Jack returns to Burden’s Landing, and to his mother’s house—she is on vacation with Theodore, and so Jack has the house to himself. He begins thinking, after the commotion regarding Willie’s murder has died down somewhat, who could have been responsible for informing Adam of Anne’s affair with Willie. Jack senses that this information was perhaps deliberately relayed to Adam, in order to incite him to confront Willie.
Just as Jack figured out, before that Anne must have heard about Willie’s offer to Adam from someone—and that turned out to be Willie—Jack intuits here that someone with a vested interest might have tipped Adam off in order to have Adam “punish” the Boss. Jack sets out to find who this informant might be.
Jack tracks down Sadie Burke, who has checked into a sanatorium for her nerves in the wake of Willie’s death—she has nearly had a mental breakdown. Jack goes to the sanatorium to ask if Sadie has any knowledge of who the person was who called Adam and told him of Willie’s and Anne’s affair. After some moments of anger—Sadie seems intensely annoyed at Jack’s question—she admits that Duffy was the one who called Adam, and, further flummoxing Jack, that she, Sadie, was the one who told Duffy to call. Jack is flabbergasted, and in his dismay can only repeat—you killed them, you killed Willie and Adam. Sadie admits to moral responsibility for this act, saying that she has received her punishment in some sense now, in her partial mental breakdown. She says that she knew she would have to tell someone that she is responsible, in part, for inciting the shooting.
Sadie Burke thus plays into the trope of the “scorned woman,” which dates back in the English literary tradition hundreds of years. Because she could not “have” the Boss, she did not want for anyone to have him—and she knew, too, that by informing Duffy, who also had an interest in getting rid of the Boss (because he no longer supported the Larson bid for the hospital), she could ruin the Boss’s career and make herself feel better after having exacted revenge on him. But Sadie’s existence, now, in the asylum indicates that she has gone too far, and has overestimated her own desire for revenge against Willie.
Sadie tells Jack that she wanted Willie killed, or at least punished, because she knew that Willie loved Anne and was prepared to run way with her. Duffy had his own reasons for wanting Willie out of office—because Duffy was Lt. Governor, he would ascend to the position of Governor after Willie’s death, and would be able to control the awarding of contracts for the hospital—thus enriching himself via his business dealings with Gummy Larson. And because Adam would have committed the shooting, it would be very difficult to trace the impetus for the shooting back to Sadie and Duffy. It was a “perfect” crime.
The elegance of this “solution” to Sadie’s jealousy and to Duffy’s desire for increased political power is so striking, Jack almost seems to marvel at it, until he realizes that it also resulted in the death of his boss. Such is the nature of dirty politics and the trading of influence—because the Boss acted as though he was invincible, this only incited other to try to bring him down, and eventually he was murdered on the urging of those he thought were closest to him.
Jack meets with Sadie, again, at the sanatorium, and she provides a signed affidavit of her conversation with Duffy and his intention to incite Adam to confront Willie. But in a later letter to Jack, sent by Sadie after the visit, she tells Jack that Jack ought to let the issue drop—he has no legal recourse against Duffy (Duffy merely informed Adam of an affair—it was Adam who committed the crime, and Adam is dead); and, politically, all Jack could do would be prevent Duffy from getting re-elected at the end of his emergency gubernatorial term. Sadie believes this is simply not worth the trouble of “pinning” Duffy for the crime.
Only adding to the crime’s elegance is the fact that nothing can be traced back to Duffy or to Sadie—and even if it were, one could only show that they had told Adam about an affair, which is perhaps rude but not a crime. Adam is the one who fired the shots, and Adam is the one a court would slap with full responsibly for the killing. Sadie and Duffy are protected by the law, if not by their consciences.
Burden now begins wrapping up the narrative of his and Willie’s lives—he realizes that Sadie is right, that it is not worth publicizing the true nature of Willie demise, and of those who informed on him to bring about that death, since Duffy will probably be buffeted by Louisiana’s political winds anyway, and Sadie is a shell of her former self, wracked already by guilt over what she has incited. Jack sees Sugar-Boy, Willie’s old driver, around the Capitol’s library one day, and nearly tells Sugar-Boy who truly is responsible for Willie’s death—hoping Sugar-Boy will take out revenge on Duffy—but Jack decides, at the last second, not to do so, and lets Sugar-Boy walk away. Thus Jack essentially lays to bed any possibility of pursuing vengeance against Duffy.
If Jack were to continue this revenge cycle, as he probably figures, he is not sure where it would end. Sugar-Boy is so loyal to Jack and to Willie that he might go about trying to kill those responsible, but what would be the value in making that happen—it would not bring back Willie or Adam, it would not solve any problems for Jack, it would not make life easier or restore the past that Jack has so desperately longed for throughout the novel. Instead, Jack chooses to stop the violence here, and to walk away from politics altogether.
Jack also learns, via the newspaper, that Tom Stark has died of the injuries he sustained during his injury on the football field—Jack goes to visit Lucy Stark at her farm-home, where she lives with her sister, and finds there the child that Lucy believes Tom fathered with Sibyl. Lucy understands that it is not definitive Tom was the father of the child, but Lucy doesn’t care—she wishes to raise the boy as her own, and she believes it is the right thing to do for the memory of Tom as well as Willie. Lucy tells Jack that she named the child Willie because Willie Stark “was a great man,” even though she had her differences, great and small, with her husband. Jack acknowledges that Willie was a great man, to Lucy, before leaving the farmhouse.
A book-end to the previous scene in which Jack has visited Lucy—here, he sees that the child has been born, and that Lucy, despite everything that has happened in the novel, is still loyal to her husband, whom she believes to have effected great change in the state, even if that change came at a very high cost. Tom’s death marks the end, too, of the male line of the Stark family—except for young Willie, who might be understood to continue this line should he ever choose to go into politics in the future—with the name of Willie Stark.
Jack decides 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 to inherit his mother’s considerable holdings after her death, he is more or less established in Burden’s Landing for life, and need not work again. When he arrives at his mother’s house, he finds out that his mother is leaving Theodore, whom she says she could not love anymore—she says to Jack, cryptically, that she believed Jack would understand that she could no longer live with Theodore. In a small surprise, however, Jack’s mother says she is going on an extended trip to Reno, and that she is allowing Theodore to take over the Burden house, instead of Jack, since Theodore loves living there, and Mrs. Burden feels guilty for leaving him behind and divorcing him without explanation. Jack is somewhat confused but chalks this up to his mother’s erratic behavior—he intends to live in the Irwin house anyway.
Jack’s mother, too has decided to make a change, and Jack seems to understand implicitly why, even if he begins to feel for Theodore at this point in the novel. Just as Jack has been somewhat passive, at various points in his life, as regards major life decisions, so too has Theodore essentially been a screen on which Mrs. Burden could project her desires. Now that she is leaving him, he has only the old Burden house to live in—Jack’s mother does not need those memories any more, and she flees to a place where she is able to start her life afresh. Jack for his part seems now to be the more fully-grown and mature adult, the one who is entrusted with preserving the family legacy in the Landing.
The narration then skips ahead, from 1939 into an undetermined future. Jack reveals that he has reconciled with Anne, who has also moved back to the Landing—they have begun a courtship again, and have married, after Anne’s urging that Jack abandon his bitterness and attempt to reconstruct a life for himself, a life he can enjoy and be proud of. Anne also asks Jack to take in the old man, the Scholarly Attorney, Jack always considered his father, and the three of them live together in the Irwin house in the Landing, since it appears Jack’s mother has moved permanently to Reno, leaving Louisiana behind.
Here, though it is only glanced at quickly, Burden reveals that he and Anne did end up together, though hardly under romantic circumstances, and instead in a situation that might best be described as the only one left—that they might live with the Attorney in Irwin’s house, surrounded by the ghosts of those they have known and loved. This is the place Jack chooses for the finishing of his dissertation—a tragic and somewhat deflating end.
Jack’s plan for his life, then, is as follows: he is to use the Irwin money, which he attempted to give to Lily Littlepaugh, only to find out she is dead—to write his book on Cass Mastern, which he fully intends to finish. At that point, he and Anne will sell the Irwin property and move away from the Landing and its painful memories. Anne has re-committed herself to the life of running the Children’s Home in Baton Rouge, and Jack believes that, only by making financial and spiritual amends in the Landing—and by taking in the Scholarly Attorney and caring for him—can be begin a new life of which he is proud. Jack ends the novel understanding that his cannot avoid his history, the story of his and Willie’s life, but he can only hope to make the rest of his life a story worth living and telling.
But perhaps this is a part of the novel, too, and a part of Jack’s plan—the idea that the past cannot be avoided, it cannot be changed, and if it is hard to embrace, then one must go about writing a new past, founding a new family with those one has near. This is what gives Jack the energy to forgive Anne, and she to forgive Jack—this is what brings the Attorney back to live with them—and this finally is what causes Jack to want to write his book on Cass, to finish his account of Willie and his own life, then to sell the Irwin estate and begin anew somewhere else.