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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
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SECTION TWO: JUDGE IRWIN

Governor Stark arrives at a plan for squelching the paternity suit against Tom. He's unable to arrange a deal with Frey and his daughter, because MacMurfee has hidden them in another state. His only alternative is to approach MacMurfee, his archenemy. Willie decides to use someone to whom MacMurfee owes a favor. He thinks of Judge Irwin.

The Boss asks Jack whether he has found anything on the Judge. Jack indicates that he has, but before revealing what it is, Jack says he has promised to give the Judge a chance to prove the findings false, a promise he made to himself and to someone else. He doesn't tell Willie that the other person is Anne. The Boss is not used to having Jack withhold information from him and is slightly angered by Jack's unusual display of conscience. Nevertheless, he tells Jack to do what he has to do. Jack drives to Burden's Landing.

For nearly twenty years Jack thought of himself as an idealist. But after only a few months of being a believer in the Great Twitch, a seed of doubt is again growing in his mind. If he abandons this belief, will he replace it with an even more cynical one? Or will he replace it with a more optimistic view of human nature?

That afternoon Jack pays a visit to Judge Irwin, but not before first strengthening his emotional armor by having had an argument with his mother. The Judge is lying down. He has not been well. As always, he seems glad to see Jack. Jack, however, is less than cordial. Yet, as he sits in the library, he fervently hopes the Judge can prove that the charges are false. After having a friendly drink with the Judge, he even thinks of destroying the evidence. But Jack feels he must learn the truth.

He begins by asking why the Judge supports MacMurfee instead of Willie, Judge Irwin explains that, although he believes Willie is making some important changes, he is worried about the methods Willie uses. Jack tells the judge about some of MacMurfee's methods, including the paternity suit, which is MacMurfee's way of trying to blackmail Willie not to run for the Senate. When he asks the Judge to convince MacMurfee not to pursue the suit, the Judge refuses. Jack pleads, but still he refuses.

Feeling pushed into a corner, Jack shows the Judge the papers testifying that the Judge many years ago took a bribe. Among the papers is Littlepaugh's suicide letter. Jolted by these remembrances of things past, the Judge confesses they are true. But he refuses to be blackmailed into helping the Boss. Also, he has a few sharp words to say about Jack's part in the dirty business. Jack says he will return tomorrow and hopes the Judge will change his mind.


Later, back at his own house, a scream awakens Jack from an afternoon nap, and he runs to his mother's bedroom. She repeats hysterically, "You killed him!" When he demands to know whom she is talking about, she says that he killed his father. Judge Irwin has shot himself. In this tragic way, Jack learns that the Judge was his father.

Jack's mother is sick from shock. As Jack sits at her bedside, watching her sleep, he sees everything fall into place. The Scholarly Attorney abandoned Jack and his mother because he could no longer live with the woman who loved the Judge and with the child who was the Judge's son. And for all these years, his mother has loved the Judge. Jack wonders why they had never married. But he feels love for his mother, because, he says, he now sees that she had indeed loved someone.

After the funeral, Jack returns to the capital. He receives a call from the executor of the Judge's will. Jack is the sole heir to Judge Irwin's estate, the same estate that the Judge saved years ago by taking a bribe. Jack bursts out laughing. Then he weeps.

NOTE: ON HONOR AND RESPONSIBILITY

As you have seen, the Judge was an honorable man. But his honor, in Jack's view, was "twisted." He never married Jack's mother or revealed to Jack, even when it might have saved his life, that he was Jack's father. Perhaps the Judge recognized the absurdity of his "honor" in matters of the heart. He shot himself through the heart.

In the end, the Judge could not face his responsibility for misfortunes of the past. Can Jack face his responsibility for the Judge's death? Jack finds it ironic that the suicide for which the Judge was responsible results in the Judge's own suicide. And he also sees the irony in his inheritance from the Judge.

Of course, learning that he is the Judge's son is just as traumatic for Jack as learning about the Judge's death. He is now left alone to create, if he can, his own life of honor and responsibility.

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