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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
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CHAPTER 5

SECTION ONE: THE SCHOLARLY ATTORNEY

In this chapter Jack tells you about the twists and turns of his second journey into the past. His assignment is to discover something scandalous about Judge Irwin. And he does. Jack is an excellent researcher-perhaps too good.

NOTE:

Warren immediately follows the story of Jack's first piece of historical research-the Cass Mastern case-with the story of his second project, the "Case of the Upright Judge." The purpose for putting these two historical projects one after the other is, in part, to reveal the process by which Jack comes to embrace the Spider Web Theory of life.

In the first half of All The King's Men, you see Jack attempting to live a life untouched by deep emotions. One significant element introduced by Warren is Jack's failure to understand Cass Mastern's sense of guilt and responsibility for the death of Duncan Trice and for Phebe's fate "down the river." And he becomes the Boss's personal historian of the secret scandals of state politicians, with an attitude of indifference toward the effect that his findings may have on people's lives.

In the beginning of Chapter 5, Jack still does not see himself as a responsible agent in the web of life. Even though he is an experienced historical researcher, Jack has not yet realized, as Cass did, that "the world is all of one piece," and that the actions of all people, including his own, intertwine to give personal meaning to history. For Jack, history is an escape.

Notice also, Jack's dispassionate attitude toward his search for incriminating information against the Judge, a man who was like a father to him. Consider why Jack says that the Upright Judge case "was a perfect research job, marred in its technical perfection by only one thing: it meant something." Does Jack feel that practical results from a research project taint his efforts? Furthermore, why does Jack think that the Mastern research did not mean anything?

After several excursions into the past-Willie's rise to power and the Cass Mastern story-this chapter resumes where Chapter 1 ends. Sugar-Boy, the Boss, and Jack have returned to Mason City from their late-night visit with Judge Irwin in Burden's Landing. As you recall, the Judge refused to support Willie's candidate for senator. Willie then told Jack to dig up some dirt on the Judge. The Boss is positive that his candidate will win. Nevertheless, he wants to have something against the Judge. And, unlike Jack, he is certain that there is something to be found. Further, he does not care how long it takes to find, as Jack puts it, "the deceased fly among the raisins in the rice pudding."

The next day, Jack goes to see the man who was once the Judge's closest friend-Ellis Burden, the Scholarly Attorney. Surely, if the Judge had ever stepped out of line, Jack's father would know. The Scholarly Attorney lives in the capital, above a Mexican restaurant. While waiting for him, Jack sits in the restaurant, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. The Scholarly Attorney enters, looking older than Jack remembers. The Mexican woman hands him a bag of bread crusts. Jack follows him when he leaves. The old man is taking the bread crusts upstairs to George, who, as the old man puts it, is "an unfortunate." George does not eat the crusts. He chews them and molds them into angels. The old man tries to feed him soup, but George will not eat anything except chocolate that the old man puts in his mouth.


As Jack watches, an overwhelming feeling transports him back many years. In their white house by the sea, he sees his father tenderly holding out something for him to eat. Now, in the unfortunate's room, he feels a big lump dissolve in his chest. He says, "Father-" The old man asks what he said, but Jack does not repeat his broken call from the past. Instead, he again wonders why the Scholarly Attorney abandoned him and his mother. He breaks this painful train of thought by asking, "Tell me about Judge Irwin."

The old man refuses to talk about the past. He says that the sinful man he was then is now dead. And when Jack tells him that it is the governor who wants to know, he utters, "Foulness." The old man is determined never to be a part of politics again. Jack leaves, having learned one thing: There is indeed something buried in the Judge's past.

Some readers see a similarity between the Scholarly Attorney and Cass Mastern. Ellis Burden abandoned his successful law practice, his beautiful wife and home, and his young son, Jack. In a sense, he abandoned the materialistic world. Now, he spends his time helping unfortunates and writing religious pamphlets. Is he, as Cass was, trying to purge himself of some dreadful sin? As the story continues, see whether you agree that the Scholarly Attorney and Cass Mastern are much alike. Are their "sins" similar?

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