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 a boss to his employee—and when Willie dies, Jack recognizes the extent to which a meaningful chapter of his life has ended. Jack’s other great male friendship in the novel is with Adam, whom he considers to be a great man, too; a man who, like Willie and unlike Jack, has made a success of himself in life. It is particularly crushing, then, for Jack that Adam should murder Willie—that one of his friends should murder another, and that Jack should somehow feel responsible, through a series of political maneuvers, for both friends’ deaths.
Numerous other characters in the novel experiences crises of loyalty and disloyalty—in fact, nearly every major character does. Lucy knows that her husband, Willie, has been greatly disloyal to her, yet she remains loyal to him and to their son, and, later, to her son’s possible child, whom she names Willie. Sadie, loyal to Willie for a great deal of the novel, finally snaps when she finds out that Willie has been personally and romantically disloyal to her—she then aids in his death. Duffy, who was not loyal to Willie but who benefited from their political relationship, was all-too-ready to turn on his boss when the time came. Anne, in small ways, was disloyal to Jack as he was disloyal to her—in fact, their romance was characterized by a back-and-forth of intimacy and then withdrawal, with Anne later falling in love with Willie, and Jack never really forgiving her for this, although, by the end of the novel, they find themselves together again, in a sort of truce, in Burden’s Landing. And Irwin, always loyal to Jack, was himself not so loyal to his own friend, who he cuckolded (sleeping with Jack’s mother, as Irwin is Jack’s biological father), and two-timing another man out of a job Irwin wanted. But Irwin recognized his flaws and vowed to support Jack anyway, though it pained Irwin to see that Jack had thrown in his political sympathies with Willie.
In the end of the novel, Jack seems to realize that all the personal loyalties and disloyalties that have filled his memoir are inseparable from the people who have committed them; in addition, these people can never be fully loyal or disloyal, but can, rather, only be loyal relative to those around them—relative enough as the situation calls for it—and loyal to an ideal that, with luck, will bring good to others, rather than only good to themselves. Thus Jack does not resign all hope, in politics and life, at the end of the novel, but he has come through his experiences with a healthy distrust for any clean and uncomplicated narrative of human and of political relationships.
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal ThemeTracker
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Quotes in All The King's Men
The beauty about Tiny is that nobody can trust him and you know it. You get somebody somebody can trust maybe, and you got to sit up nights worrying whether you are the somebody. You get Tiny, and you can get a night’s sleep. All you got to do is keep the albumen scared out of his urine.
Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.
I don’t know whether Willie meant to do it. But anyway, he did it. He didn’t exactly shove Duffy off the platform. He just started Duffy doing a dance along the edge, a kind of delicate, feather-toed, bemused, slow-motion adagio accompanied by arms pinwheeling around a face which was like a surprised custard pie with a hole scooped in the middle of the meringue . . . .
The sky was darker now, with a purplish, greenish cast. The color of a turning grape. But it still looked high, with worlds of air under it. A gull crossed, very high, directly above me. Against the sky it was whiter even than the sail had been. It passed clear across all the sky I could see. I wondered if Anne had seen the gull.
If the government of this state for quite a long time back had been doing anything for the folks in it, would Stark have been able to get out there with his bare hands and bust the boys? And would he be having to make so many short cuts to get something done to make up for the time lost all these years . . . ?
Jack Burden came into possession of the papers from the grandson of Gilbert Mastern. When the time came for him to select a subject for his dissertation for his Ph.D., his professor suggested that he edit the journal and letters of Cass Mastern, and write a biographical essay . . . .
But now and then Duncan Trice had to be out of town on business, and on those occasions Cass would be admitted, late at night, to the house . . . so he actually lay in the very bed belonging to Duncan Trice.
. . . the day came when Jack Burden sat down at the pine table and realized that he did not know Cass Mastern. He did not have to know Cass Mastern to get the degree; he only had to know the facts about Cass Mastern’s world. But without knowing Cass Mastern, he could not put down the facts about Cass Mastern’s world.
Then it was another day, and I set out to dig up the dead cat, to excavate the maggot from the cheese, to locate the canker in the rose, to find the deceased fly among the raisins in the rice pudding.
For the physical world, though it exists and its existence cannot be denied without blasphemy, is never the cause, it is only result, only symptom, it is the clay under the thumb of the potter . . . .
I can do no more. I went as you know to the people who are against Governor Stanton in politics but they would not listen to me. . . . I will never be any good again. I will be a drag on you and not a help. What can I do, Sister?
The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face which does not exist any more . . . .
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.
Don’t be silly . . . and don’t call me Jackie-Bird.
But you are Jackie-bird . . . .
Don’t you love me?
I love Jackie-Bird; poor Jackie-Bird.
God damn it, don’t you love me?
Yes . . . I do.
God damn it, so the bastard crawled out on me.
I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t tell you to scare him to death, I just told you to scare him.
He wasn’t scared.
What the hell did he do it for then?
Sugar-boy was leaning above him, weeping and sputtering, trying to speak. He finally managed to get out the words:
“D-d-d-does it hur-hur-hur-hurt much, Boss--?”
He died the next morning, just about day. There was a hell of a big funeral. The city was jam-packed with people, all kinds of people . . . people who had never been on pavement before.
Oh . . . and I killed Willie. I killed him.
Oh God . . .