Wednesday, 6 October 1999

Robert Penn Warren: All the King's Men (1946)

Edition: Secker & Warburg, 1974
Review number: 350

Warren's story of fictional Southern US State Governor "Boss" Willie Stark is inspired by the story of real Louisiana governor Huey Long. His interest is not in the political manoeuvrings which gained such men their position, but in their character and personality, and how they affected those around them.

Stark's personality is viewed through the eyes of his close friend Jack Burden. Burden comes from one of the old, rich families of the state, and his working for Stark is viewed as a betrayal by his mother's friends and neighbours - for Stark has brought about the downfall of the clique of families which has controlled the state for many years. Burden believes in much of what Stark is doing, and admires him; yet he doesn't offer him the hero worship of some of his less critical followers.

Stark's aim is to remove - or at least reduce - the corruption with which the state is run, to benefit those who live in it. He and his nominees control the state no less definitely than their predecessors, but he wants to improve the lives of others not fill his own pockets. That is not to say that his methods are entirely ethical, and he himself says that no man has entirely clean hands. Burden is both drawn to and unwilling to compare Stark to Burden's ancestor Cass Mastern, who carried on an unsuccessful campaign against slavery. Stark is far more successful, but suffers a great cost to himself, his family and his friends.

No comments: