All the King's Men

From Academic Kids

All the King's Men is a novel by Robert Penn Warren, published in 1946 and made into a film in 1949 and again in 2005.


The Novel

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and is acknowledged to be one of the best American political novels of all time. It portrays the life of ambitious, unscrupulous and populist politician Willie Stark as told by Jack Burden, who works for Willie. There is a striking similarity between Stark and the real-life politico Huey P. Long. The novel is important not only for its fascinating depiction of the rise and corruption of Stark, however, but also for the portrayal of the cynical Burden. The novel was an outgrowth of an earlier version of the story, a verse play entitled Proud Flesh.


Willie Stark (the Boss)

One of the main characters, Willie Stark, undergoes a transformation from a weak gubernatorial candidate into a charismatic leader of the common people. At first Willie genuinely cares about the common classes of people from which he sprung, and generally wields his power in order to do good, but the accumulating power he receives comes to corrupt his noble reasons, and he eventually lives and rules primarily to serve himself. His Machiavellian nature eventually brings enemies and in the end causes his death.

Jack Burden

Jack Burden is the narrator, who tells the story in a view looking back at the events leading up to Willie's demise. Much of Jack's narrative refers to events in the past, and through this readers can understand Jack's growth as a character. One of Jack's major traits is his irresponsibility. Jack is a history student, who, at the time of his pursuit for a doctorate degree, quit on his dissertation. Much of his research into his dissertation revolved around his study of the life of a 19th century collateral ancestor, Cass Mastern, a student at Transylvania College in Kentucky (Warren's native state). In learning Cass's story, Jack learns that every event has unforeseen and unknowable implications, and that all actions and all persons are connected to other actions and other persons. Many of the events that follow also show Jack's attempt to escape reality and responsibility, because at the novel's beginning Jack is not willing or able to accept the implications of this fact. But in the end, Jack is able to show his realization, after much disaster concerning the people around him (such as Willie, his long-time employer.) Thus, the novel illustrates the growth of character through Jack himself.

The title comes from the English nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Movie versions

All the King's Men is also a film based on Warren's novel. Released in 1949, the film won Oscars that year for

It was also nominated for

In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

A remake of the 1949 film is currently in production (see All the King's Men (2005 movie)).


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