All the King's Men

Coming to Grips

Jack Burden is far more than a narrator describing the rise and fall of Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Intertwined in his description of The Boss’s political machinations and personal dilemmas is an account of his own thoughts and aspirations. The novel not only chronicles the downfall of a political giant but also the emotional development and maturation of a man who has not yet mentally reached adulthood, despite being nearly forty years old. In fact, Jack notes at the end of the novel, “This has been the story of Willie Stark, but it is my story, too. For I have a story” (Warren 656). Though Jack Burden lacks the maturity of a developed adult for much of the novel, reconciling each of his three father figures -- Willie Stark, Judge Irwin, and Ellis Burden -- to his life helps him mature and accept responsibility for his actions.

When Jack begins telling the story, he observes the world from a safe distance. This distance allows him to feel superior and disconnected from humanity, shields him from “messy commitments” (Sanderson 1), and positions him to exhibit the sarcasm he so often does. When he drives to Mason City with Willie and the others in 1936, he is along for the ride, literally jammed in...

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