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Summary

All the King's Men Chapter 2 Summary Page 1

  • Jack tells us that it's now three years later, 1939, and that he hasn't been back to Mason City since that last trip with Willie to see Judge Irwin in 1936.
  • He wants to talk about that first time he went to Mason City, in 1922. The road was bumpy then – Willie was responsible for the next highway.
  • Back then Jack worked for The Chronicle. The editor, Jim Madison, had sent Jack down to find out why "that fellow Stark" is causing a ruckus about the school being built.
  • (If you are lost here, it's because Jack hasn't given us the information yet, but don't worry, he will.)
  • Jack reports what he heard during his coincidental meeting with Stark when he was trying to see Alex Michel (see Chapter One).
  • So Madison sends Jack to Mason City to cover the story of Willie Stark.
  • When Jack gets to Mason City he has a huge meal, and then finds the town bench and the town's old men. He listens to them, and brings up the school, at just the right moment.
  • Jack gets the lowdown: it's a matter of who gets to build the school.
  • The town has its own contractor in mind, and Willie wants to give the job to a different contractor.
  • The contractor Willie has in mind hires black men.
  • According to the old men, jobs will be taken away from the white men who work with the higher priced contractor.
  • Since the crew couldn't be all black men, white men would have to work alongside black men. Plus the white citizens don't want a gang of blacks invading their community.
  • (Think about it, this is somewhere in the Deep South, 1922. If these guys are say 70, they were born around 1852, some of them probably 1842 even. It's likely that many of them owned slaves, and then lost them during the Civil War.)
  • As Jack prepares to exit, and the men ask him about his work. He says he does no work, because he "lack[s] ambition."
  • Then it's on to the courthouse to get the story the proper way.
  • At the courthouse, Jack finds his way to the Sheriff's office. Three men are chilling in there, so Jack says hello and approaches the man with "the biggest face."
  • The man's says the schoolhouse situation is none of Jack Burden's business, or the paper's.
  • Then the big-faced man says that he's the Sheriff and it's not even his own business.
  • It happens to be the business of the County Commissioners of Mason County, one of whom is present.
  • The other guy is the Chairman, Dolph Pillsbury
  • So, Jack uses the information he got from the old men to ask the right questions.
  • And here's the official lowdown (for the papers):
  • Jeffers Construction is low bid.
  • The Board has chosen its own contractor because it is the best contractor for the job.
  • Jack asks Dolph if he's publicly stating that Jeffers Construction isn't good enough for the job.
  • Dolph gets irritated and tells Jack to leave.
  • Jack says, "Sure," and then asks where he can find Willie Stark.
  • The three men explode, and it comes out that they don't like Willie Stark because he's a "nigger-lover" and they accuse Jack of being one also. (For more on this see the "Character Analysis" for Jack, and for Willie.)
  • Jack leaves the courthouse and finds Willie at his dad's house, where he and Lucy are staying.
  • Willie doesn't mind talking about the schoolhouse. The two men talk until 11pm, at which point Lucy invites Jack to stay the night.
  • Willie won't be reelected as County Treasurer because he's fallen out of favor with Pillsbury. (He only got the job initially because he is distantly related to Pillsbury. This connection is an important one: along with the Sheriff, Pillsbury runs the county.)
  • Lucy has already lost her teaching job, due to her stance on the schoolhouse.
  • (Jack talks at length about Lucy: she's about 25 and has an unfortunately short hairdo.)
  • Willie 's preferred contractors lose, and the schoolhouse is built by Pillsbury's boys.
  • Jack explains Willie's version of the same story we've heard from the old men, and from the Sheriff and friends.
  • Jeffers Construction is the low bid. J.H. Moore is the contractor the county has chosen. (There are two other bids in between Moore and Jeffers.)
  • When Willie originally complained, Pillsbury began his attack on Jeffers, a big company that does have many black men working for it. These regular (black) employees would likely receive higher pay than the local (white) laborers would.
  • Willie knows some facts about the bricks that J.H. Moore would use for the building. Pillsbury's brother in law owns the "brick kiln" from which Moore would buy its bricks. A building inspector had already declared many bricks from this kiln to be "rotten." Surely rotten bricks would be used to build the schoolhouse. These bricks were cheap, because convicts in the state penitentiary provided the labor.
  • Willie wanted these facts known, and he canvassed the area. His efforts didn't do any good: he was too quiet, and couldn't reach the people.
  • Moore got the contract, and the school was in constant need of repairs from day one.
  • Willie is continuing his studies, helping his dad on the farm, and selling a "Fix-It Household Kit" door to door for money.
  • Willie seems obsessed by the fact that those old boys could treat him like "nothing," and get away with it.
  • Lucy reminds him that those guys are crooks.
  • Willie broods, and then takes to pacing, as Lucy and Jack talk.
  • When Lucy can't take the pacing anymore, she laughingly asks him to sit.
  • (Willie is lucky to have Pillsbury and the boys, but he doesn't know it yet.)
  • The Chronicle is trying to break down the corruption in the county, and Jack's stories on Willie and Mason City are the featured attraction.
  • Jack goes back to Mason City to get Willie's response to the newspaper stories.
  • They run into each other on the street, and have a coke.
  • Now Jack explains why Pillsbury and co. are part of Willie's luck.
  • The schoolhouse built by Moore with the crummy bricks had two fire escapes, both made iron steps and bolted onto the building.
  • There was one on each side of the school.
  • Approximately two years after construction, the school held a fire drill.
  • Little kids couldn't get down the stairs fast, and big kids were crowded up behind them. All the kids got tangled up together on the stairs. The stairs broke off from the building and collapsed, killing several kids, and seriously crippling many others.
  • Willie was an instant star, and soon "found himself running for Governor."
  • A guy named Harrison had been Governor in the past. The current Governor is MacMurfee. Both men are running in the next election, and it's going to be close.
  • The Harrison camp wanted to find another guy to run – a guy that can take lots of votes from MacMurfee, ensuring Harrison's victory.
  • Willie doesn't know it, but he is that guy.
  • Tiny Duffy, who was working for Harrison, came up to the Stark farm to talk to Willie about running.
  • Willie saw him as God's own messenger.
  • By this time Willie is a lawyer. We get a little of his history now.
  • He had dropped out of college due to lack of money, and had served during World War One, in an Oklahoma military camp. After the war he studied and read like crazy, self-educating himself in order to pass the bar.
  • The bar exam was ridiculously easy, but Willie was more interested in learning law than passing a test, so his hard work wasn't for nothing.
  • And now Willie is running for Governor.
  • He travels the state promoting himself. Jack comes along to cover the story for the paper.
  • Willie believes he'll get to be Governor, but his speeches are awful, and Jack thinks Willie is "a half-wit."
  • Willie's bad speeches are OK in the county, where the fire drill incident had given Willie undying approval. The rest of the state could care less about him.
  • Jack explains that the speeches need to reach the people's emotions. Numbers can't do that.
  • Willie still doesn't get it, as evidenced by his lack of connection with the audience at his next venue.
  • After the speech, Jack Burden is having coffee when Sadie Burke, who is involved in Willie's campaign and who Jack knows "from way back."
  • (Sadie is rumored to be with the guy who suggested Willie run to help Harrison get the vote for governor.)
  • Sadie isn't bad looking, in spite of the pockmarked face and crazy hair. She has beautiful eyes, and is very smart.
  • She's working as a secretary for Willie (though probably so she can "spy" on him).
  • Jack and Sadie talk about the fact that Willie is a big loser who doesn't have a chance.
  • They talk about his horrible speeches.
  • There is barbeque planned at Upton, in the western part of the state.
  • The night before the event, Willie comes into Jack's room and is obviously worried.
  • He's resigned to the fact that he will lose the race.
  • Sadie shows up, and tells the truth. Willie learns that he is just a pawn in everybody's game.
  • When the awful fact sinks in, Willie pours himself a big drink of Jack's liquor.
  • Willie wants revenge, and Sadie begins to tear him up, calling him "a sap" and an idiot.
  • Jack is disgusted, and leaves them alone in his hotel room.
  • When Jack gets back to his room Sadie is smoking in a chair, the bottle has been emptied, and Willie is asleep on Jack's bed.
  • Jack and Sadie leave Willie to sleep in Jacks' bed, and Jack goes to Willie's room to sleep.
  • The next day Jack finds Willie awake.
  • Willie has come to the realization that he was "drunk" the night before. It was his first time being drunk, and only his second time having alcohol.
  • After Jack asks, Willie says he's still planning on going to the barbeque.
  • (Sadie and Duffy are already there.)
  • Jack tries to help Willie get over his hangover in time for the barbeque.
  • Jack's formula is to feed Willie large amounts of coffee, and when that doesn't work, more booze.
  • As Jack points out to Willie this is during Prohibition, so alcohol is illegal.
  • By the time they get to the barbeque, Willie is drunk.
  • OK, now, the big moment, time for Willie to give his speech.
  • He tells the people that the speech contains ideas for how the state can help the people. But, he says, the people already know what they need. He says that he's just like them, "a hick" and "a red-neck," a hard worker that has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. He also brings up the schoolhouse story, and then – he begins telling the story of how he's been set up to help Harrison win the Governorship.
  • He points at Sadie and says she's the one who revealed the truth. Tiny Duffy is making his way up to the stage. Willie points at him, calls him a "Judas Iscariot" and "Joe Harrison's dummy!"
  • Duffy is on the stage, calling Willie a liar.
  • Willie taps Duffy. As he is backing away, Duffy falls off the stage.
  • Willie says he is resigning from the campaign, and that he's supporting MacMurfee, even though he still thinks he's no good.
  • Jack tells Sadie to grab Willie as soon as he's done, and runs off to call the paper to report.
  • As Jack goes he sees Willie tossing his speech to the wind, and yelling about the "the truth."
  • After the speech, Willie goes around the state blasting Harrison.
  • MacMurfee gets the Governorship.
  • Willie returns to Mason City and to his law practice.
  • He and Jack don't see each other until about 1930 when Willie announces his plan to re-run for Governor.
  • Sadie Burke, a man named Hugh Miller, along with some ex-Harrison guys including Tiny Duffy, are helping him with the campaign.
  • Jack thinks Willie keeps Duffy around because he destroyed Tiny, and then put him back together, thus proving Willie's success.
  • Willie becomes Governor.
  • The Chronicle favors MacMurfee during the campaign. Jack doesn't want to help elect MacMurfee, so he gives up his job.
  • While Willie is working the state to get elected, Jack is mostly sleeping.
  • Jack notes that this is his third period of heavy sleeping. He calls these periods "The Great Sleep."
  • The last time Jack was like this, he was almost finished writing the dissertation that would have earned him a Ph.D. in American History. Jack walked out of his dorm room, leaving his dissertation, and didn't come back.
  • The first time he experienced The Great Sleep was just before he left his then wife, Lois.
  • During the current "Great Sleep," Jack visits his childhood friend, Adam Stanton.
  • Adam isn't married, and lives in a crummy apartment. He spends his time either working or writing papers, which he publishes in medical journals.
  • Jack and Adam's hangout sessions consist of Adam playing the piano and Jack listening.
  • One night Jack and Adam reflect on their childhood. This spurs Jack to call Anne, Adam's sister.
  • Anne and Jack have several dinners together.
  • At one of these dinners, Anne asks Jack if he's seen his father.
  • (Apparently Jack thinks his father is a religious fanatic of some sort.)
  • Anne saw him a couple of weeks back, on the street. He'd given her some kind of religious speech, and didn't look well.
  • Jack resents the talk. He thinks his father is an idiot for having given up Jack's mother.
  • Anne accuses him of being bitter, which he denies.
  • Jack says he's sorry for feeling the way he does about them.
  • They argue about whether or not Jack is really sorry.
  • He doesn't have dinner with her again during "The Great Sleep," but he does see his father. His dad is just as he expects.
  • After some time, Jack gets a call from Sadie Burke. Willie Stark, now Governor, wants to see him.
  • Willie offers Jack a vague sounding job, and asks him to come to dinner at the Governor's Mansion.
  • Jack accepts both invitations.

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