Burden then shifts the narrative to a visit home to his mother, in Burden’s Landing, in 1933, after he’s been working for Willie for about three years. Burden says he always finds visits home to his mother to be fraught occasions—his mother has been married several times since Burden’s father left the family and began living alone, as a kind of religious mystic in Baton Rouge, when Jack was 6. Burden does admit to himself, though, upon seeing his mother again, that she looks quite good for a fifty-five-year-old woman. Mrs. Burden has been married once again, this time to a young banker (named Theodore, and referred to by Jack as the Young Executive) not much older than Jack himself.
Jack’s relationship with Theodore is barely developed later in the novel—perhaps Penn Warren felt that more of an immediate conflict would be generated between the two men who are close in age; but perhaps, too, Penn Warren simply wished to portray Theodore as he was: a rather ineffectual, quiet, and shy man, who is devoted to Mrs. Burden but who commands very little respect from those around him, even from his wife.
Theodore enters, and Burden is superficially polite though curt with him. As Jack speaks to his mother about his job with Willie—a job his mother does not approve of, since she considers Willie to be a classless populist, and not a member of the elite Louisiana society of which Jack is a part—Jack begins to go through, mentally, the list of his mother’s husbands. First was the Scholarly Attorney, Jack’s father, who, as before, has gone insane and who lives alone in a tiny apartment in Baton Rouge, as a religious mystic. Next was the Tycoon, nicknamed Daddy Ross, who died quickly and barely got to know Jack. Then Jack was in boarding school in Connecticut when his mother went to Europe and married an Italian Count, a supposed gentleman with an indeterminate amount of personal wealth. Mrs. Burden leaves the Count after it is revealed that he has been beating her—all while Jack is still in high school.
Jack seems to have cared less and less for each “father figure” as they paraded through his life. His mixture of emotions even in recounting these men is an interesting one: first, Jack feels his father truly did leave the family, and therefore forced his mother to go off looking for a substitute; second, Jack feels that his mother wished only to marry for money or for prestige, and cared little for finding a suitable father for Jack; and third, Jack never seemed to get to know these men, because they never stayed married to his mother long enough to develop a relationship with her only son.
Then came the Young Executive, a man who is nice, docile, barely out of his thirties, and in general a quiet companion for Jack’s mother. Back in the present moment, Jack goes to sleep 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 again reminded of his childhood memories: this time of a picnic he, Adam, and Anne had once when the three were teenagers.
An interesting note: although some of Jack’s memories are prompted while driving, at great speed, across the Louisiana countryside, here the memories are prompted at a walking pace, perhaps mimicking the slow pace of life in Burden’s Landing itself—both in the present moment and in Jack’s memory of the period just during and after the First World War.
The picnic took place in 1915, just before Jack was to go off to the State University for college—and as the three ate, then swam, a storm began crawling across the sky, and seemed to threaten lightning. The three got out of the water and went ashore, but Jack was left with the memory of Anne’s beautiful face, floating in the water as Anne lay on her back, and of a flock of white gulls passing overhead. Jack remembers this moment as the first time he considered Anne’s beauty—he had previously only thought of Anne as the sister of his friend Adam.
An important scene in the novel. Jack’s memories of Anne are inseparable from his nostalgic “filter” placed over them—in other words, Jack has a very hard time separating his feelings about the people of Burden’s Landing from the feelings of youth, invincibility, joy, and happiness that are bound up in those images, those houses. Jack’s return to the Landing is always also a return to these nostalgic thoughts.
Jack moves, still while walking to Irwin’s house, from a memory of the picnic to a memory of his mother chastising him for not going to a prestigious college like Harvard or Princeton. Jack later recalls that, during the First World War, in which he could not serve because he had bad feet, Judge Irwin, still of draft-able age, had served and had achieved some distinction in battle, causing people in Burden’s Landing to consider him a hero. Jack murmured to himself often during those immediate post-war years that the Judge was no hero, but Jack wonders, on his walk to Irwin’s house in 1933, if he wasn’t just jealous of the Judge’s accomplishments, and of his stature in Burden’s Landing.
Jack again notes that his mother seemed more interested in Jack getting a good-“seeming” education, at an Ivy League university, so that it would improve her own standing in the social circuits of Louisiana and of Europe, where she found one of her husbands (the Italian Count). Jack seems capable, here, of evaluating his relationship to the Judge with something of an objective viewpoint: he knows that the Judge has led a charmed life, and he knows, too, that he perhaps has not been so lucky in his younger years.
It turns out that Jack, back from his 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 also members of upper-class Louisiana society. At the dinner, Irwin is charming and sociable (he is a bachelor and twice a widower), and he accidentally shoots off at the table a small pellet from a model cannon he and Jack built long ago, startling Mrs. Patton. Irwin apologizes for his childishness and, after dinner, the group moves into the parlor to talk; the conversation quickly moves to politics.
This episode shows off the more playful side of Judge Irwin’s personality, something that has not always been evident in the book, because Jack has spoken only of Irwin in his professional capacity as judge, or during that brief time when he (Jack) and Willie visited Irwin in the middle of the night. The reader gets the sense that Irwin has always wanted the best for Jack, even if he has not always been able to provide that for him—that Irwin, in a way, loves Jack like a son.
Another person, a young girl named Miss Dumonde, is also present, and it appears that the older people at the gathering have brought her there to fix her up with Jack—Dumonde speaks a little of hearing that Jack works for the Governor, and prompts Jack to talk about his work. 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 revolutionary in office (this is three years before Jack’s and Willie’s visit to Irwin in the middle of the night, in 1936).
Nothing more is heard from Miss Dumonde in the novel, and one gets the sense that Jack simply has no time for women at all, and when he does, they have to be women who are somehow involved in Jack’s all-consuming public life—his job as Willie’s right-hand man. Although Anne has trouble getting along with Willie, at first, Anne is highly attuned to the politics of Louisiana, because her father was governor of the state and she is busy with her philanthropic causes.
Irwin attempts to calm everyone and to admit that Willie has made some advances in office, though he (Irwin) is worried that Willie wants too much reform for the state too quickly—but Jack speaks up and implicitly critiques the families of Burden’s Landing, many of whom had been politically influential in previous generations, for being too conservative, for allowing inequality to languish in the state, and for refusing to acknowledge the kinds of changes that had to be made—new roads and buildings built, new services offered to rural communities. Jack says that Willie has provided these changes to the state. The night ends in a rather somber mood, with Jack and the elders in the room still simmering in anger over their political discussion.
Jack feels that Willie brings change to Louisiana, even if his methods are harsh—Jack understands that something is needed, some outside force, to shake up the status quo in the state. But the wealthy families of the Landing naturally do not feel that very much needs to change—all their desires are met, and they have all the political power they could crave. Incidentally, it is useful to note that, although the South is essentially a one-party region (the Democrats), that party can be divided into conservative (Landing) and progressive (Stark) factions.
The next day, Jack’s mother is upset that Jack had spoken so sharply at the dinner last night, and she wonders why Jack doesn’t settle down with a nice girl and get married. Jack doesn’t listen to his mother’s advice, and when his mother says that he will inherit her money, Jack claims not to care, and leaves Burden’s Landing later that day, his vacation at home now over.
Burden’s relationship to his mother’s money has always been a fraught one. To a certain extent, Jack appears to blame his mother for marrying only for money after his father, the Scholarly Attorney, leaves the family. Jack also recognizes that much of his mother’s wealth is inherited—that she has never had to work for this money, and this, too, seems to bother him.
On his drive back to Baton Rouge, Jack daydreams about the town in which his mother and father met, in rural Arkansas, where his father had visited to serve as a lawyer for an investigation at a timber company, and where his mother was the daughter of one of the company clerks. (All this, even though Jack never visited this town; he is constructing the story in his mind). Later, the Scholarly Attorney brought Jack’s mother back to Louisiana and Jack was born a few years later.
Yet Jack also understands that his mother’s circumstances, growing up, were those of extreme poverty and want. She has nevertheless adapted over the course of her lifetime to the luxuries of the Landing, and to the prerogatives of the state’s governing families—Mrs. Burden feels that her name entitles her to be a part of the “ruling class” that lives in the Landing.
Jack arrives at Willie’s office in the capital and finds out immediately that a man named Byram White, the State Auditor, has been caught by Willie skimming some money from state funds. This news has not reached the public and won’t, but Willie is angered that a member of his administration has engaged in such obvious and simplistic graft—something that could expose Willie politically and would give his enemies fodder for prosecuting the Governor. Willie yells at Byram in his office and invites Jack to come in and sit as the yelling continues.
Often in the novel Jack appears to be ping-ponging from one crisis to another. Here, he returns from a difficult visit home to find that Willie’s office is in total disarray. One might be tempted to blame Willie for this constant chaos—although he claims he hates bribery and malfeasance, it is all too common, in his administration, for subordinates to engage in exactly those activities.
Willie tells Byram to write, in front of him, a resignation letter and to sign it, but without a date—Willie says that he’ll fill the date in if he needs to, and that he’ll use the letter as leverage to keep Byram in line in the coming months. Byram is so afraid of Willie he cannot speak, and Willie reminds Byram that Byram only has anything at all because of Willie—he tells Byram not to get “too big for his britches.” Byram leaves the office quietly.
A powerful scene, in which Willie demonstrates his ability to get exactly what he wants from those who answer to his authority. White, after his failed attempt at bribery, is now entirely in Willie’s pocket, and Willie seems to like it this way. In fact, he almost encourages misbehavior in order to “have one over” on those below him.
Next a man named Hugh Miller, Willie’s state attorney general, comes in. Miller is a friend of Willie’s from long since, but he only agreed to serve in the administration, as he explains in the office to Willie and Jack, with the idea that he, Miller, would not be forced to do anything illegal in his professional capacity as attorney general. Although he appreciates that Willie has spoken to Byram about his attempt at defrauding the state, Miller says that Byram must be prosecuted, and that, in giving Byram a second chance, Willie is implicitly allowing this criminal to slide. Miller tenders his resignation on the spot, and Willie accepts it, ruefully.
The novel is continually introducing characters of various shades of “high” or “mixed” honor. Hugh Miller is a character, like Gov. Stanton or Adam Stanton, who appears to be entirely free of any taint or prejudice. But the novel seems to argue that even these characters have their vices. For Hugh Miller, that vice is the vanity to believe that he is somehow above all the corruption and petty horse-trading that goes on in the Stark administration.
After asking Jack whether he has done the right thing—protecting Byram and allowing Miller to resign—Jack admits that Willie has to run the government the way he knows how, and Willie, exasperated at this point by the sacrifices he has to make between getting things done and trying to respect the rule of law, tells Jack that, in the near future as governor, he is going to sponsor the construction of one of the largest free hospitals in the country, and that it will be paid for to serve the health interests of the common man. Jack listens to his boss talk about this hospital, then eventually leaves the office, noting that Willie seems genuinely worked up about the possibility of helping the state, and of having his name on the free hospital—a monument to his beneficence and power as Governor.
The first long monologue on the nature of the free hospital and its relationship to Willie’s hopes and dreams as Governor. Willie understands that politics is a business from which few, if any, emerge unscathed, yet he wants to set aside at least part of his legacy in order to do just this—make it seem that not every decision, every deal he made was compromised morally. But Willie also seems to sense, fatally, that the hospital, too, will not escape the taint of bribery and corruption, and this is the great tragedy that will lead, indirectly, to his undoing and death.
Jack then recalls another episode in Willie’s life, this time his personal life, during his time as Governor. About six or eight months after ascending to that office, Jack and Willie went on a trip to Chicago to meet with Democratic Party bosses there, and after a night on the town, Willie spent the evening and then the rest of the weekend with a young woman in an ice-dancing troupe, who had been introduced to him by a Democratic Party operative. Back in Baton Rouge, Jack was accosted by Sadie Burke, who was extremely angry to hear the news about Willie—Sadie reveals that she and Willie have been having an affair, that she loves Willie, and that she will do anything to keep him, although she hates the fact that he has slept with another woman.
Although this is, on the one hand, somewhat surprising, as we haven’t heard that much from Sadie Burke for the last fifty or so pages, it was also strongly implied in the first scene, out back of Willie’s father’s farm, that Sadie and Willie had a special relationship of some kind—one that seemed to transcend professional boundaries. Perhaps what is surprising, here, is the extent to which Sadie has fallen in love with her boss, and her loyalty to him, even as she anticipates that he will continue to cheat on her.
Jack points out that Willie has really cheated on his wife, and that he is only secondarily cheating on Sadie, but this only makes Sadie angrier—she states that Willie will come back to her, and in Jack’s continuing narration, he notes that this was true—Willie began carrying on affairs with all sorts of women in all sorts of places, during the first years of his Governorship (1930 to the present, which is, at this moment in the novel, 1933), but Sadie would always take him back after a period of protest and argument.
Of course, Jack knows that however much Sadie suffers, Lucy is suffering all the more, and has been with Willie since long before he was a political figure. Jack’s relationship with Lucy is one of mutual respect and admiration, and Jack will make two separate trips to Lucy’s home, where she lives with her sister, later in the novel, in order to talk about the future of the Stark family with her.
Jack then reveals that, after a long spate of Willie’s infidelities, Lucy Stark finally decides to leave her husband, but she claims she is doing so because Willie refused to fire Byram White after White’s attempt at graft. It turns out that White is being impeached by the state legislature, and this impeachment is followed up, quickly, by a new scandal—the proposed impeachment of Willie by his enemies in the state house and senate.
The reader never learns whether Lucy is in fact fed up with Stark—believing that Stark has been having an affair with Sadie along with many other women—or if Lucy is truly shocked by the idea that Willie would let White go, or give him a pass for bribery. Lucy is a classically skilled political spouse—stoic, shrewd, indomitable.
This period of impeachment, which lasts about two weeks, is described as a whirlwind by Burden. No one in the office seems the sleep the entire time; Willie travels the state in the black Cadillac and attempts to convince the public, through rousing speeches, that he has not failed them nor engaged in anything illegal, and that the legislature is to blame—that they have a vendetta against him and wish to topple him from power because of his reforms. Willie then spends the rest of his time speaking with members of the legislature, trying to persuade them that he “has the goods on them,” and that if they vote to impeach him he will find a way to end their political careers. Many of the legislators start to believe that Willie can carry out this threat.
Willie is most at home when he is attempting to come to terms with one crisis or another—he rises very much to the drama of the occasion he finds himself in. Here, Willie gets a chance to make a case for the positive change his governorship has effected throughout the state of Louisiana. And he gets, once again, to feel the speed of the car as it flies over the pavements he helped build—in the car, whizzing from town to town, Willie feels as in control as he possibly can; as though the state can bend to his will.
Finally, on April 4th, 1933, a large group of citizens assemble outside the capitol building, where Willie is slated to give a speech later that evening. Burden observes the crowd from out a window in his office in the capitol. Burden recalls the events of the previous evening, when Willie had sent him (Burden) to meet with a man named Lowdan, the politician who is the leader of the MacMurfee faction in the state house, the faction that is bringing the impeachment orders against Willie.
An interesting scene, which serves to dramatize the divide between Willie’s popular, crusading persona and the political muscle that keeps that persona in office. Although it will seem like a large-scale protest caused the legislature to withdraw its impeachment proceedings, in reality Willie is the one who blackmailed the legislature into letting up.
Burden presented, that previous night, a sheet of paper with signatures from a significant number of legislators who, after meeting with Willie, will swear that impeachment proceedings should not go forward, and that Willie is innocent of all wrongdoing. Lowdan calls Burden’s bluff and begins phoning legislators on this list—when they say that these signatures are genuine, that they no longer wish to impeach, Lowdan screams at Burden that Willie has somehow blackmailed or threatened half the house. Burden quietly leaves, confident that this is the end of the impeachment scandal, and that there is nothing Lowdan can do to prove that Willie has threatened and cajoled the legislators.
The legislator Lowdan can barely believe the power Willie has in crafting the will of the legislature to suit his needs. Willie understands that democracy requires the consent of many people, but he feels he has this consent through the acclamation of those he governs—the “common man” who assembles outside the capitol building. Willie feels that this is his true constituency, not the people who sit in the legislature and plot to destroy him politically.
As Burden looks out at the crowd that next day, he thinks of conversations he has had with his father, complicated political and religious conversations about the nature of God and man, and Burden wonders to himself where Willie fits into this cosmic system—whether he can maintain the power he has, whether Willie himself is not more God than man, as far as state politics go. Jack also imagines the newspaper headlines, which will shout that the large crowd, gathered to support Willie, scared the legislators into dropping impeachment charges, even though Burden knows it was Willie himself who forced the charges to be dropped.
Jack recognizes here that Willie is, in a sense, the God of Louisiana—there can be nothing changed without his desire, and he is the man who, more than anyone else, has crafted the state in his image—in this way, the establishment of the free hospital is one more step to making sure that Willie’s imprint on the state of Louisiana can never be forgotten. But Willie is also a “jealous” God, always sure to make clear that the people owe their reforms to him.
Jack then goes out and stands with Adam and Anne, who have joined him to see Willie speak—after the speech (which Jack does not describe) Jack leaves his friends and heads back to the governor’s mansion, where he goes off in private to speak to Willie, as Duffy and other members of the administration celebrate the Governor’s apparent victory over the legislature. Willie complains that Lucy does in fact want to leave him (though he believes she will not ultimately do so), and that she wants their son, Tom, who is becoming a star football player, to become a “sissy,” someone who studies and does not participate in boyish hijinks. Willie resolves that his son will have all sorts of fun that he, Willie, could not have when he was bent over a law book, studying, working day and night to pull himself out of poverty. Willie wishes to give his son the childhood he, Willie, never had.
Willie’s attitude toward his son (who is not so much a character in the story as an idea—he has very few speaking parts, and is mostly seen playing football) is one of benevolent, slap-on-the-back, boy-will-be-boys permissiveness. Willie never had fun as a child precisely so he could work hard, make a name for himself, and give to his son the childhood he never had. What Willie does not seem to realize—and he is so shrewd normally—is that Tom must be able to make his own way in the world; that Tom has to decide what is best for himself, rather than have his father decide for him. Tom’s pamperedness is part of the reason for his devil-may-care attitude.
Burden then closes the chapter by stating that Lucy did wind up leaving Willie, more or less, but not entirely, not legally—she keeps up appearances until his reelection in 1934, and afterward she lives on a poultry farm with her sister but stays married with Willie, and performs thrice-yearly photo-ops with Tom and Willie, making it seem like the Governor’s family is still intact and functional.
Another of Jack’s radical shifts in time, indicating that he is writing at several years’ remove from the events being depicted. In this sense Jack is the “God” of his narration as Willie is the God of local politics—Jack is capable of bending time to suit the needs of the story he is trying to tell.