All The King's Men

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Judge Irwin Character Analysis

A judge of great prominence in the state, and Jack’s mentor from a young age in Burden’s Landing, Irwin is representative of Louisiana’s old political order, and he distrusts Willie. Willie orders Jack to dig up “dirt” on Irwin, which Jack does, then presenting this information to Irwin. Irwin later kills himself, and it is revealed that Irwin was having an affair with Jack’s mother, and is Jack’s biological father.

Judge Irwin Quotes in All The King's Men

The All The King's Men quotes below are all either spoken by Judge Irwin or refer to Judge Irwin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvest Books edition of All The King's Men published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.

Related Characters: Willie “The Boss” Stark (speaker), Jack Burden, Judge Irwin
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

Willie has come down to Burden's Landing on a political mission - and in order to achieve what he desires, he must put pressure on Judge Irwin. Jack believes that Irwin cannot be pressured - Jack has known Irwin all his life, and he flinches at the thought of trading in on that relationship in order to push a political agenda.

But Willie has no such worry about the trip. Indeed, he relies on Jack's deep and sustained relationships with the political "old guard" of Louisiana. Without them, Willie would be just another upstart, a man trying, as best he can, to make his way in Southern politics without a name for himself. When Willie argues that dirt can be "dug up" on anyone, he means that all mean are fallible, that all have made mistakes in the past - and that these mistakes can, and should, be used for political leverage. This kind of politics is relatively new to Jack, even though he knows it's the way that Willie often plays the game. 

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Chapter 3 Quotes

If the government of this state for quite a long time back had been doing anything for the folks in it, would Stark have been able to get out there with his bare hands and bust the boys? And would he be having to make so many short cuts to get something done to make up for the time lost all these years . . . ?

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker), Willie “The Boss” Stark, Judge Irwin, Jack’s Mother, Mr. and Mrs. Patton
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack Burden defends Willie's actions as Governor to the Irwins and the Pattons, families that represent some of the oldest and most powerful interests in the state - the bulwarks of Burden's Landing and of southern Louisiana more broadly. Jack is caught between two worlds. On the one hand, he hints that he recognizes the crudeness of Willie's methods, his populism, and his attempts to woo voters by catering to their emotions rather than to their rational minds. But Jack also sees that Willie is invested in real change, and that he wants to make the state better. Those in power, like the Irwins and Pattons, who have been in power for a long time, do not necessarily want to change the status quo to help those less fortunate. Indeed, for them the status quo is what makes them powerful in the first place. And even as Jack dines with and socializes with these families, he sees how limited their worldview is. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

Then it was another day, and I set out to dig up the dead cat, to excavate the maggot from the cheese, to locate the canker in the rose, to find the deceased fly among the raisins in the rice pudding.

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker), Judge Irwin
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel has now looped back to its initial story - that of the meeting between Willie, Jack, and Judge Irwin, in the middle of the night in Burden's Landing. Willie needs Irwin to work with him, and Irwin is not inclined to do so; thus Willie asks Jack to find "dirt" on Irwin, as Jack describes in this passage, using an array of metaphors. This is, in part, Jack's theatrical and descriptive flourish - he was a doctoral student, after all, and has a literary turn of mind.

But it also shows the bind that Jack is in. On the one hand, he wants to help his boss - but on the other, he realizes he must subvert one of the deepest friendships he has, with a man who mentored him in his youth. Jack is being asked to choose, effectively, between his past and his present (and future) - and he sides with Willie. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

God damn it, so the bastard crawled out on me.
I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t tell you to scare him to death, I just told you to scare him.
He wasn’t scared.
What the hell did he do it for then?

Related Characters: Willie “The Boss” Stark (speaker), Jack Burden (speaker), Judge Irwin
Page Number: 535
Explanation and Analysis:

Irwin's suicide, which mirrors Littlepaugh's suicide years before in the American Electric case, is a double blow for Jack. First, it is an indicator of what can go wrong when one person tries to utterly ruin another - that second person always has the horrible option of ending his or her life, thus stopping the power dynamic of blackmail. And, even more importantly, Irwin's act causes Jack's mother to reveal that Jack is really Irwin's son - that Jack was the child, out of a wedlock, of a romantic union between his own mother and Judge Irwin.

This latter piece of news is almost too much for Jack to bear. For not only does he learn that his own father, the Scholarly Attorney, is not his biological father - he learns that he has caused his biological father to kill himself, all for political gain for Willie Stark, not even for Jack Burden. 

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Judge Irwin Character Timeline in All The King's Men

The timeline below shows where the character Judge Irwin appears in All The King's Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...this makes Sadie even angrier, and less able to speak. Sadie finally tells Willie that Judge Irwin, an established political figure in Louisiana, has decided to side with Callahan, a politician... (full context)
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...be traveling to Burden’s Landing, over a hundred miles away, and the town in which Judge Irwin lives. Sugar-Boy drives in his characteristically speedy fashion, but they still arrive in Burden’s... (full context)
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...Anne Stanton, are also from Burden’s Landing. Willie tells Jack to direct Sugar-Boy to the Irwin house, which Jack knows well—he has been mentored by Judge Irwin since he was a... (full context)
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The Boss tells Jack to go up to the door and knock for Judge Irwin, who is in bed at this late hour. Irwin answers the door, eventually, in... (full context)
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The Boss and Irwin stare each other down for a long moment, and Jack wonders what he is doing... (full context)
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Irwin says he does not support Masters as a Senate candidate because Masters will do whatever... (full context)
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This latter piece of blackmail is too much for Irwin, who kicks Willie out of his house. Willie calls Jack to follow him, and the... (full context)
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...stench of the shroud,” meaning that Jack will be able to find something on the Judge. Burden rounds out the chapter by saying, to the reader, that he did manage to... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...and wakes up the next day (during his visit), taking a walk outside over the Judge Irwin’s house. On the walk over, passing through the houses of Burden’s Landing, Jack is... (full context)
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Jack moves, still while walking to Irwin’s house, from a memory of the picnic to a memory of his mother chastising him... (full context)
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...memories and now, again, in the present moment, has been walking to a dinner at Irwin’s that night, a meal with his mother and a couple named the Pattons, who are... (full context)
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...Although Dumonde says immediately that she finds this job fascinating, the conversation quickly turns to Irwin’s and Mr. Patton’s reservations about Willie, whom they consider a classless populist and a dangerous... (full context)
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Irwin attempts to calm everyone and to admit that Willie has made some advances in office,... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Burden begins the chapter by looping back to his initial conversation with Irwin, along with Willie, at Irwin’s home in 1936. Burden states, again, that he did in... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Burden returns the narrative to what now appears its central event: the nighttime conversation with Irwin, in Burden’s Landing, in 1936. That night, Burden and Willie drove back to Mason City... (full context)
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...heads to a bar in Baton Rouge, where he drinks and asks himself why the Judge might do something illegal at any point in his life. Jack answers his own question:... (full context)
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...to stay too long, nor to talk about George, and so asks his father whether Irwin was ever broke in his younger life. His father seems taken aback by the gruffness... (full context)
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...father became upset because he does, in all likelihood, know some piece of information about Irwin’s past—and thus Jack believes that, if he keeps on digging, he will find dirt on... (full context)
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...he must drive to Burden’s Landing that weekend to talk to Anne and Adam about Irwin’s past—the three have decided to meet up and spend time together back in the Stanton’s... (full context)
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...argument. After welcoming Adam back to Burden’s Landing, Jack asks his friend whether he recalls Irwin ever needing money as a young man—this, over Anne’s objections. Adam answers that, as a... (full context)
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Adam asks Jack why Jack wants to know this about Irwin, and Jack replies, again over Anne’s objection, that Willie wants to know. Adam seems also... (full context)
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...claims are true. He goes to La Salle County, where a big part of the Irwin landholdings are located, to see how Irwin financed the purchase of his property. It seems... (full context)
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...from family money, she also spent a great deal of that family money before marrying Irwin—in fact, after meeting with an old family friend of Mabel’s, Jack realizes that Mabel had... (full context)
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Irwin, who was the state’s attorney general in 1914, was given a job by the American... (full context)
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...point, Jack reaches a dead end. He can’t find a link between American Electric and Irwin—not, that is, until one day, when he is walking along, a name from his weeks... (full context)
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...she admits that Mortimer went to Governor Stanton about the “coal affair”—a sweetheart deal that Irwin had arranged between a coal company and the American Electric company, which Mortimer believed to... (full context)
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Mortimer, in the letter, repeats exactly what Lily claims—that Irwin allowed the sweetheart deal between the Southern Belle coal company and American Electric to go... (full context)
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...the truth, and he believes he has found a new piece of the truth regarding Irwin, who for so long has pretended to be a thoroughly upright citizen. (full context)
Chapter 6
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Jack begins the chapter by recounting the seven months he spent on the Irwin case, from September till March 1936-1937. In that interim, a great deal happened around him,... (full context)
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...with Willie. Anne asks what this could be, and Burden replies by telling her of Irwin’s accepted bribe, and of the fact that her own father, Governor Stanton, looked the other... (full context)
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Anne asks Burden to promise to show these materials to Irwin before making them public—to give Irwin a chance to rebut the charges before Burden uses... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...a strategy for dealing with MacMurfee and Frey—he realizes that Jack still has dirt on Irwin, dirt that they have till now waited to reveal—but since MacMurfee owes Irwin a great... (full context)
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...and stays the night at his mother’s house, where she urges him not to press Irwin about political business, as he is not feeling well and has become more enfeebled, now,... (full context)
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Irwin welcomes Jack inside and believes that Jack has come to pay him a friendly visit—but... (full context)
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Jack then realizes that he has to use his blackmail in order to get Irwin to pressure MacMurfee. He brings up Littlepaugh, and at first Irwin seems genuinely not to... (full context)
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Before Jack leaves, he asks Irwin to think it over overnight—but Irwin says, again, that his mind is made up, that... (full context)
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...himself, and Jack is confused—he realizes, after several minutes, that Mrs. Burden is referring to Irwin, who has shot himself through the heart with a .38 in the night. Mrs. Burden... (full context)
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...this, but he soon realizes that this explains a good deal about his life’s history—that Irwin wanted to be his mentor from a young age, that Jack’s father went insane and... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...the events of the past week have been—he finds that he is emotionally affected by Irwin’s death and by the news that Irwin was his biological father, but he knows, also,... (full context)
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Meanwhile, after Irwin’s death, Jack has asked that his portfolio of assignments for Willie be limited to issues... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...to return to Burden’s Landing, leaving behind Baton Rouge for a time. He has inherited Irwin’s property—Irwin left most of his estate to Jack after his death—and because Jack also stands... (full context)