American Literature books summary
commits suicide; when Jack learns of the suicide from his mother, he also
learns that Judge Irwin was his real father.
Sadie Burke -- Willie Stark's secretary, and also his mistress. Sadie
has been with Willie from the beginning, and believes that she made him
what he is. Despite the fact that he is a married man, she becomes
extremely jealous of his relationships with other women, and they often
have long, passionate fights. Sadie is tough, cynical, and extremely
vulnerable; when Willie announces that he is leaving her to go back to
Lucy, she tells Tiny Dufiy in a fit of rage that Willie is sleeping with
Anne Stanton. Tiny tells Adam Stanton, who assassinates Willie. Believing
herself to be responsible for Willie's death, Sadie checks into a
Tiny Dufiy -- Lieutenant-Governor of the state when Willie is
assassinated. Fat, obsequious, and untrustworthy, Tiny swallows Willie's
abuse and con- tempt for years, but finally tells Adam Stanton that Willie
is sleeping with Anne. When Adam murders Willie, Tiny becomes Governor.
Sugar-Boy O'Sheean -- Willie Stark's driver, and also his bodyguard--
Sugar-Boy is a crack shot with a .38 special and a brilliant driver. A
stuttering Irishman, Sugar-Boy follows Willie blindly.
Lucy Stark -- Willie's long-sufiering wife, who is constantly
disappointed by her husband's failure to live up to her moral standards.
Lucy eventually leaves Willie to live at her sister's poultry farm. They
are in the process of reconciling when Willie is murdered.
Tom Stark -- Willie's arrogant, hedonistic son, a football star for
the state university. Tom lives a life of drunkenness and promiscuity
before he breaks his neck in a football accident. Permanently paralyzed, he
dies of pneumonia shortly thereafter. Tom is accused of impregnating Sibyl
Frey, whose child is adopted by Lucy at the end of the novel.
Jack's mother -- A beautiful, "famished-cheeked" woman from Arkansas,
Jack's mother is brought back to Burden's Landing by the Scholarly
Attorney, but falls in love with Judge Irwin and begins an afiair with him;
Jack is a product of that afiair. After the Scholarly Attorney leaves her,
she marries a succession of men (the Tycoon, the Count, the Young
Executive). Jack's realization that she is capable of love--and that she
really loved Judge Irwin-- helps him put aside his cynicism at the end of
Sam MacMurfee -- Willie's main political enemy within the state's
Democratic Party, and governor before Willie. After Willie crushes him in
the gubernatorial election, MacMurfee continues to control the Fourth
District, from which he plots ways to claw his way back into power.
Ellis Burden -- The man whom Jack believes to be his father for most
of the book, before learning his real father is Judge Irwin. After
discovering his wife's afiair with the judge, the "Scholarly Attorney" (as
Jack characterizes him) leaves her. He moves to the state capital where he
attempts to conduct a Christian ministry for the poor and the unfortunate.
Theodore Murrell -- The "Young Executive," as Jack characterizes him;
Jack's mother's husband for most of the novel.
Governor Joel Stanton -- Adam and Anne's father, governor of the state
when Judge Irwin was Attorney General. Protects the judge after he takes
the bribe to save his plantation.
Hugh Miller -- Willie Stark's Attorney General, an honorable man who
resigns following the Byram White scandal.
Joe Harrison -- Governor of the state who sets Willie up as a dummy
candidate to split the MacMurfee vote, and thereby enables Willie's
entrance onto the political stage. When Willie learns how Harrison has
treated him, he withdraws from the race and campaigns for MacMurfee, who
wins the election. By the time Willie crushes MacMurfee in the next
election, Harrison's days of political clout are over.
Mortimer L. Littlepaugh -- The man who preceded Judge Irwin as counsel
for the American Electric Power Company in the early 1900s. When Judge
Irwin took Littlepaugh's job as part of the bribe, Littlepaugh confronted
Governor Stanton about the judge's illegal activity. When the governor
protected the judge, Littlepaugh committed suicide.
Miss Lily Mae Littlepaugh -- Mortimer Littlepaugh's sister, an old
spiritual medium who sells her brother's suicide note to Jack, giving him
the proof he needs about Judge Irwin and the bribe.
Gummy Larson -- MacMurfee's most powerful supporter, a wealthy
businessman. Willie is forced to give Larson the building contract to the
hospital so that Larson will call MacMurfee off about the Sibyl Frey
controversy, and thereby preserve Willie's chance to go to the Senate.
Lois Seager -- Jack's sexy first wife, whom he leaves when he begins
perceive her as a person rather than simply as a machine for gratifying his
Byram B. White -- The State Auditor during Willie's first term as
governor. His acceptance of graft money propels a scandal that eventually
leads to an impeachment attempt against Willie. Willie protects White and
blackmails his enemies into submission, a decision which leads to his
estrangement from Lucy and the resignation of Hugh Miller.
Hubert Coffee -- A slimy MacMurfee employee who tries to bribe Adam
Stanton into giving the hospital contract to Gummy Larson.
Sibyl Frey -- A young girl who accuses Tom Stark of having gotten her
pregnant; Tom alleges that Sibyl has slept with so many men, she could not
possibly know he was the father of her child. Marvin Frey -- Sibyl Frey's
father, who threatens Willie with a paternity suit. (He is being used by
Cass Mastern -- The brother of Jack's grandmother. During the middle
of the nineteenth century, Cass had an afiair with Annabelle Trice, the
wife of his friend Duncan. After Duncan's suicide, Annabelle sold a slave,
Phebe; Cass tried to track down Phebe, but failed. He became an
abolitionist, but fought in the Confederate Army during the Civil War,
during which he was killed. Jack tries to use his papers as the basis of
his Ph.D. dissertation, but walked away from the project when he was unable
to understand Cass Mastern's motivations.
Gilbert Mastern -- Cass Mastern's wealthy brother.
Annabelle Trice -- Cass Mastern's lover, the wife of Duncan Trice.
When the slave Phebe brings her Duncan's wedding ring following his
suicide, Annabelle says that she cannot bear the way Phebe looked at her,
and sells her.
Duncan Trice -- Cass Mastern's hedonistic friend in Lexington,
Annabelle Trice's husband. When he learns that Cass has had an afiair with
Annabelle, Duncan takes off his wedding ring and shoots himself.
Phebe -- The slave who brings Annabelle Trice her husband's wedding
ring following his suicide. As a result, Annabelle sells her.
All the King's Men is the story of the rise and fall of a political titan
in the Deep South during the 1930s. Willie Stark rises from hardscrabble
poverty to become governor of his state and its most powerful political
figure; he blackmails and bullies his enemies into submission, and
institutes a radical series of liberal reforms designed to tax the rich and
ease the burden of the state's poor farmers. He is beset with enemies--most
notably Sam MacMurfee, a defeated former governor who constantly searches
for ways to undermine Willie's power--and surrounded by a rough mix of
political allies and hired thugs, from the bodyguard Sugar-Boy O'Sheean to
the fat, obsequious Tiny Dufiy.
All the King's Men is also the story of Jack Burden, the scion of one
of the state's aristocratic dynasties, who turns his back on his genteel
upbringing and becomes Willie Stark's right-hand man. Jack uses his
considerable talents as a historical researcher to dig up the unpleasant
secrets of Willie's enemies, which are then used for purposes of blackmail.
Cynical and lacking in ambition, Jack has walked away from many of his past
interests--he left his dissertation in American History unfinished, and
never managed to marry his first love, Anne Stanton, the daughter of a
former governor of the state.
When Willie asks Jack to look for skeletons in the closet of Judge
Irwin, a father figure from Jack's childhood, Jack is forced to confront
his ideas concerning consequence, responsibility, and motivation. He
discovers that Judge Irwin accepted a bribe, and that Governor Stanton
covered it up; the resulting blackmail attempt leads to Judge Irwin's
suicide. It also leads to Adam Stanton's decision to accept the position of
director of the new hospital Willie is building, and leads Anne to begin an
afiair with Willie.
When Adam learns of the afiair, he murders Willie in a rage, and Jack
leaves politics forever. Willie's death and the circumstances in which it
occurs force Jack to rethink his desperate belief that no individual can
ever be responsible for the consequences of any action within the chaos and
tumult of history and time. Jack marries Anne Stanton and begins working on
a book about Cass Mastern, the man whose papers he had once tried to use as
the source for his failed dissertation in American History.
Jack Burden describes driving down Highway 58 with his boss, Governor
Willie Stark, in the Boss's big black Cadillac--Sugar-Boy is driving, and
in the car with them were the Boss's wife Lucy, son Tommy, and the
Lieutenant Governor, Tiny Dufiy. Sugar-Boy drives them into Mason City,
where Willie is going to pose for a press photo with his father, who lives
on a nearby farm. The Cadillac is followed by a car full of press men and
photographers, overseen by Willie's secretary, Sadie Burke. It is summer,
1936, and scorching hot outside.
In Mason City, Willie immediately attracts an adoring throng of
people. The group goes inside the drugstore, where Doc pours them glasses
of Coke. The crowd pressures Willie for a speech, but he declines, saying
he's just come to see his "pappy". He then delivers an efiective impromptu
speech on the theme of not delivering a speech, saying he doesn't have to
stump for votes on his day off. The crowd applauds, and the group drives
out to the Stark farm.
On the way, Jack remembers his first meeting with Willie, in 1922,
when Jack was a reporter for the Chronicle and Willie was only the County
Treasurer of Mason County. Jack had gone to the back room of Slade's pool
hall to get some information from deputy-sherifi Alex Michel and Tiny Dufiy
(then the Tax Assessor, and an ally of then-Governor Harrison). While he
was there, Dufiy tried to bully Willie into drinking a beer, which Willie
claimed not to want, instead ordering an orange soda. Dufiy ordered Slade
to bring Willie a beer, and Slade said that he only served alcohol to men
who wanted to drink it. He brought Willie the orange soda. When Prohibition
was repealed after Willie's rise to power, Slade was one of the first men
to get a liquor license; he got a lease at an exceptional location, and was
now a rich man.
At the farm, Willie and Lucy pose for a picture with spindly Old Man
Stark and his dog. Then the photographers have Willie pose for a picture in
his old bedroom, which still contains all his schoolbooks. Toward sunset,
Sugar-Boy is out shooting cans with his .38 special, and Jack goes outside
for a drink from his ask and a look at the sunset. As he leans against the
fence, Willie approaches him and asks for a drink. Then Sadie Burke runs up
to them with a piece of news, which she reveals only after Willie stops
teasing her: Judge Irwin has just endorsed Callahan, a Senate candidate
running against Willie's man, Masters.
After dinner at the Stark farm, Willie announces that he, Jack, and Sugar-
Boy will be going for a drive. He orders Sugar-Boy to drive the Cadillac to
Burden's Landing, more than a hundred miles away. Jack grew up in Burden's
Landing, which was named for his ancestors, and he complains about the long
drive this late at night. As they approach Jack's old house, he thinks
about his mother lying inside with Theodore Murrell--not Jack's first
stepfather. And he thinks about Anne and Adam Stanton, who lived nearby and
used to play with him as a child. He also thinks about Judge Irwin, who
lives near the Stanton and Burden places, and who was a father figure to
Jack after his own father left. Jack tells Willie that Judge Irwin won't
scare easily, and inwardly hopes that what he says is true.
The three men arrive at Judge Irwin's, where Willie speaks insouciantly and
insolently to the gentlemanly old judge. Judge Irwin insults Jack for being
employed by such a man, and tells Willie that he endorsed Callahan because
of some damning information he had been given about Masters. Willie says
that it would be possible to find dirt on anyone, and advises the judge to
retract his endorsement, lest some dirt should turn up on him. He heavily
implies that Judge Irwin would lose his position as a judge. Judge Irwin
angrily throws the men out of his house, and on the drive back to Mason
City, Willie orders Jack to find some dirt on the judge, and to "make it
Writing in 1939, three years after that scene, Jack re ects that Masters--
who did get elected to the Senate--is now dead, and Adam Stanton is dead,
and Judge Irwin is dead, and Willie himself is dead: Willie, who told Jack
to find some dirt on Judge Irwin and make it stick. And Jack remembers:
"Little Jackie made it stick, all right."
Chapter 2 Summary
Jack Burden remembers the years during which Willie Stark rose to power.
While Willie was Mason County Treasurer, he became embroiled in a
controversy over the building contract for the new school. The head of the
city council awarded the contract to the business partner of one of his
relatives, no doubt receiving a healthy kickback for doing so. The
political machine attempted to run this contract over Willie, but Willie
insisted that the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder. The local big-
shots responded by spreading the story that the lowest bidder would import
black labor to construct the building, and, Mason County being redneck
country, the people sided against Willie, who was trounced in the next
election. Jack Burden covered all this in the Chronicle, which sided with
After he was beaten out of offce, Willie worked on his father's farm, hit
the law books at night, and eventually passed the state bar exam. He set up
his own law practice. Then one day during a fire drill at the new school, a
fire escape collapsed due to faulty construction and three students died.
At the funeral, one of the bereaved fathers stood by Willie and cried aloud
that he had been punished for voting against an honest man. After that,
Willie was a local hero. During the next gubernatorial election, in which
Harrison ran against MacMurfee, the vote was pretty evenly divided between
city-dwellers, who supported Harrison, and country folk, who supported
MacMurfee. The Harrison camp decided to split the MacMurfee vote by
secretly setting up another candidate who could draw some of MacMurfee's
support in the country. They settled on Willie. One day Harrison's man,
Tiny Dufiy, visited Willie in Mason City and convinced him that he was
God's choice to run for governor.
Willie wanted the offce desperately, and so he believed him.Willie stumped
the state, and Jack Burden covered his campaign for the Chronicle. Willie
was a terrible candidate. His speeches were full of facts and figures; he
never stirred the emotions of the crowd. Eventually Sadie Burke, who was
with the Harrison camp and followed Willie's campaign, revealed to Willie
that he had been set up. Enraged, Willie gulped down a whole bottle of
whiskey and passed out in Jack Burden's room. The next day, he struggled to
make it to his campaign barbecue in the city of Upton. To help Willie
overcome his hangover, Jack had to fill him full of whiskey again. At the
barbecue, the furious, drunken Willie gave the crowd a fire-and-brimstone
speech in which he declared that he had been set up, that he was just a
hick like everyone else in the crowd, and that he was withdrawing from the
race to support MacMurfee. But if MacMurfee didn't deliver for the little
people, Willie admonished the hearers to nail him to the door. Willie said
that if they passed him the hammer he'd nail him to the door himself. Tiny
Dufiy tried to stop the speech, but fell off the stage.
Willie stumped for MacMurfee, who won the election. Afterwards, Willie
returned to his law practice, at which he made a great deal of money and
won some high- proffle cases. Jack didn't see Willie again until the next
election, when the political battlefield had changed: Willie now owned the
Democratic Party. Jack quit his job at the Chronicle because the paper was
forcing him to support MacMurfee in his column, and slumped into a
depression. He spent all his time sleeping and piddling around--he called
the period "the Great Sleep," and said it had happened twice before, once
just before he walked away from his doctoral dissertation in American
History, and once after Lois divorced him. During the Great Sleep Jack
occasionally visited Adam Stanton, took Anne Stanton to dinner a few times,
and visited his father, who now spent all his time handing out religious
iers. At some point during this time Willie was elected governor.
One morning Jack received a phone call from Sadie Burke, saying that the
Boss wanted to see him the next morning at ten. Jack asked who the Boss
was, and she replied, "Willie Stark, Governor Stark, or don't you read the
papers?" Jack went to see Willie, who offered him a job for $3,600 a year.
Jack asked Willie who he would be working for--Willie or the state.
Willie said he would be working for him, not the state. Jack wondered how
Willie could afiord to pay him $3,600 a year when the governorship only
paid $5,000. But then he remembered the money Willie had made as a lawyer.
He accepted the job, and the next night he went to have dinner at the
Chapter 3 Summary
Jack Burden tells about going home to Burden's Landing to visit his mother,
some time in 1933. His mother disapproves of his working for Willie, and
Theodore Murrell (his mother's husband, whom Jack thinks of as "the Young
Executive") irritates him with his questions about politics. Jack remembers
being happy in the family's mansion until he was six years old, when his
father ("the Scholarly Attorney") left home to distribute religious
pamphlets, and Jack's mother told him he had gone because he didn't love
her anymore. She then married a succession of men: the Tycoon, the Count,
and finally the Young Executive. Jack remembers picnicking with Adam and
Anne Stanton, and swimming with Anne. He remembers arguing with his mother
in 1915 over his decision to go to the State University instead of to
That night in 1933, Jack, his mother, and the Young Executive go to Judge
Irwin's for a dinner party; the assembled aristocrats talk politics, and
are staunchly opposed to Willie Stark's liberal reforms. Jack is forced to
entertain the pretty young Miss Dumonde, who irritates him. When he drives
back to Willie's hotel, he kisses Sadie Burke on the forehead, simply
because she isn't named Dumonde. On the drive back, Jack thinks about his
parents in their youth, when his father brought his mother to Burden's
Landing from her home in Arkansas. In Willie's room, hell is breaking
loose: MacMurfee's men in the Legislature are mounting an impeachment
attempt on Byram B. White, the state auditor, who has been involved in a
graft scandal. Willie humiliates and insults White, but decides to protect
him. This decision causes Hugh Miller, Willie's Attorney General, to resign
from offce, and nearly provokes Lucy into leaving Willie. Willie orders
Jack to dig up dirt on MacMurfee's men in the Legislature, and he begins
frenetically stumping the state, giving speeches during the day and
intimidating and blackmailing MacMurfee's men at night. Stunned by his
aggressive activity, MacMurfee's men attempt to seize the offensive by
impeaching Willie himself. But the blackmailing efiorts work, and the
impeachment is called off before the vote can be taken. Still, the day of
the impeachment, a huge crowd descends on the capital in support of Willie.
Willie tells Jack that after the impeachment he is going to build a
massive, state-of-the-art hospital; Willie wins his next election by a
During all this time, Jack re ects on Willie's sexual conquests--he has
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