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All the King's Men | Study Guide

Robert Penn Warren

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All the King's Men | Chapter 5 | Summary



Jack returns to the present-day story. After Willie threatens to dig up dirt on Judge Irwin, Jack and Willie drive from the judge's place to the governor's house. There Willie emphasizes to Jack that he wants him to find a scandal in the judge's past. Jack reluctantly accepts the assignment. He figures the only reason the judge might have crossed the line is for money and wonders if the judge was ever broke. He visits his father, Ellis Burden, who used to be a good friend of the judge. Ellis lives in a rundown apartment, takes care of homeless people, and passes out religious tracts. When Jack asks him if the judge ever needed money, Ellis accuses Jack of attempting foul play. At the old home of Anne Stanton's deceased father (Governor Stanton), Jack asks Anne the same question. Not trusting Jack's motives, Anne says she doesn't know. However, Jack gets Adam Stanton to admit that many years ago, in 1913 or 1914, the judge did have some money troubles. Also, Jack finds out that Anne had lunch with Willie to convince him to back a children's home; the idea of Anne and Willie together upsets Jack.

Jack learns that in 1914 the judge had a second marriage to Mabel Carruthers, who supposedly was wealthy. However, Jack discovers that Mabel had money problems of her own and thus was unable to help the judge. Around 1914 the judge received some stocks and sold them for a large profit. Then he got work as a lawyer for the American Electric Power Company for a very generous salary. For some reason the name Mortimer L. Littlepaugh sticks in Jack's head: Mortimer used to work for American Electric Power Company but apparently died accidentally when he fell from a balcony. Jack tracks down Mortimer's sister, who is living in squalor, and offers her $300 for the truth about her brother's death. The sister shows Jack a letter Mortimer wrote before he died. In it Mortimer says Judge Irwin was bribed to let up on a lawsuit against a company. Mortimer was fired from his job, after which the judge was hired in his place and paid a much higher salary. Because of this, Mortimer took his own life. Soon after, Mortimer's sister showed the letter to Governor Stanton, but the governor said she would be prosecuted for perjury if she made that letter public. Stunned, Jack realizes Governor Stanton covered up for Judge Irwin.


Warren originally combined Chapters 4 and 5 into one lengthy chapter; the restored edition combines them. It is easy to see why; both deal with Jack's research, and the spider web analogy appears in both parts.

In Chapter 5 Jack investigates Judge Irwin in an attempt to find a scandal to use against him. In this section Warren constantly interweaves the past and present, as he does in Chapter 1. In the novel the past is a vital part of the present. Jack's past history with the judge makes him hesitate to investigate the older man; yet because he can't come to terms with his pain concerning his own father, he can't allow himself to feel too deeply. As a result he allows Willie to convince him to investigate the judge.

As Jack researches the possibility of corruption in the judge's past, the spider web analogy unfolds. In looking for a scandal, Jack starts at the outer edge of the spider web and works to the center. There he finds the corrupt acts that led to the judge's wealth, the death of Mortimer Littlepaugh and the persecution of his sister. But Jack is caught in the web himself. Not only is his surrogate father corrupt; so is the father of Anne, the woman he loves. This truth will bring severe pain to both Anne and her brother, Adam, and force Jack to take responsibility for what he has discovered.

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