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The Significance of Morality in Favor of Change

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Kevin Ramirez

English III- A67

All the King’s Men Final Essay

11 October 2015

The Significance of Morality in Favor of Change

        Warren explores the moral ambiguity of humanity through Willie Stark, whose corrupted scruples and malfeasance question the benevolence of his illicit, yet significant contributions to society, achieving provocative insight on whether the morality of man supersedes significant change. Warren accomplishes this through place, motif, and narrative attitude and mood. In All the King’s Men, Willie Stark is initially naïve and believes “he could change things some” licitly (Warren 136). He changes this sentiment after being manipulated by Joe Harrison to win the governorship election, positing instead “to corrupt, coerce, and blackmail the Legislature” to make significant changes to Mason City (Warren 218). Thus, Warren challenges the significance of morality in favor of significant change by ignoring law compliance.

        Willie Stark as the “common man” falls victim to the corruption of Mason City and becomes a byproduct of corruption himself, challenging the effectiveness of commonality and abiding by morals and laws. Mason City retains a clock tower with “a clock face on each side” since antebellum that describes the state in which the Civil War has left it: “the faces [aren’t] real” and “[are] just painted on,” evincing the corruption that has taken root in Mason City and propounding its falsity and requisite repair (Warren 7). The “clock faces” represent the faces of the politicians that appear genuine at first glance, but “on the second look,” are mendacious (Warren 7). Thus, these clock faces disclose how the people see that Mason City is full of corrupt politicians that appear real but instead wear a false guise upon closer scrutiny, attributing it to all politicians except Willie, ironically, whose clock face wears the most genuine of them all, but is not real beyond his own convictions. He is not yet unveiled as unreal due to his role as the vox populi, or “voice of the people”, giving the people fabricated hope for a better city despite requiring more corruption.

Warren exemplifies Willie Stark as a “great man” despite his corruption and transgression of law and morals through Jack Burden’s specious objectivity, affirming that context determines the difference between discerned benevolent and malevolent people (Warren 643). Despite Jack’s supposedly perceived honesty and objectivity, his intimate relationship with Willie Stark affects his perception of “the Boss,” speciously portraying him with more homage through a perspective less focused on his malfeasance (Warren 4). Jack’s unreliability as a narrator also distorts Willie’s image; Willie’s more intimate sexual affairs are briefly disclosed and Jack’s lack of experience with women and apathetic attitude towards the subject engenders to conjecture its significance within the subtext. When reaching the subject of Willie’s affairs, Jack simply affirms that “the world [is] full of sluts on skates, even if some of them [aren’t] on skates,” further diluting the gravity of Willie’s affairs (Warren 217).

        Additionally, Jack Burden’s elaborate and elongated diction exalts Willie Stark, connoting that his glorification is warranted and affects how he is perceived. Before a speech, Jack sees Willie’s eyes “bulge suddenly” and “glitter”, claiming that it’s a sign that the speech is  “coming” (Warren 13). The eye is then depicted as all-seeing; “looking straight at you from miles and dark,” able to see the people “through walls” all the way to the coat hide (Warren 13). The eye is a synecdoche for Willie Stark and suggests his perceived omniscience; the people who “feel there’s an eye on [them]” apotheosize Willie Stark due to his perceived power and knowledge of the corruption in Mason City, despite his own apparent parcel of corruption (Warren 13). Hence, Jack raises unnecessary tension over Willie’s speech indications, achieving apotheosis through synecdoche and illustrating a godly perception of Willie. Willie’s godly perception thus vindicates his immoral and illicit actions in favor of improving Mason City.



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