Truth in All the King's Men Essay

Truth in All the King's Men Essay

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In America today, when the name of honor is often adulterated by glaring headlines proclaiming the guilt of an immoral politician or the fall of a disgraced executive, it is easy to forget that the country was founded for the pursuit of truth, for only in truth can people find real happiness. Thomas Jefferson famously included the pursuit happiness as an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence, but in an intimate letter to William Roscoe, a British historian, Jefferson wrote, “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.” In his flagship novel, All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren embraces the Founding Father’s principles with his characterization of both Willie Stark and Jack Burden. Warren’s novel is an American classic because it traces the lives of two lost men as each man follows his personalized compass pointing towards complete understanding. After elevating him to unprecedented heights, Willie’s interpretation of truth returns to drag him down to the Underworld. Only when Jack learns that not even Willie can be omnipotent does he stop trying to understand everything. Willie Stark and Jack Burden embody the essence of Thomas Jefferson’s words because, in a sense, they both attain freedom through their pursuit of truth.
At heart, Willie Stark is a good man with good intentions, but his philanthropic nature clashes with his burning desire for success. Cousin Willie’s political career was conceived out of his search for truth. After the schoolhouse incident, Willie is proclaimed an “honest man” and is thrust into the governor’s race (Warren 97). But Willie is heartbroken when Sadie Burke cruelly informs him, “You a...


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... also come to the conclusion that complete understanding is not only impossible but also undesirable. As a result, Jack agrees with Ellis Burden who reasons that “Separateness [from God] is identity,” and since only God knows everything, ignorance is a quality all humans share (Warren 659). It is ironic that the world seems clearer to Jack when he realizes that men are naturally ignorant than when he sought to understand everything. Jack’s progress lies in his ability to “distinguish the pursuit of knowledge from Complete Knowledge itself” (Wolf). Jack realizes that it is only human have the freedom to pursue knowledge, while the possession of Complete Knowledge destroys the purpose of life. Jack’s epiphanies occur at the expense of others, namely Judge Irwin, Willie, and Adam, but it is necessary for Jack to learn that freedom comes from the realization of truth.

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