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Free Study Guide-All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren-Free Book Notes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

USE OF IRONY

Robert Penn Warren makes use of the device of Irony to highlight his ideas in the novel. The novel is thus illuminated with ironical actions and situations. A few examples would suffice to illustrate the point.

Jack Burden is a student of history who feels happy to probe into the past of other people but is unhappy about his own past. Jack feels bad that he has been deserted by his father and ignored by his mother. As a child when the Scholarly Attorney walks out of his life, he feels sorry for himself and his mother. Later, when his mother remarries not once but thrice, he feels ashamed of his mother’s infidelity. Thus he often remembers his past with bitterness. However, he does not feel bad to take a peep into the lives of other people. He is enthusiastic to read through the notes of Cass Mastern and expose the man’s unpleasant past. Later, when Willie Stark asks him to look into the past of Irwin, in order to find incriminating evidence against him, Jack agrees to do the job even though he maintains good relations with the Judge. It is ironical that the principal subjects of study in both the cases of Jack’s research are placed in identical situations as far as their love life is concerned and they both are related to Jack.

Following the order of the Boss, Jack starts doing research on his subject in order to impute the judge. However, a short while after exposing the guilt of the Judge, he acts rashly and stands guilty. In the process of pointing out the guilt of Irwin, Jack leaves no stone unturned. Thus at the end of his research, when he finds the Judge guilty, he feels relieved. At the insistence of the Boss, he meets Irwin to ask him to pressurize MacMurfee but when the Judge refuses to interfere in the affairs of MacMurfee, Jack blackmails him by revealing Mortimer Littlepaugh’s letter to him. Irwin is disturbed when he is reminded of his guilt and commits suicide. Thus Jack becomes responsible for killing Irwin and stands guilty.


Willie Stark is the Boss to many who dance to his tunes but he is unable to boss over his son. Tom is arrogant and reckless. He drives rashly and flirts with girls openly. His actions often cause embarrassment to Willie Stark. Thus when Tom meets with an accident while driving with a girl friend, the girl’s father threatens Stark with punishment. Later, when Tom plays with the modesty of a girl called Sybil and makes her pregnant, MacMurfee takes advantage of the situation and puts pressure on Stark. Even though Tom is the root cause of all the problems, Willie is not able to tame him. Instead, he blames his adversaries.

Finally, all the men who rally around the Boss to help him execute his plans are unable to save his life. The men who pamper and shield Stark against the attack of his enemies are unable to protect him in the end. This is because, ironically, it is not the wily MacMurfee or his crafty men who kill the Boss, but the honest Adam whom the Boss had honored with the post of the Director of his hospital who shoots Willie Stark. The least expected man attacks the Boss and thus, even the sturdy Sugar- Boy is unable to save him.

COMPARISONS AND CONTRASTS

Robert Penn Warren compares and contrasts characters and situations in the novel in order to illustrate certain facts. Thus Jack and Irwin appear similar to Cass Mastern in certain ways, while the whole Cass Mastern episode reflects on the love life of the Judge and Jack’s mother. Similarly, Willie Stark and Jack Burden, Adam and Jack, Anne and Sadie Burke can be contrasted as a study in character. And finally, certain characters and situations in the novel can be compared and contrasted.

Cass Mastern, the subject of Jack’s doctoral thesis, befriends Mr. Trice and falls in love with Mrs. Trice. Similarly, Irwin is a good friend of Ellis Burden and falls in love with Mrs. Burden. Both Cass and Irwin get involved with their ladies-in -love secretly. When Duncan Trice and Ellis Burden get to know about the liaison between their friends and wives, they feel humiliated and try to find an escape out of life. Trice commits suicide, while Burden renounces his family and goes to live with the unfortunate people. The difference in situation is that Cass feels guilty about his actions and tries to do penance, while Irwin does not display his guilt and continues to lead a normal life. Also the relationship between Cass and Annabelle does not bear any fruit, while Jack is the product of the love between Irwin and Mrs. Burden.

To some extent Jack and Cass can be compared. Cass becomes responsible for the death of his friend, Trice. Similarly Jack indirectly causes the death of Irwin. Both feel guilty for their actions and later, try to rectify their mistakes. However, both the characters are different, as they are poles apart in their temperaments. Cass is emotional and passionate, Jack is rational and cautious.

Willie Stark and Jack Burden, the two principal characters of the novel compliment each other through their differences. Stark is energetic and enthusiastic. Jack lacks drive and is complacent. Stark propels Jack to action and Burden continues to act according to the wishes of his Boss. Stark is highly ambitious and pursues his goal steadfastly, while Jack has no aim in life and takes life as it comes. Stark is emotional and short-tempered, while Jack is rational and calm. Stark possesses manly charm and an imposing personality, which attracts girls, while Jack lacks such a personality. The opposites in both the characters attract them to hold together.

Adam and Jack are also bound together despite their differences. Adam is highly principled and idealistic. Jack does not care for principles and is realistic. Adam is hypersensitive, while Jack has a sturdy heart. Adam is dedicated to his profession and hopes to devote his life to the service of humanity. Jack has no such attachment to his job and no ideals set in life. However, in spite of their differences, the two remain friends and inspire one another.

The other characters who can be compared and contrasted are Lucy and Anne and Anne and Sadie Burke. Lucy and Anne are alike in their temperament. They are cool, contented and try to make the best of their life. They are educated and refined. Both of them love children; Lucy was a schoolteacher and later, devotes her life to bring up her grandson. Anne works in a Children’s home and later, gifts her house to the Home. Both of them are uncomplaining and resign themselves to their situation.

Anne and Sadie Burke, the two other women of Stark, are perfect foils to each other. Anne is delicate, sophisticated and cultured. Sadie Burke is rude, crude and uncultured. Anne is confident and commands respect. Sadie has a complex and revolts people by her behavior. Anne is reserved, while Sadie is outspoken. Anne is contented with her affair with Stark, while Sadie is dissatisfied. Sadie feels insecure and thus acts possessive about Stark. Both women love Stark, but they express it differently. And when Stark discards them, they react differently too. Anne is disappointed and dejected, but accepts the situation with grace. Sadie feels humiliated and gets enraged. Thus she becomes responsible for killing her lover.

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