All the King's Men: History's Importance

All the King's Men: History's Importance
Throughout All the King?s Men, history plays an important role in

the motivations and lives of all the characters. History?s

importance is most noticeable, not surprisingly, in the story main

characters ? Willie Stark and Jack Burden ? whose lives focus on and,

in some cases, depend upon history and how they relate themselves to

it. While Willie Stark views history as a tool with which to

manipulate people for his own ends, an attitude resulting in his

own destruction, Jack Burden?s view of history changes over time

and eventually allows him to accept his relationship to the past

and, therefore, present. Since each man has such a differing view

it is no wonder that history becomes important to each in different

ways. Willie Stark must support his entire empire in a world of

enemies and corruption, to do this he relies on the past to

provide him with the foundation."Dirt?s a funny thing," the Boss said. "Come to think of it, there

ain?t a thing but dirt on this God?s green globe except what?s

under water, and that?s dirt too. It?s dirt makes the grass grow.

A diamond ain?t a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got

awful hot. God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it

and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in

faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the

dirt."1 In this case, Stark is referring to the past as dirt ? something

to be used in many ways. The way he chooses to use it of course is

as blackmail; "Then he would lean suddenly forward, at the man, and

say, not slow and easy now, `God damn you, do you know what I can do

to you?? And he could too. For he had the goods."2 Thus history is

important to Stark as the device by which he maintains power.

Both Stark and Burden use history differently according to the way

it figures into their lives. To Stark, ultimate power being paramount,

history is a thing to be used in the manipulation of others to

achieve his own ends. For example, when Judge Irwin decides to

endorse Murphy?s candidate for the senate, rather than Stark?s,

Stark views it as the perfect occasion for the manipulation of the

judge through blackmail, both directly and indirectly. When he

discovers the reason for Irwin?s change in endorsements he plays

along saying, "`Suit yourself, Judge. But you know, there?s another

way to play it. Maybe somebody might give Callahan a little

shovelful on somebody else_?"4 When this angle doesn?t work, the

next thing Stark tries is direct manipulation of the Judge

himself:The Boss said, "Well, Jackie, it looks like you got a job

cut out for you."And I said, "Callahan?"And he said, "Nope, Irwin."

And I said, "I don?t reckon you will find anything on Irwin."

And he said, "You find it."5

Stark also manipulates others through their pasts for his own

gain, although this time on a much grander scale, when he quiets the

Legislature which threatens to impeach him. For days Stark speaks

around the state to gain public support; and for nights he speaks

around an envelope of incriminating evidence to gain political

support, or rather, subservience. When finally Stark has achieved

his goal he sends Burden to see Lowdan, the leader of the pack, and

"tell him to call to call his dogs off. Not that it matters whether

he does or not, for they?ve changed their minds."6 Thus we see how

Stark, using the past as a tool, bends people to his will for his

own plans and desires.

Burden, being a more complicated man split between two focuses in

his motivations ? his life, and that of Willie Stark ? differs his

use of history accordingly. Since Burden is both a friend and

employee of Stark, he too uses the past as a manipulator for the

cause of Stark.

Jack?s research produces facts about Judge Irwin?s acceptance of a

bribe and about Governor Stanton?s complicity in protecting his

guilty friend and political sidekick. Jack first uses these facts

to persuade Adam to take Willie?s hospital position. Without meaning

to he has also helped persuade Anne to become Willie?s mistress.7

Contrary to when Jack later tries to apply this blackmail to the

Judge directly, in the case of Adam (and indirectly, Anne) Burden

is acting under his own will, rather than orders from Stark. More

importantly, however, Burden uses the past as a basis for his relation

to the world and the values by which he exists in it. The ties to

the past in Jack?s value system are unknown at first even to him and

as the truths about many of these images are revealed, he must not only

acknowledge the effect which they had upon his world view ? but

must also update his view accordingly to match the truth. When

Burden discovers the affair between Stark and Anne, it shatters

his vision of Anne?s purity (only "one of a number of such

pictures which form his attitudes towards the world."8)

represented by his image of her "floating in the water_ with her

eyes closed and the violent sky above and the white gull flashing

high over."9 This sudden renovation of Jack?s past is such that it

forces him ! to slip away from reality and re-evaluate his life;

emerging finally with his theory of the Great Twitch, which leads

to another of Burden?s uses of the past: ignorance of

responsibility. By using his varying views on history and his

interpretations of them, Jack is able to create "his own isolated,

sheltered, womb-state world."10 In this world, removed as he is by

his philosophy, he remains guiltless of the consequences of his

actions; and indeed fails to even take note of the cause-and-

effect relationship between his actions and the events in his

life. By hiding behind the idea of the Great Twitch "Jack refuses

to acknowledge his common humanity; that is, he acknowledges the

presence of ugliness and evil in the universe but insists on his

own separateness and aloofness from them."11 Beyond just their

actual applications of history, Stark and Burden can be compared

and contrasted on a `history? level in may other ways. For

instance, both men treat the difference between what is historical

`fact? and what is historical `truth? very differently. Stark, in

his "know-all, use-all style" of application of history,

conveniently fails to distinguish between what is truth and what

is fact. In effect, he treats the facts as the absolute truth

since this is the easiest interpretation to allow him to justify

his use of history as a manipulating object: "`_there ain?t a

thing but dirt on this God?s green globe_ It all depends on what

you do with the dirt.?"12 Burden, on the other hand, separates

fact and truth into two distinctly different categories, and while

the truth will always give you the facts, the converse is not

always true: "I tried to discover the truth and not the facts.

Then, when the truth was not to be discovered, or discovered could

not be understood ! by me, I could not bear to live with the cold-

eyed reproach of the facts."13`

All the King's Men: History's Importance 8.4 of 10 on the basis of 2504 Review.