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Willie Stark is the protagonist of the novel. The book traces his story from a County Treasurer of Mason City to the Governor of the State. As the son of a humble farmer, Willie is honest, humane and hard working. However, power corrupts him and the political environment makes him ruthless. In the end, he pays the price for his arrogance.
Willie Stark has antagonists at three levels. On the moral plane, he is his own antagonist. His high-handed manner and political manipulations bounce back on him.
On the personal level, Willie Stark creates enemies through his arrogant behavior. Tiny Duffy, who had remained his faithful employee, is abused by Stark. Duffy bears patiently the insults hurled at him but nurtures a spirit of revenge against the Boss. When Sadie Burke tells him about the relationship between Anne and Stark, he informs Adam about it and provokes the doctor.
Sadie Burke is another person who becomes the enemy of the Boss. Sadie befriends Willie Stark after she exposes Harrisonís dirty plans to him and becomes his mistress. Later, she then becomes the Secretary of the Governor. However, after Tomís accident when Stark cuts off his relationship with her, she becomes furious. In a fit of fury, she asks Tiny Duffy to inform Adam about Anne and Stark.
On the political level, MacMurfee is the antagonist of Willie Stark. He takes every opportunity to expose and blackmail the Boss. He had always been the political rival of Stark. Earlier he had contested against the Boss for the post of Governor, now he is pitted against him for the seat of the Senator.
Tomís accident leading to his paralysis, transforms the attitude of Willie Stark. All the things that he had tried to do on the sly and for his benefit, he now sets aside. Earlier, he had tried to outwit MacMurfee by awarding the contract for building the hospital to Gummy Larson. After Tomís accident, he decides to dedicate the hospital to his son and thus decides to take back the offer from Larson. This decision disturbs Tiny Duffy. Thus when Sadie asks him to inform Adam about the affair between Stark and Anne. He does the needful.
Adam is shattered to hear about the liaison between the Boss and Anne. To add insult to injury, it is suggested to him that he had acquired the post of the Director of the hospital only as a favor to Anne. Adam is completely demoralized. He holds Stark responsible for using Anne and causing him misery. Thus shaken, he shoots the Boss and he himself gets shot.