Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren
This landmark book is a loosely fictionalized account of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, one of the nation's most astounding politicians. All the King's Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a southern-fried politician who builds support by appealing to the common man and playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. Though Stark quickly sheds his idealism, his right-hand man, Jack Burden -- who narrates the story -- retains it and proves to be a thorn in the new governor's side. Stark becomes a successful leader, but at a very high price, one that eventually costs him his life. The award-winning book is a play of politics, society and personal affairs, all wrapped in the cloak of history.

From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 03, 2004 01:28 PM Today -- when many of you may, like me, be sick of politics altogether -- may be an inauspicious day to begin our discussion of what the NY Times called "the definitive novel about American politics," but here we are. I read this novel at something of a clip, not looking for much beyond the surface of what the characters were doing, and found it gripping and a tragedy in the classic sense. (Much more of a tragedy than Dreiser's tale!) As I noted in another thread, I read a Harcourt edition that restored much of Warren's original, including the name of the Huey Long-esque character: Willie Talos. Willie's story is intertwined with that of the narrator, Jack Burden, a somewhat cynical reporter who met Willie when he was a country boy and signs on to his staff when he becomes governor. I found Willie the more interesting character. (I felt that I'd met Jack in about a dozen novels and/or films already -- unfair perhaps, as ATKM may have come before the others I'd seen.) So, I'm wondering what everyone thought of Willie. Was he corrupt or not? I thought at heart he really did want to help folks like himself, who'd grown up poor (and were still poor), and the unsavory ways he held on to power were not the heart of who he was. He'd just learned the dirty side of politics the hard way. Mary Ellen
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 03, 2004 01:30 PM I'm taking the liberty of re-posting Richard L. Pangburn's thoughts on ATKM, originally from the CR list. (They are much more reflective than mine!) Mary Ellen First time readers are sometimes repulsed by Jack's arrogance, such as the way he treats his first wife, which is certainly repulsive. The second time we read this we are aware that the narrator finds it repulsive too, that he is mimicking his former self, that he despises the jerk that he was then. The time shifts are substantial, but Jack Burden is always looking back, an enlightened narrator looking back at his unenlightened days, alternately kicking himself and making fun of himself. It's like the movie, Groundhog Day, with the enlightened Phil looking back at his days when he was an irresponsible jerk. The second time we read this, we know what Jack knows. We know what happens to Willie and we know what happens to the Judge and we can feel the undertone, the tension. Also we know that the narrator, Jack, loves Anne, has loved her all his life, and so we know what creates his tension, his attitude, his exasperation. When Jack looks back at these characters, he is a bit like Scrooge, looking back at roads not taken and chances missed and tragedies unaverted.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 03, 2004 01:31 PM A second Pangburn post from the CR conference: The opening is a foreshadowing metaphor for one of the major themes of the book, which is: That most people walk around in a state of subconsciousness, a reactionary state of mind. They mindlessly get caught up in things, losing real awareness. That people need to wake up and take control of their lives. But most won't, of course. Willie would not. He will wake up, but he will wake up too late, unable to recover. The highway is history, and later on the highway boys set up the metal stakes with the skull and crossbones on them to identify the fatal crashes on history's highway. Later on, love vine will grow up it, out of the weeds. Which foreshadows Jack Burden's redemption at the end. Time shifts fluidly and abruptly throughout the book. Events happen, or are hinted at, or are introduced early on, and are not revisited or resolved until much later. Jack Burden drifts through Time. He sits somewhere in the future at the beginning of the story, looking back at what happened.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 03, 2004 01:38 PM I really did not see Willie as someone who drifted along, not taking control of his life. I think he changed himself to get where he wanted, and then -- too late -- realized that he may have changed too much. But I thought he was an actor in his life, much more than Jack was in his own. Richard, did you think Willie was simply raw material manipulated by others -- chiefly Sadie, perhaps? Mary Ellen
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, November 03, 2004 01:49 PM Ack, I forgot I was going to give this a reread now, 20 years after my first read. But I'm not sure I can stomach any more politics. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, November 05, 2004 01:08 AM I found my old copy of ATKM. Isn't this a great cover? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur ALLTHEKINGSMEN.JPG (33KB)
From: Ann Davey Date: Friday, November 05, 2004 05:30 PM I tried to get this book from the library, which had 5 or 6 copies. I was going to be number 7 on the waiting list, so I went to Borders. Neither Borders in town had it in stock. Next I went to an independent bookstore, which had 5 copies in the book club section. I bought one, so I will participate; I'll just be late. Boy, this is a popular book! Does anyone know why it has been so popular lately? Ann
From: Dale Short Date: Friday, November 05, 2004 10:38 PM Beautiful cover, Ruth! The cover of my 1970 paperback (see below) isn't nearly as snazzy. But then as I recall, the 1970s were not exactly the Golden Age of graphic design in the USA. In fact, I perpetrated several of those design disasters myself. What was I thinking? What year was your copy published, by the way? >>Dale in Ala. ATKM.JPG (66KB) Paperback cover ATKM, 1970
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, November 05, 2004 11:23 PM 1963 R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Saturday, November 06, 2004 05:22 AM Not certain I'm in the right place yet. Seems like your discussions are brief, compared to those at Readerville where I usually hang out. I'm of the opinion that this is the Great American Novel. A deep multi-layered novel, loaded with symbols, beautiful language, and insights into human nature. It is about the corruption of power, yes, but also about identity, states of consciousness, personal responsibility, and love.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, November 06, 2004 08:45 AM Richard, you are in the right place. Our discussions range from detailed and lengthy to short. In this case, unfortunately, some of us are just late. I'm having trouble getting through the book that was on the Reading List schedule, Herzog by Saul Bellow, and have this one in line behind it. But, Ann and I will definitely be here. Mary Ellen, I apologize for my tardiness. I know how frustrating it is to finish reading a book and find very few people on the discussion thread. I hope the two of you stick around until I can get here. I am very unhappy about this election and my usual reaction to that is to plunge into politics at some earlier time. Last time I felt like this, I submerged myself in John Adams' biography. Barb
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Sunday, November 07, 2004 09:25 PM Ruth, who illustrated that cover? It looks like Gerald Scarfe's work. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: Chronicles by Bob Dylan
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, November 07, 2004 10:34 PM I tried to see who it was, Jonathan. I always check out the illustrators. But I could find nary a mention. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Dale Short Date: Monday, November 08, 2004 10:18 AM Richard: Welcome! I'm another ATKM participant who's going to be a bit tardy, but I look forward to your comments. We were on the highway all weekend so I'm only into Chapter 2, but already I'm reminded (a) what a timely choice this is, with a new brand of populism run amok in the U.S., and (b) what a hell of a writer, and observer of human nature, Warren is. I'm really savoring this one. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Mickey Garland Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 02:54 AM Re: Ann Davey The recent popularity of this novel may be due to one or all of the following: 1. USA political campaign season; 2. There is a re-make of the 1949 movie in the works with Jude Law, Sean Penn, Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet; 3. Mercedes McCambridge,who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the 1949 film, died within the past year. (Broderick Crawford also won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the same film version.) Other than that . . . it is just one, fine read!!!!
From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 08:04 AM Mickey, Wow! That's going to be one great movie. Thanks for the info. I have started the book. Ann
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 01:46 AM Warren was there in Louisiana for the rise and fall of Huey Long, teaching Shakespeare. Warren's fiction is superimposed upon history and historical characters, but it is done with such artful grace, such gorgeous prose, that it takes your breath away. And the mix of history and fiction are the basis of another layer in which Warren reveals some basic truths about the meaning of human existence, love and responsibility and a higher awareness. The novel begins in 1939 with a flashback to 1936 when Willie, accompanied by Sugar Boy and Jack, are driving to out to throw a scare into the Judge, who is backing a candidate of the opposing political party party. Before the first chapter ends, there is an additional flashback to 1922, where Jack first meets Willie at Slades pool hall. Reading the first chapter now is magical for me now. There are splashes of colorful prose and meanings that resonate later in the novel. Almost all of Warren's fictional characters had their real life counterparts. Warren denied it for decades to keep clear of lawsuits, but later he admitted it, and recent scholars have unearthed the remarkable similarities between the factual participants and the novel's characters.
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 01:49 AM Warren has a lot to say about materialism vs. the life of the mind. What passes for love at the level of the Big Twitch is not love but only the appearance of love clothed in another form of materialism, "blood greed," trophy wives, etc. Jack himself is from wealth and privilege, whereas Willie's roots are with the poor and downtrodden. The depression is still felt in Louisiana where Warren is writing this, and he gives a capsule illustration of contemporary American greed/capitalism on page 3: "There were pine forests here a long time ago but they are gone. The bastards got in here and set up the mills and laid the narrow-gauge tracks and company commissaries and paid a dollar a day and folks swarmed out the bush for the dollar... The saws sang soprano and clerk in the commissary passed out the black-strap molasses and the sow-belly and wrote in his big book, and the Yankee dollar and Confederate dumbness collaborated to heal the wounds of four years of fratricidal strife, and all was merry as a marriage bell. Til, all of a sudden, there weren't any more pine trees. They stripped the mills. The narrow-gauge tracks got covered with grass. Folks tore down the commissaries for kindling wood. There wasn't any more dollar a day. The big boys were gone with rings on their fingers and broadcloth on their backs. Their daughters played the harp in Paris, and their sons rowed on the crew at Yale, and their wills left their collections of Flemish Masters and Italian Primitives to adorn the ivy-clad Gothic walls of Pissproud college and left a little legacy of five hundred grand to endow a foundation for a study of the causes and cure of hookworm."
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 01:51 AM It is Jack Burden the aware man telling us about the Great Twitch, the materialistic zombie state in which most people live. The aware man is the narrator, giving us directions and taking us on the tour of the past, showing us shadows like the Ghost of Christmas Past. This is Willie Stark's story and it is also Jack Burden's story, because the two are bound in the same story, with Willie Stark as Jacob Marley and Jack Burden as the awakening Scrooge. The opening is very deliberate in this regard, showing us how the present is built on the past, how Willie wakes up but too late to save himself from crashing and burning, and how Jack learns to wake up in time to build a life of love and responsibility. The highway is new, coming at and at you like the future, and the black line down the middle is like the spider's web that the narrator reprises later. It is the highway we all travel, and the narrator is talking to you, the reader. The narrator knows that you, like most people, are most likely caught up in the Big Twitch yourself, caught up in the materialistic and reactive state of consciousness, and he warns you that if you don't wake up in time, you will crash and burn sooner than later. You will crash, all right. Death comes to us all eventually, to Scrooge as well as to Marley. But like Jack Burden and Scrooge, you can wake up in time and learn to live out your life with love and responsibility. You can learn to live at a higher level of consciousness. You might awake just as the wheels hook over the slab, and you'll try to jerk the wheels back onto the road, and maybe you'll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as you start the dive, but you won't make it, of course. The visual images are chorographed on the first two opening pages of the novel to match the image of the spider in the web which the narrator shows us later on.
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 01:52 AM Here's the spider metaphor, from Chapter 4: "He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web, and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter, and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then injects the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens, and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great, faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God's eye, and the fangs dripping." Warren uses words deliberately, and the opening page shows us what he is going to show us again and again in different forms. Many people are puzzled that he used "nigger" on the first two pages, but reverts to Negro, the PC word of his time, a few pages later and for the rest of the narration. Why not Negro all the way through? I think he did it for artistic purposes, to differentiate between this particular black figure and blacks in general. I wish editors of new editions would change it in the opening to the modern "black," and if he were still around, I think he'd agree. Here's why: The word black suits his purpose on the first two pages much better to describe the black figure with the hoe, who represents Death, the bony figure with the sickle. I think he only used the "grr" sound because it alliterated better with the "drr" sound of spider. The black line down the center of the highway which hypnotizes you and numbs you rings true to the spider metaphor, and in addition there is, on the first three pages, the "row" and "hoe" alliteration, the black figures in the row, and little row of black skull and crossbones. The black figure invokes "Lawd God" and "the hoe will lift again and the blade will flash in the sun like a heliograph," which is an allusion to the glittering eyes of the black spider, quoted above. . . . . . . . . . . . .
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 10:41 AM I just finished my reread of this last night. My first read was about 25 years ago. I'd forgotten how beautifully this is written. That opening sequence of the highway could stand alone as poetry. I was reminded of what I used to teach my drawing students about composition---that a very effective device is repetition, variation and contrast. Warren does this throughout the book with his language, repeating descriptions and phrases, sometimes just a few sentences apart, sometimes the same, sometimes slightly different, sometimes wholly different but with the first wording echoing in there. R R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Monday, November 15, 2004 02:46 AM Warning: spoilers ahead. Yes, it's an amazing book all the way around. True to history, multi-leveled, laced with bits of Shakespeare (the character Duffy is, after all, MacDuff from MacBeth), the adult and universal themes, and the ultimate redemption of love. If we already know the history of Huey Long, we know what happens to him, and that part of the plot is a car crash, something symbolized in the opening, the marker with the skull and crossbones. But, "later on, love vine will grow up it, out of the weeds," which suggests the redemption for Jack that eventually occurs. It is a complicated plot that examines the "free will" vs. "fate" question, the casualty with which we must come to grips with, to accept responsibility for our actions. When Willie is killed, Jack examines the question of "who killed him," and one by one he examines the complicity of all the players, and does not spare himself. You might say that Sadie killed Willie, by telling Duffy to tell Adam about Anne, knowing that Adam would take it personally and try to break up Willie and Anne. But Sadie did not want Willie killed. She wanted him back, and she is overcome with guilt and remorse when Adam kills Willie. You might say that Duffy killed Willie, and no doubt he twisted Sadie's message to Adam into something more inflammatory, and perhaps he even urged Adam to kill Willie. As Duffy was to usurp Willie's power, that is the way Jack takes it. But in a way, as Jack muses, perhaps Willie killed himself. Willie "wakes up" before he is killed, abandons not only Anne but Sadie too, and goes back to his wife. He is about to reform his government too, but it is too late for him, the spider has already been set in motion. In the hospital before he dies, Willie tells Jack, "it all could have been different." Meaning, that he should have lived and acted with responsibility, that he regretted not doing so. Then Jack gets the opportunity to get even with Duffy. All he has to do is to tell Sugar Boy what Duffy did in telling Adam about the Boss and Anne, and Sugar Boy will kill Duffy in revenge. Letting Sugar Boy kill Duffy is something Jack would do if he were still caught up in the Big Twitch. But perhaps it would not end there, Jack muses. For Sugar Boy would then be killed too, and perhaps others, and then others. Jack exercises free will and a sense of personal responsibility when he refrains from telling Sugar Boy. In doing so, he steps out of the box, he breaks with Shakespeare's classic revenge plots.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 12:21 PM Richard, I am a bit intimidated at the thought of discussing this book with you -- you have obviously spent so much time reading it closely and thinking about it! I appreciate your appreciation of the book, although I was not as impressed by it (perhaps a result of my quicker read) as you. **SPOILER** I was puzzled by Adam's extraordinary reaction to learning that his sister was having an affair with Willie. She was, after all, a mature woman, not an innocent child. Was this also the reason behind Long's assassination? And in terms of Adam, I concluded that he was infuriated because this touched upon his purity, too, as he had agreed to direct the hospital Willie was building. I confess that I was not 100% sold on this motivation, though I admit Adam is a pretty strange character all the way through. Mary Ellen
From: Dale Short Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 02:04 PM Richard: I'm still only about 1/3 into ALL THE KINGS MEN, but am enjoying your comments and look forward to catching up on the discussion. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 06:06 PM Richard, I am reading this book, but I still have a long way to go. Once I've finished, I very much look forward to discussing it with you. Ann
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Thursday, November 18, 2004 11:57 AM Warning: spoilers ahead. Mary Ellen, I agree with what you say about Adam--or, at least I used to agree with it. I had always thought Adam an under-developed character with too little motive for killing Willie. He was Adam still in the garden, all innocence, an idealist pure and simple. But then I learned that his real life counterpart, Dr. Carl Weiss, also seemed to have been motivated by some idealistic sense of honor over an insult to his family on the part of Huey Long. Both Adam and Weiss were "good, kind, cheerful, almost saintly men. . . .peace-loving and cultured." Both played piano to relax, and in the novel, Adam plays the piano "as a symbol of his frustrated desire for harmony in a chaotic world." Weiss was such a good man that no one could believe that he could actually KILL someone, and conspiracy theories rose that Long had been killed by his bodyguards and that Weiss had been framed and snuffed to take the blame. See, for instance, Duel Stone's book, The Huey Long Assassination Conspiracy Unveiled, which also argues that it was not in Dr. Weiss's character to kill. Another theory is in David Zinman's The Day Huey Long Was Shot. I don't think that Robert Penn Warren could fathom Dr. Weiss's motive either, but he structured Adam upon the real character, an idealist sitting at the piano seeking harmony, playing Mozart in the moonlight.
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Friday, November 19, 2004 02:18 AM Gee whiz, don't know what happened to my last message. Perhaps it was too long. Anyway, I'll say again, Mary Ellen, that I agree with you that in this novel Adam is an underdeveloped character with an underdeveloped motive for killing Willie. I always thought so. But then I learned that Robert Penn Warren structured Adam after his real life counterpart, Dr. Carl Weiss, whom, though anti-Long, was just too good a man to actually kill someone, even for the family grudge as newspapers alleged. Everyone said so, that Dr. Weiss simply had no motive to actually KILL Huey Long, and conspiracy theories arose. Duel Stone wrote a book on it, The Huey Long Assassination Conspiracy Unveiled and another theory exists in David Zinman's The Day Huey Long Was Shot. I don't think that Robert Penn Warren could discern Dr. Weiss's motive either, but he structured Adam upon him. To Jack, Adam is the Adam still in the Garden of Eden, full of goodness and idealism, and the eulogy of Dr. Weiss reveals that both he and Adam liked to play the piano to relax. And so Warren structured Adam like Dr. Weiss, as an idealist capable of doing something that no one suspected him of ever doing, taking another life. They were both men relaxing at the piano to find harmony in this world, playing Mozart in the moonlight.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, November 19, 2004 08:00 AM Richard, the error message has nothing to do with your long post. Once in a while all the notes disappear, I think because of some virus at the server level. If you look on other conferences the same thing has happened to all the other notes. Tonya can get things back to normal, when she notices. Sherry
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, November 19, 2004 12:03 PM SPOILERS! Richard, thanks for the information concerning the historical basis for Adam's character. At first, I was satisfied, thinking, well, nobody knows why the "real" assassin did it, either, so what could Warren do? But then I said to myself, hey, Warren is writing a NOVEL, not Long's biography, so this weakness is a real problem. I think it takes away from your assessment that Willie was killed because of his own actions. In a way, true, but since the killing of Willie really doesn't make sense, this cause/effect doesn't hang together neatly, either. He didn't die because he had an affair with the sister of an upright man who was working with him. He died because he had an affair with the sister of a well-respected man who, unbeknownst to all, was pretty unbalanced. (Also, Willie wouldn't have died had he not decided to quit ALL his affairs and go back to his wife--in this sense I agree that it was "too late" for him to change, but only because Adam was nuts!) Mary Ellen
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Friday, November 19, 2004 05:33 PM Yes, that has been a problem for many readers. I can see your point. But the Huey Long story is just the background for this novel. For this reader, the novel is great because it is Jack Burden's story. And Adam serves the novel in other ways. He serves as the symbol of idealism, the all or nothing paradigm. He sees Jack the same as Jack was when they were children at Burden's Landing. Jack changes, but Adam idealizes Jack and cannot see him differently. Perhaps Adam stays single because no woman lives up to his ideal, or perhaps like the original Adam, he is just sexless. We don't know, but we do no others in our real lives who seem to have no interest in sex, that live alone year after year. The conversation that Jack and Adam have about whether a man's identity can be removed by surgery is actually about whether identity exists without history. And if it doesn't, how can a man divorce his past and change? Perhaps by the time a man discovers the box he is trapped in, Jack muses, it is too late to break out of the box. For how can a man make a new identity, if the old identity is all he has to work with? This question is repeated by the hermit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: "How can a man know his own mind when his own mind is aught that he has to know it with? The answer Jack eventually comes to raises him to a new level of awareness.
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Friday, November 19, 2004 08:29 PM I've just been to Krogers and to the Subway for sandwiches (while my wife cleaned the house) and of course I've been mulling over what Mary Ellen said about cause and effect. Someone--Mark Twain maybe--said that truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense. In an historical novel, like this one, the characters do not necessarily have to have motives that make sense to us. It happened. The cause and effect for Willie's death is not neatly defined because it was ambiguous, both in history and in the novel. One of the themes of the novel is that our actions have effects, often unforeseen effects, that cascade off other events and may in fact turn on us and be catastrophic for us and those we love. Which is why we must act with a sense of responsibility, rather than react. The novel is like the movie Groundhog Day, in that Jack is a jerk when it opens, and as he looks back on his former self, he tone is snide, but he is only being snide to his previous himself. Jack married his first wife for her looks rather than for love, because he was then incapable of love, other than the blood lust which goes by the name of love but isn't love itself, as he explains to us. Jack's first wife was just a trophy wife to him, and he takes his self-hatred out on her. He looks back on his bad behavior like Bill Murray looking back on his previous Groundhog Days, like old Scrooge looking back at Christmas Past. Jack undergoes a change, a revelation of the power of choice that we all have, to rise above the Big Twitch, to step up to a higher level of awareness and to act with responsibility. In the end, he rises above the Shakespeare revenge plays, he rejects the world of materialism and appearances. In the end, he finds value only in the spirituality of love and the ethics of personal responsibility.
From: John Matthews Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 06:38 PM As we have discussed before Richard, I prefer your reading of ATKM to my own but have never been able to embrace the affirmation for Jack at the end as you have. I still see his retreat to Burden's Landing into the universe of two as something of a withdrawal....a separate peace. Reading this discussion, one thing did come to mind that might be worth mentioning. Its true that Adam is underdrawn, and his anger, passion and sense of betrayal is not fully developed.....but in one sense it is positively Faulknerian (or from the same source) and in my mind there is a hint that Adam is driven over the edge by the metaphorically incestuous feelings elicited by Anne's dalliance with Willy. In this respect it echoes Caddie and Quentin in "The Sound and the Fury," in that (for example) Quentin prefers to his father the explanation of incest to the 'reality' of Caddies profligacy......just a thought.
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 06:58 PM I was just thinking that if earlier in the book Adam's relationship with Anne had been developed as just a tad stronger than it should be between a bro & sis, that would be all we would need to make Adam's reaction to her affair with Willy more plausible. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: John Matthews Date: Wednesday, November 24, 2004 10:26 AM When they were young Jack, Anne and Adam represented a sort of triangle of innocence and idealism, and as the novel unfolds both Jack and Anne opt out at least for a spell.....Adam does not. He remains in the garden in many respects. Appropriate that an innocent would kill Willie. Its probably necessary for it to be an innocent who does so.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, November 24, 2004 01:12 PM Richard, you wrote: "One of the themes of the novel is that our actions have effects, often unforeseen effects, that cascade off other events and may in fact turn on us and be catastrophic for us and those we love. Which is why we must act with a sense of responsibility, rather than react." Isn't it ironic, then (and somewhat defeating of this premise), that when Willie begins to act "responsibly," it is that very responsible behavior that triggers the chain of events leading to his death? (Sadie enrages goes to Duffy who goes to Adam) Shifting from Willie's private to his professional life, did people think that he was corrupt? He certainly played dirty, basically blackmailing his opposition into silence. I gathered that he did that because he'd learned the hard way, that that is how the game was played. I believed that he really did want to help the poor folks of the state, that he didn't "forget where he came from." That tax money was being used to benefit the poor and working people -- to build better roads, utilities, etc.- certainly enraged the powers that were, who regarded Willie as a robber and corrupt. But he didn't seem to be skimming money off the top, nor did he allow others in his administration to do so. The power went to his head, certainly (thanks, Lord Acton!) but he seemed to retain a focus on providing for the disadvantaged. A big New Deal, FDR fan, I found that admirable. And rare. I agree somewhat that Jack retreated at the end of the book. He seemed to do that a lot, although this "retreat" into a quiet married life was of a different order from his retreats into sleep, or his running away when he learned about Anne's affair with Willie. I was not as taken with his story as Richard was. Mary Ellen
From: Richard L. Pangburn Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004 08:36 AM John: Nice to see you hear. And good point about the incestuousness between Adam and Anne. Also there is an implied incestuousness between Jack and his mother, I think. Every time I reread this novel, I see new things in it. I don't think there are wrong takes on the book, or any book, simply different takes. Mary Ellen: Sadie was angry about Anne and wanted Adam to cause Willie to give up Anne. She did not realize that Willie was giving up Anne already and was going back to his wife. I don't think it is as important whether Willie is a good governor or a bad one; it is more important that in the end, Willie changes his mind about who his own character, his sense of who he really is. The book appeals to me especially because I do see a kind of withdrawal at the end, with Jack living for love, realizing that we should live with responsibility, but that there are things that happen which are beyond our control and are simply the responsibility of time. I want to thank everyone for their comments here.
From: John Matthews Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004 12:31 PM I visit this forum occasionally but it has been awhile. I am always attracted to your comments on books you love, and am aware that this one is close to the top of that pile. A side note. Before I quit reading at Readerville, I noticed a poem or two that you cited by Wendell Berry. Berry has long been a writer of importance to me but I had never read his poetry. Since then I have been inspired to read him again and pay attention to his poetry. It is amazing and just another example of the comprehensiveness and wholeness (as well as uniqueness) of his voice. Thanks. You are also correct that re-reading great books is always fresh. I cannot imagine pretending to have "got" ATKM at one reading. I have not "got" it yet and I've now read it three times.....and I'm sure you have read it more and (as you say) it is still fresh for you.
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004 12:36 PM How about posting a Wendell Berry poem over in the Poetry conference, John? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: John Matthews Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004 12:48 PM That's a great idea! I wish Richard would do it though....I'm having a helluva time learning how to navigate and operate this forum. One more note on 'incestuousness.' This is an interesting theme in much great Southern (as well as other) fiction. In ways I have not been able to understand, I see it as a metaphor for family and community. I cannot quite get a handle on it that is describable. But in both ATKM and much of Faulkner the theme is used to illustrate and reveal a closeness that is symbiotic and is deeper than surface community mores and morality would suggest. As Richard mentioned above, it is suggested not only in the triangle that is Jack, Anne and Adam but in Jack's relationship with his mother. I've never read any good explication of this notion/theme that does not bend itself toward the gothic....I do think it is fundamental to the somewhat tribal, klan like definition of community that makes much Southern literature what it is and to the extent it is universal (which I think it is) partly explains the enhancement of the power in Faulkner and in Warren. Its mythically rooted.
From: Dale Short Date: Saturday, November 27, 2004 10:26 PM Glad to have you with us, John! To start a new thread on any subject, first click on the name of your chosen conference in the left-hand column (e.g., Poetry). Once that's highlighted, click the small black button at the top left of the screen that says "Post" and a window will open up on the right, ready to receive the topic name and the text of your new post. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Dale Short Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2004 06:45 PM I've still got a ways to go in ATKM, but a $64,000 question occurs to me, and I'm hoping you folks here with insight on the big picture can shed some light on it. To wit... Willie, as he's portrayed here, seems to me the ideal populist candidate: he's an underdog, smart, principled, driven, and--particularly after his first run-in with party politics--has a big chip on his shoulder. So. (a) Where did he first go off the track, and (b) what, if any, was his Point of No Return? >>Dale in Ala.
From: John Matthews Date: Friday, December 03, 2004 12:31 PM Those are good questions, but I do not think the book portrays a 'moment' when Willie changes. Much the opposite really. There are hints. The most dramatic is portrayed early when he discovers, thanks to Sadie, that he has been 'trickerated.' His response is to get drunk, get sober, get drunk again, get mad and find his anger and his tongue. Willie is a red dirt innocent at the beginning, no different really from Anne, Jack and Adam in the nest of innocence....though their's is nurtured in the privileged isolation of Burden's Landing rather than in the hardscrabble north. Willie's story is a corruption of the innocent and I don't know whether that represents "change" or not. The metaphor of the straight-line down the middle of the highway works for Willie better than for most....driven, focused, high speed. Still vulnerable to the great twitch though and the inexorable resonance of the web which catches up with us all sometime.
From: John Matthews Date: Friday, December 03, 2004 12:40 PM And of course the 'point of no return' is when Adam shoots your ass on the steps. Warren has a wonderfully complex view of redemption in this novel which I never really have been able to grasp. Its some sort of return to innocence, embrace of 'time past, time present' and the creation of an enlightened universe of (in this case two)...which is why I find the ending romantic and healing but not entirely satisfying I think it has to do with some sort of sense of community and history but I cannot articulate it. Richard, who knows this novel well and speaks wonderfully to it, likely has much more incisive insights and views on this topic.


In Association with