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All the King's Men: Novel Summary: Chapter Seven

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After seeing Anne, Jack decides to drive to California. The next part of the narrative is constructed by memories of when he fell in love with her, when he was 21 and she was 17. They went on to spend the summer together and excluded others.

When they fell in love, they would talk about what they would do after they were married and which names they would give their children. In September, he does not see her for two days and Anne becomes more distant towards him in their last week together before she returns to Miss Pound's School.

Two nights before she is due to leave Jack undresses her at his home and she lies on his bed. He decides it is not right, though: 'I couldn't anymore have touched her than if she had been my little sister.' The early return of his mother to the home means that Anne has to leave anyway. In the present, Jack reflects that if they had had sex then, his mother and her father would have 'set us up in matrimony', and she would not have had an affair with Willie. The gradual breakdown of Jack and Anne's relationship is explained and we are told how a year after they fell in love Anne kissed him with a new kiss. This is one she has learned from another man.

Jack moves on then to describe his marriage to Lois and their separation: 'But as soon as I began to regard her as a person, trouble began. All would have been well, perhaps, had Lois been struck dumb at puberty.' The final phase of his marriage is denoted by his fall into what he describes as the Great Sleep (which he has referred to in Chapters Two and Four).

The narrative returns to Anne as Jack relates how she went on to get engaged three times but never married. It is clear that Jack has idealized Anne and he views her affair with Willie as a form of betrayal, 'or rather, had betrayed an idea of mine which had more importance for me than I had ever realised.' This is why Jack has driven West after finding out about their relationship and says 'we have always gone West'.

Jack expands on his feelings for Anne and says how he has always kept an image of her as a little girl floating in the waters of the bay, 'all innocence and trustfulness'. He feels robbed of this image after discovering she has been Willie's mistress.

The chapter ends with Jack telling the readers of how on his hotel bed in California he has discovered the dream: 'That dream was the dream that all life is but the dark heave of blood and the twitch of nerves.' Jack is making the point that at this time he sees nothing beyond the senses, and offers a nihilistic perspective of human relations. Furthermore, he has regarded the notion of 'a new start in the West' as possible, 'if you believe the dream you dream when you go there'.

This chapter is mainly set in the past as Jack recounts the background to his present relationship with Anne. The details of this love and his marriage with Lois are useful details that help to explain why Jack is so concerned, and betrayed, by the knowledge of Anne's affair with Willie. His idealization of Anne is, arguably, the only 'good' in his life. This goodness has been obliterated with the sense of being betrayed. His feeling of betrayal is rooted in holding Anne separate from the world. Once he understands that she also belongs to the world of human fallibility, he is devastated and tries to survive by heading West in a parody of the early pioneers.

This decision to 'go West' is made as a reaction to the discovery of this affair, then, and is founded on the myth of the American Dream, which he goes on to deconstruct at the end of the chapter. The promised land of the West has only become an escape route for Jack and does not give him the solace he requires.

His nihilistic perspective of relationships and humanity, which has been triggered by Anne and Willie's affair, is reiterated in his reference to his dream of the 'twitch of the nerve'. This theory of the 'twitch', of contingency and the pre-eminence of bodily function, is explored in more detail in Chapter Eight in relation to his notion of the Great Twitch. Jack's moral development may be traced from his nihilist faith in the twitch in this chapter and Chapter Eight to his epiphany in Chapter Ten when he finally eschews this belief.


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