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Barron's Booknotes-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Summary
1. C
2. B
3. B
4. A
5. C
6. A
7. A
8. B
9. C
10. C

11. The character Willie Stark was, in part, inspired by Huey Long, a political leader of Louisiana during the Great Depression. After his assassination, Long was both praised and condemned for his practices and policies. Some readers believe that Willie's character is presented as a kind of eulogy (a statement of praise and admiration) for the late Huey Long. Other readers think Warren is presenting a fictional character with the internal conflicts of such leaders as Willie Stark and Long. You can defend either position.

If you think Warren too readily excuses the corrupt practices of Willie Stark, you need to show that Warren is sympathetic toward Willie's reasons for resorting to blackmail and bribery. One way to do this is to discuss the times and circumstances that created a Willie Stark. His desire to help the poor folk is genuine. Yet, to make changes quickly, he must adopt the practices of his opponents. Threats and greed are what his fellow politicians understand. Unfortunately, Willie has no choice. Either he uses corrupt methods or he loses his power. Warren's apology for Willie's actions, you can argue, in effect shows that people cannot rise above their times if they intend to be effective in the political arena. You can also argue that Warren's sympathetic view toward Willie has the danger of excusing corrupt political practices in any time and place.

If you believe Warren is describing the internal conflicts of a political leader who goes wrong, you need to point out how Willie is torn between his idealistic beginnings and his corrupt environment. Much of the same evidence as that cited above can be used. Only here you must show that Warren condemns Willie's methods. Also, you might want to mention Jack's disillusionment with his job of digging up scandals and Willie's last-minute desire to return to the ideals of his youth. Willie is going back to Lucy, his simple, country-loving wife, when he is assassinated. Warren's novel, then, can be seen as a description of how men are corrupted. And Willie's death can be interpreted as a warning on the wages of sin.

12. There are two aspects of Warren's uses of time that you may want to discuss: the way the story is told and the theme of making sense out of history. When you're talking about how the story is told, be certain to refer to the role of the narrator. As one reader has said, All the King's Men is an "autobiography of a mind." Jack Burden tells his story through the twists and turns of his memory. As such, the story does not follow a strict chronological order. Rather, the narrator uses many flashbacks, which serve to put events in perspective and, further, to reveal how Jack's mind works. For a look at Warren's use of time, see the Form and Structure section. You may also want to review the Spider Web theory in Chapter 4.

13. Opinions vary on the significance of the Cass Mastern story. Some readers think it is a needless digression. Others, however, think that Cass's story reflects what is happening in the novel. If you adopt the second view, point out that Cass's insight into people's responsibility to each other throughout time is Jack's first confrontation with such a philosophy of history. Even though Jack doesn't comprehend it at first, the philosophy is not wasted on him. He gradually comes to understand Cass's philosophy and motivations because of his own painful encounters with the Spider Web of life.

14. Perhaps the best way to approach this question is to piece together Jack's flashbacks on Willie's early career, to present Willie's story in chronological order, and to concentrate on examples that reveal Willie's increasing fall into corruption. You should mention the schoolhouse incident. And you'll want to discuss Willie's first campaign for governor, when he idealistically, though ineffectively, talks to the people about his programs for changing things. These talks do not win him support, but his anger about being framed does. What does Willie learn from this experience? Also, describe Willie's successful campaign, in which he is flanked on one side by the realistic Sadie Burke and on the other by the idealistic Hugh Miller. Perhaps the first clear indication that Willie has sacrificed ideals for power comes in Chapter 3 when the MacMurfee bunch attempts to impeach Willie's state auditor, Byram White. What does Willie do and say that shows he has chosen to run an administration in which corruption is tolerated? What are other examples of Willie's immoral methods? Why can't Willie free himself from corruption? And what is the significance of the way he dies?

15. A review of the Characters section will help you to organize your ideas for this essay. You may choose to consider the significance of their names, their differing portrayals (Willie can be interpreted as a mythological figure and Jack as a complicated flesh-and-blood person), their ultimate destinies (Willie to fall, Jack to grow). And you should show how Willie's friendship is at first a crutch for Jack but then helps him to learn more about himself. Remember that one of the themes of the novel is Jack's search for a spiritual father. For a while Willie serves Jack in that capacity. Thus, Jack needs Willie, but does Willie need Jack? Why does Willie like having Jack around?

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