All the King's Men | Study Guide

Robert Penn Warren

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All the King's Men | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

After Jack Burden learns that Anne Stanton is having an affair with Willie, Jack drives to Long Beach, California, where he stays in a hotel for a day, drinking heavily. During the trip Jack recalls his romance with Anne. When Jack was 21, he spent a summer with Adam and Anne, who was 17. At the time Jack was attending college. Jack and Anne fell in love, spending time together swimming, going to the movies, and taking rides in Jack's convertible on lovely summer nights. Jack had previous casual sexual relationships with other women but never anything as intense and earnest as his relationship with Anne, who was a virgin. They often kissed and caressed each other but did not have sex. At the end of the summer Jack took Anne to his home. His mother called, saying she would be home late because she was driving somewhere with friends. Anne and Jack realized they would be alone in the house for several hours and nearly had sex, but Jack decided it would be wrong.

Jack left for college, and Anne went back to a boarding school. They kept in touch by letter, declaring their love, and saw each other at Christmas. However, the long periods of separation began to wear on their relationship. Jack asked Anne to marry him, but she turned him down, even though she still loved him, because of his aimless way of life. After this Jack and Anne went their separate ways, and Jack married Lois, an attractive but unintelligent woman. Despite their sexual compatibility, he soon tired of her, and they divorced. Anne went to a college in Virginia for a couple of years and then came home. She became engaged twice but never married.

Back in the hotel room in Long Beach, Jack realizes he made the trip West to escape having to face Anne's affair with Willie. He muses that people have only physical responses to each other, which they sometimes romanticize and call love. However, love is just a word for an itch a person has. Jack felt this itch for both Anne and Lois, so he sees his relationship with the women as basically the same.

Analysis

Readers see two approaches to life in Chapter 7—the acceptance of love as shown through Jack's romance with Anne and the rejection of love as seen through his marriage to Lois and the theory Jack is developing.

When Jack accepts his love for Anne, he becomes a deeper, more real human being. Jack reflects that a person becomes two people when he or she falls in love, "the one you yourself create by loving ... the one the beloved creates by loving you." Later Jack compares Anne loving him to creating a new being in him "out of that unpromising lump of clay." He is reborn through love. Because he cares deeply for Anne, he hesitates to have sex with her because "it wouldn't be right."

When he falls in love with Anne, Jack feels as if he has immersed himself in the current of a flood. He compares this experience to "an affirmation ... like the surrender of the mystic to God." This imagery conveys a connectedness among Jack, Anne, and their surroundings. Although the acceptance of love involves surrender, it is a surrender guided by a person's will. The flow of life does not control a person like a puppet, but rather a person guides the current. The acceptance of love, therefore, like the spider web, involves taking personal responsibility.

However, the acceptance of love also involves being in touch with both one's past and future. In previous chapters and this one Warren shows personal history is an active part of a person's present. For example, because of his history with Anne, Jack cannot bear to stay near her after he realizes she's having an affair with Willie, so he escapes by traveling to California. Yet without plans for the future, Jack cannot move forward emotionally. His aimlessness dooms the relationship with Anne.

The rejection of love, like its acceptance, involves responsibility. Jack marries Lois because he is sexually attracted to her, not because he loves her. In fact the more Jack sees of Lois's personality the more he dislikes her. Eventually Jack comes to separate Lois the person and Lois the body, which he refers to as a machine. He states, "As long as Lois was ... the machine-Lois ... there was no harm in her." So Jack distances himself from Lois the person to endure living with her. In this way Jack avoids any responsibility to treat Lois in a humane manner. Lois the person, though, keeps intruding into Jack's consciousness, annoying him. He tries to use the Great Sleep to block her out, often sleeping for hours during the day. But even this is not enough, and he divorces her.

Jack develops his theory to distance himself from the pain he feels over Anne's affair. Geographical distance, driving to California, doesn't work, so he convinces himself love is merely a biological impulse. Seen in this light Jack's love or itch for Anne is the same as his itch for Lois. He can successfully ignore the painful feelings that can come with deep connections to others.

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