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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)
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…(read full theme analysis)