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All the King's Men

All the King's Men

by Robert Penn Warren

Memory and the Past Theme

Jack Burden, the narrator of All the King's men, just can't stay out of the past. The book itself is one extended memory that Jack has after events detailed in the book have already happened. The story Jack tells is a collection of a bunch of memories. Every moment leads him to a memory of the past. But, he's not content to remember his own past experiences. Jack also wants to discover secrets from the past that certain people don't want to share. While digging into the past, he also uncovers pre-Civil War secrets, which reveal shameful practices of slavery that are close to home. At the novel's end, Jack realizes the understanding one's true past is necessary for a satisfying life in the present.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Which of Jack's memories is the most compelling?
  2. How does Jack's memory change when he learns the truth about Judge Irwin?
  3. How might Anne's memories of her summer vacations with Jack differ from his?
  4. Does Cass Mastern's story become part of Jack's memory? Your own memory?
  5. Do you see Cass's story as historical fact or historical fiction? How can you tell the difference?
  6. Why does Ellis Burden try to destroy his memories of Jack, his mother, and Judge Irwin.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

While knowing the truth about his past gave Jack the keys to unlock his present and future, it's not so easy when it comes to the "other" past in the novel, the past of slavery in America.

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