Washington Square

The Essence of Ambiguity: The Paradox of Willie Stark and Dr. Sloper

Our society revolves around the question of what is good and what is evil. We usually characterize humans as essentially malevolent or benevolent. The world contains, however, a minority of people characterized by ambiguity, a unique emotional equilibrium that lets them be both good and bad. Throughout both Washington Square, by Henry James, and All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren, the dispositions of numerous characters are simultaneously humanitarian and corrupt. In both sagas, the genuine internal motivations and emotional fabrics of Willie Stark and Dr. Sloper remain disputable. The authors intentionally remain unclear about the true nature of each character in an attempt to convey that benevolence and integrity fall victim to the realities of life. Both Willie Stark and Dr. Sloper are presented as ambiguous; however, the progression of each plot shows their morality degrade. Each author suggests that societal pressures subsume his character's altruism, as if to suggest that the contemporary world leaves no room for compassion.

Robert Penn Warren's mastery of literature manifests itself in Stark's complexity. Stark is a man of startling contradictions. He is loved and hated, devoted and disloyal,...

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