All the King's Men: Essay Q&A

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1. Discuss the relevance of the title, All the King's Men, to the rest of the novel.
This title is an echo of the nursery rhyme, where 'all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again'. The king's men are, in this instance, the supporters and staff of Willie once he is in power. His assassination is his literal end, but his moral downfall prefigures how he is ultimately beyond saving. All the king's men could not 'put him together again' either morally (when he decides to employ Larson to avoid blackmail) or physically (with his death).

The reference to king in the title also foreshadows Willie's rise to demagogue. His men follow his orders and Jack in particular is blind to the concept of responsibility whilst in his employ. Willie's status as king (or rather Governor of Louisiana) is comparable to that of a fascist, populist ruler who becomes so embroiled in his role that democracy is forgotten.

2. Consider the importance of the concept of truth in this work.
Truth and corruption are two main themes of this novel and it is through the changes and development in Jack that the readers are able to see that truth is conclusively preferred. In the earlier chapters, the younger Jack is characteristically incapable of assuming responsibility and cannot understand Cass Mastern's actions. For Jack, the truth was only evident in facts.

It is in the final chapter that the readers are able to observe how Jack in the present day understands that truth is also tempered by the connections people have with each other. He finally understands the spider web theory, which Mastern alludes to, and senses the link between truth and moral welfare.

3. Analyze the changes that Willie Stark undergoes.
The readers see Willie through Jack's gaze and he is first observed by him in an informal meeting in the back room of Slade's pool hall. When looking back, Jack thinks of him at this time as Cousin Willie - an innocent but independent man who works as the County Treasurer. He barely ever drinks alcohol and is devoted to his schoolteacher wife, Lucy.

After finally realising that he has been used as a 'sap' in his initial attempt at running for Governor, the changes in Willie become more apparent. From this point he is more jaded about the way politics works and once he finally becomes Governor he embraces the same machinery and outlook that fooled him into thinking he had been considered a worthy leader the first time.

4. To what extent is corruption criticized in this novel?
The ambiguity of the narrator, Jack Burden, means that this novel is, for the most part, reluctant in its outright condemnation of a corrupt leader. As a PhD student and whilst working for Willie, it is possible to see that this Jack was unable to fully appreciate the concepts of moral responsibility and preferred facts instead.

The assassination of Willie and Jack's developed awareness of how actions are connected to other actions (as with Mastern's spider web analogy) entail that Jack condemns irresponsibility in its concluding passages. It is imperative to argue, however, that this novel does not offer a damning indictment of corruption as such; it is subtle and shifting in its portrayal of Willie and Jack's attraction to power.

5. Analyze the parent/child relationship in All the King's Men.
The relationship between parent and child is one of the main narrative strands of this novel. Jack's fraught relationship with his mother only becomes resolved in the final chapter when Jack recognizes that his mother is capable of love after all.

It is the bond between father and son, however, which has a central role in the narrative. His relationship with Ellis Burden, who he presumes is his father until the death of Judge Irwin, has been similarly difficult. A glimpse of such difficulties is observable when Jack visits Ellis in his apartment and Jack's jealousy is revealed as Ellis cares for George. The rivalry and antagonism of the son toward the father are evident and this is emphasized when Jack researches Judge Irwin's past for 'dirt'.

Although Jack is unaware at this point that the Judge is his biological father, he has regarded him as a father figure since Ellis left the marital home when Jack was aged six.

These instances of rivalry are reminiscent of the Oedipal myth, which Freud drew upon in his concept of the Oedipal complex. The antagonism between the father and son is a typical, intergenerational conflict that prefigures the individuation of the male child.

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