All The King's Men

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Alcohol (“Likker”) Symbol Analysis

Alcohol (“Likker”) Symbol Icon
Throughout the novel, alcohol, whiskey, or “likker” as it is often styled by Robert Penn Warren, is an important symbol of character’s control or lack thereof. Willie, as a young man, does not drink alcohol, as neither his father nor his young wife Lucy “approve” of the practice. Importantly, at a lunch meeting in Mason City where Jack meets Willie for the first time, Willie refuses beer and the bar-keep, Slade, respects this decision—Willie then rewards Slade, many years later, indicating that Willie has a long memory for those who support him. Later, however, Willie experiences a turning point, during his first, failed campaign for Governor, when Sadie accidentally reveals to Willie, in Jack’s presence, that he’s a “stooge” of the Democratic Party—Willie begins drinking, and finishes an enormous bottle of whiskey, getting so drunk he nearly misses his speech the next day. Willie then has a “hair of the dog” to combat his hangover and speak in Upton, where he inveighs against the Party’s corruption and sows the seeds for his own political successes. Whiskey thus “loosens up” Willie in these years; later on, however, once he is in office, Willie is clearly more dependent on whiskey. Alcohol is a kind of universal lubricant for social interaction in the South—nearly every meeting begins with a suggestion to drink it, even during Prohibition. In this sense, too, alcohol signals that important political business in the novel is going to take place, and also, perhaps, the likely corruption that will come hand-in-hand with that business.

Alcohol (“Likker”) Quotes in All The King's Men

The All The King's Men quotes below all refer to the symbol of Alcohol (“Likker”). 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 7 Quotes

I had had a puncture in the morning and so didn’t hit Long Beach till about evening. I drank a milk shake, bought a bottle of bourbon, and went up to my room. I hadn’t had a drop the whole trip. I hadn’t wanted a drop. I hadn’t wanted anything, except the hum of the motor and the lull of the car and I had had that.

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol (“Likker”)
Page Number: 407
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack describes these periods of his life - which are shocks, panic attacks, and instances of major depression all wrapped into one - as Great Sleeps. Anne's affair with Stark prompts another such Big Sleep, and the only thing that can assuage him is a trip to Los Angeles, to the water -  a trip that, at the time Jack undertakes it, would require many days.

Jack feels he must see the entire sweep of the western United States to rid himself of the idea of Anne with another man. This, although he knows that Anne no longer loves him, and that their relationship will not work - that he and Anne exist together only in the past, not in the present or the future. Yet the idea of Anne with Willie is a betrayal - but of what, Jack is not quite sure. Nevertheless, it prompts him to seek solitude in a faraway place and solace in alcohol.

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Alcohol (“Likker”) Symbol Timeline in All The King's Men

The timeline below shows where the symbol Alcohol (“Likker”) appears in All The King's Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Politics, Influence, and Power Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...how, once Prohibition was repealed nationally, Slade was rewarded by Willie, then governor, with lucrative liquor licenses and a profitable location for his new, legal bar. Burden believes this is a... (full context)
Politics, Influence, and Power Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...footsteps, and Willie has come out to join Jack and to sip some of Jack’s liquor, which he has in a flask in his pocket. Willie confesses that his father, like... (full context)
Chapter 2
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Politics, Influence, and Power Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...Burden sadly agrees, and Willie begins drinking wildly, with abandon, from a large bottle of whiskey in the hotel room. It is the first time Willie has consumed alcohol in his... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Politics, Influence, and Power Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...later that afternoon. Finally, with nothing else to try, Burden gives Willie a little more whiskey, then still more—the hair of the dog—and Willie makes his way to the fairgrounds to... (full context)