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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The novel opens with a picture of Willie Stark, the Governor of the State, visiting his father in Mason City. However, as the novel progresses the author goes back into the past to emphasize the present.
Willie Stark makes a trip to Mason City with his family and staff. He stops on the way to renew contact with his old friends. Reaching home, he meets his father and tries to relax his tired nerves. Shortly afterwards, he gets information that Judge Irwin is supporting the candidature of a MacMurfee man. Willie Stark visits Irwin the same night and warns him against the consequences of his actions. He also asks Jack Burden to probe into the life of Irwin in order to find some incriminating information against the Judge.
Jack remembers the first time he had met Willie Stark. He had come to Mason City to interview Stark in connection with the building of the schoolhouse. Stark had been against giving the contract to a Company, which used sub standard bricks. However, they had built the schoolhouse disregarding his wishes. And when the school had collapsed killing a few children, people had understood the value of Starkís suggestion. Thus gaining the peopleís support, Stark had staked his claim against MacMurfee for the post of the Governor. However, when Stark had realized that he had been used by Harrison to split the votes of MacMurfee, he had withdrawn his candidature. MacMurfee had become the Governor and Willie had gone back to his farm.
At home, Willie had practiced law and earned his reputation as a capable lawyer. When he had gained the confidence of the people, he had stood for the elections as a Democratic candidate and won the seat. In the mean time, Jack Burden loses his job with the Chronicle. Stark invites him over and offers him a job.
A few years later, Jack visits his mother at Burdenís Landing. She is now living with her fourth husband, Theodore. Indulging in leisurely activities, he remembers the time when he had gone for a picnic with Adam and Anne. Those were the days when he had lead a carefree life. After his short holiday, he returns back to work. Willie Stark has a new problem to confront. His auditor had tried to make quick money and it had come to the notice of MacMurfee who threatens to expose the Boss. Stark seeks the help of Jack and his other followers to gain the support of the people against the impeachment of Bryam. He succeeds in his mission but is not happy.
Lucy is angry with Stark for supporting a corrupt man like Bryam. Jack decides to probe into the past of Irwin. When he starts on the work, it reminds him of the past when he had undertaken research on the life of Cass Mastern for his doctoral thesis. Cass Mastern was his great grand uncle and his past had been eventful. Mastern had befriended a young banker named Trice. In the absence of his friend, he had got involved with his wife, Annabelle Trice. When Trice comes to know of the affair between Cass and his wife, he commits suicide. Cass feels guilty and tries to make amends. Later, he gets enlisted in the army and dies recuperating in the hospital after an injury. Jack completes his research work on Cass but abandons the thesis on the pretext of not understanding his subject.
In order to gain information about Irwin, Jack meets a few people who can furnish him the necessary details. First, he meets his father, the Scholarly Attorney. However, when he tries to ask the Attorney about Irwin, the elderly men refuse to answer him. Jack then approaches Anne and Adam. Anne does not give any information as she is against probing into the past of a respectable gentleman like Irwin. Adam is more forth coming. He hints at certain financial constraints felt by Irwin in the past. Latching on to this clue, Jack manages to gain information about the involvement of Irwin in the American Electric Company. In this context, he visits Miss Littlepaugh. He gets hold of the letter written by her brother exposing both Stanton and Irwin.
In the meantime, Stark is confronted with a fresh problem. Tom meets with an accident while driving with a girl friend. Even though both of them escape without much hurt, the father of the girl threatens to take action against Tom. Stark succeeds in pacifying him and the matter is settled. Shortly afterwards, Willie decides to start work on the hospital which he had promised to his constituents. He desires to structure the hospital as a model institution. In this regard, he wishes to appoint Adam Stanton as its Director. Adam accepts the offer after much persuasion.
Jack feels disturbed when he becomes aware of the affair between Stark and Anne. Anne was his sweet heart to whom he had once proposed marriage. He had always loved Anne even when he was married to Lois. He thus feels let down by Anneís attitude. He gets over his depression, after he analyses his relationship with Anne.
Political intrigues cloud the atmosphere. The agent of Gummy Larson tries to bribe Adam with a view to influence him to persuade the Boss to give the contract of the hospital to Larson. Adam is infuriated and threatens to resign. However, when Jack promises to take action against Larson, he consents to work in the hospital. In the meantime, Willie Stark is clouded with a controversy. Tom had got intimate with a girl during a picnic and the girl had got pregnant. The father of the girl threatens to take action against Tom and expose Willie Stark. Even as Stark tries to find a solution to the problem, MacMurfee removes Marvin Frey and his daughter from the scene. Stark is worried that his rival may use the case against him in the future. So he asks Jack to persuade Irwin to talk to MacMurfee.
After a lot of introspection, Jack goes back to work but refuses to do anymore spying. Willie Stark gives the contract of the hospital building to Gummy Larson in order to keep MacMurfee in check. Just when he had crossed over one hurdle, he is encountered with another. Tom meets with an accident once again. He gets severely injured in the foot ball court. In spite of best medical treatment offered by Adam and a specialist, Tom suffers a head injury and is paralyzed for life. Willie Stark is shattered. He decides to cancel the contract with Larson because he wants to name the hospital after Tom.
To redeem his life, Stark decides to call off his affairs with both Anne and Sadie Burke. Anne feels dejected but Sadie feels insulted. She resigns from the job and leaves the city. Adam is informed about the affair between Stark and Anne. Adam feels cheated as he presumes that he had got the job only because of Anne. He leaves home and remains in hiding. When Jack accompanies Stark to the Capitol, he encounters Adam. Adam shoots the Boss and wounds him. In retaliation, Sugar Boy shoots Adam who dies instantly. Willie is removed to the hospital where he dies after a few days.
Jack goes back to Burdenís Landing to renew his friendship with Anne. After talking to Anne, he becomes suspicious about the informer who had spoken to Adam. He meets Sadie at the Sanatorium and learns about her involvement in the whole affair leading to the death of the Boss. It is Sadie who had asked Tiny Duffy to speak to Adam on the phone. She promises to give a statement against Duffy. Jack goes to meet Duffy and accuses him of killing the Boss but refrains from taking action against the man.
Lucy adopts Sibylís child after the demise of Tom and names him as Willie. Jack marries Anne and moves into the house of Irwin. He brings the Scholarly Attorney to live with him. He also decides to vacate the house after the death of the old man and shift to a remote place. However, he promises to keep in touch with the past by visiting the Landing once in a while. Jack, thus makes amends for the mistakes he had committed in the past.