All The King's Men


Robert Penn Warren

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All The King's Men, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

Early on in All the King’s Men, Jack Burden describes himself, ironically, as an “Idealist”—he claims that, because he ignores the things he does not want to know about, he has committed himself to high-minded principles. In practice, however, Jack Burden is the chief of staff for Willie Stark, the powerful governor (“the Boss”) of Louisiana. Burden is not an Idealist, but rather the opposite—a hardheaded Pragmatist, who cares only about getting done…

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Politics, Influence, and Power

All the King’s Men is a political novel—a novel about the nuts-and-bolts of how politics gets “done.” For Stark and other characters, politics are inseparable from the use of influence and power to achieve one’s ends. Those ends might be for the public good, or they might be only for the enrichment of the politician. Stark is the novel’s political champion, and when he is finally assassinated, it is not because he has offended some…

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Personal History, Memory, and Time

Because Burden has known Willie for so long, and because his life has become so intertwined with his Boss’s, the novel is also a poignant examination of the effects of time and memory on personal relationships. The novel is, in many ways, a fictional “memoir” of Burden’s own life and relationships. Burden wonders, frequently, what it means to remember, and comes back often to the memory of Anne, lying back in the water, watching…

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The South and Southern Culture

All the King’s Men is a great American novel, but it is also a novel set in a very particular place and time: the American South of the Great Depression, in Louisiana. As such, the novel has a great deal to say about the nature of life in that region in that time, and, more generally, on the nature of “Southernness,” or the Southern experience.

One fact of Southern life is, and was, the inescapable…

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Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal

The novel returns, again and again, to a theme which in some sense contains all of the above—that of loyalty, betrayal, and the possibility of both within a friendship. The novel is a study of Jack’s relationship with Willie—two strong-headed, impulsive men, from very different social backgrounds, who have come together with common cause in a professional setting. But Willie and Jack are also friends—even if their friendship is framed in the relationship of…

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