All the King's Men: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. He gave you the impression of being a slow and deliberate man to look at him, and he had a way of sitting loose as though he had sunk inside himself and was going down for the third time and his eyes would blink like an owl's in a cage. Then all of a sudden he would make a move. (p. 24)

    This is an early description of the Boss - Willie Stark - in Chapter One and is given by the first-person narrator, Jack Burden. An analysis of the tone reveals Jack's ambiguous reading of this anti-hero. It is clear that Jack is wary of Willie, but simultaneously he also admires him.

  2. When you get born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back, and you are it. They know they can't get it all back but they will get as big a chunk out of you as they can. (p.39)

    This quotation is nominally referring to Willie's father and the father's desire to keep the grown-up son close to him now he has come to visit. More generally, it is also a criticism of parents and perhaps reflects Jack's difficult relationship with his mother and father.

  3. Cass Mastern lived for a few years and in that time he learned that the world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. (p.200)

    This spider web theory, which appears in Chapter Four, is grasped by Jack in the final chapter. He finally learns how the effects of actions are connected, and with this comes responsibility.

  4. Then one morning he went out into that world and did not come back to the room and the pine table. The black books, in which the journal was written, the ring, the photograph, the packet of letters were left there, beside the thick stack of manuscript, the complete works of Jack Burden, which was already beginning to curl at the edges under the paperweight. (p. 201)

    This is a reference to Jack's decision to walk away from his life as a research student. He has laid aside Cass Mastern's journal and Jack is not sure if this is because he cannot understand him, or because he is afraid to understand him because there is a reproach for Jack in the narrative of Mastern's life. This quotation is also a useful example of the switch in the text to the third person. Here, the use of the third person reflects Jack's disengagement from his own history.

  5. And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost. (p. 263)

    This somewhat convoluted point is, nevertheless, a key quotation as it is a signifier of the moral ambivalence that is central to Jack's narration.

  6. If he believed that you had to make the good out of the bad because there wasn't anything else to make it out of, why did he stir up such a fuss about keeping Tiny's hands off the Willie Stark Hospital? (p. 278)

    This quotation resembles the previous one, by referring to 'making good out of bad', and it is also significant for demonstrating Jack's flaws. He fails to see that at this point Willie wants to have something totally free of the taint of corruption.

  7. For the truth is a terrible thing. (p. 363)

    This point is made by Jack when he visits Judge Irwin in order to tell him what he knows about his past; that is, that the Judge had been involved in bribery.

  8. Nothing fazed him, not insult or anger or violence or getting his face beat into a hamburger. He was a true businessman. He knew the value of everything. (p. 385)

    With this description of Gummy Larson, it is possible to see a critique of capitalism. This 'true businessman' knows the 'value of everything', but only in terms of money.

  9. You don't know how much I know or what. I was thick with the Boss and I know a lot. I'm the joker in the deck. My name is Jack and I'm the wild jack and I'm not one-eyed. You want to deal me to yourself from the bottom of the deck. But it's no sale, Tiny, it's no sale. (p. 439)

    Here, Jack refuses Tiny Duffy's offer of work after the assassination of Willie. Jack's decision is based on Duffy's involvement with the murder and emphasizes Jack's movement away from this world of moral ambivalence.

  10. For years I had condemned her as a woman without heart, who loved merely power over men and the momentary satisfaction to vanity or flesh which they could give her, who lived in a strange loveless oscillation between calculation and instinct. (p. 442)

    This quotation highlights Jack's new understanding of his mother as he recognizes that she loved Judge Irwin.

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