from both his nagging wife and political turmoil (he sleeps through the American Revolution) and his awakening as a rebirth fantasy (his wife is dead and the Thirteen Colonies are independent). Perhaps Warren wants you to compare Rip's tale to Jack's Great Sleep and his eventual awakening (later in the novel) to self-knowledge.

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