Study Guide

All the King's Men Quotes

  • Visions of America

    Way off ahead of you […] the slab will glitter and gleam like water, as though the road were flooded. (1.2)

    Our first vision of America is from the backseat of a Cadillac, with Sugar-Boy at the wheel, on a road that Willie Stark built. It's also a mirage – a mirage that can get you killed if you are hypnotized by it. This seems a nifty metaphor for both the American dream, and maybe the entire novel.

    They ain't real, I thought […]. But I knew they were. (2.103)

    Jack is talking about the Commissioner and the Sheriff after his meeting with them in Mason City, the first time he goes there. Jack is commenting on their unabashed racism and small-mindedness. His comment shows a tug-of war between his idealism, and his need to acknowledge truth and reality.

    In the evening, toward sunset, he and the girl walk down the street of the town, now dusty, and move out beyond the houses, where the stumps are. (3.173)

    This vision of America is a product of Jack's imagination combined with his knowledge of history. He knows that the Arkansas town where Ellis Burden met his mother was a lumber town. Jack sees this "ruined land" as a metaphor for their ruined relationship.

    Once while she was engaged in flogging a servant in an apartment on the second floor of her palatial apartment, a small Negro boy entered the room and began to whimper. (4.151)

    This is part of a chilling story within the story of Cass Burden. It presents a horrific vision of America. When we think of slavery, we often think of big cotton plantations. This reminds us that there were also inner city torture chambers in the very best of homes. That was part of the American dream.

    The band blaring, the roaring of the seas, the screams like agony, the silence, the one woman-scream, silver and soprano spangling the silence like the cry of a lost soul […]. (4.282)

    This is not the way we ordinarily hear people talking about football. Is this line slightly confusing, or did you get it right away? The "one-woman scream" is a fancy way of saying that some woman is singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at a football game. Jack poeticizes the moment to express his complicated feelings about this aspect of the American dream.

    [Willie Stark:] "I'll hit him. I'll hit him with that meat axe." (6.490)

    Some guys play air guitar. Other guys play air meat axe. We never see Willie do anything physically violent in the novel, but his speeches are full of blood and guts and meat axings. This is what the crowd wants. When the gentle approach doesn't work, Willie has to switch over to a more violent approach.

    "I told him that if he wanted to do any good […] – here was the time. And the way. To see that the Medical Center was run right. And even expanded." (6.189)

    Anne's words evoke a more positive vision of America in the novel. Anne, Adam, and Willie all care about the sick, and the poor. They dedicate their lives to helping those in need .

    When a few months ago I found him sick in the room above the Mexican restaurant, what could I do but bring him here? (10.493)

    This is a vision of compassion and empathy. After the tragedies and after the truth is revealed, Jack's vision of himself has changed, and with it his visions of America. This vision now includes Ellis Burden.

    But I still had the money, and so I am spending it to live on while I write the book I began years ago, the life of Cass Mastern […]. (10.450)

    That Jack has the freedom to write such a story is hopeful. And though the story of Cass Mastern presents a grim vision of America, it also presents a courageous and hopeful vision of an American man who tries to do the right thing against all odds.

  • Politics

    Town from the waist up, country from the waste down. Get both votes. (2.65)

    All the King's Men is full of pithy witticisms like this. They give it the flavor and feel of the time and place. This passage also points to the importance of appearance in the political arena.

    It was a piece of luck for Willie. (2.143)

    No one can accuse Jack Burden of not speaking plainly. Still, this is a rather brutal and cynical statement. If that schoolhouse fire escape hadn't collapsed, we might not even be reading this book. The tragedy is what propels Willie toward Boss-dom.

    "Friends, read-necks, suckers and fellow hicks."(2.477)

    Willie's speeches are certainly colorful. It's one thing to tell the crowd you are one of them, but it's another thing to get them to believe you. A huge part of Willie's talent is getting people to believe. Part of why he is so successful is because he really believes it himself.

    "Get down here to the Capitol at ten o'clock. The Boss wants to see you."

    "The who?" I said.(2.285-86)

    Oh that fateful call. Jack is about to begin, in earnest, the political career he unwittingly began years ago when he covered the schoolhouse situation for The Chronicle. The fact that Jack was the one to tell Willie's story in those days might be why Willie thinks of him now.

    "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something." (4.3)

    This phrase really sticks with Jack, and quotes it throughout the novel. It's also in some ways the key to Willie's success. He's essentially saying that a person can't go through life without doing something that can be used against him or her in the future. It's a version of "all men are created equal."

    I have been this afternoon to see Governor Stanton and told him how I have been thrown out of my job like a dog after all these years because that man Irwin was bribed to let up the suit […]. (5.347)

    This is from the 1915 suicide letter of Mortimer Littlepaugh. It is a precious historical document, which becomes the political tool that both wreaks havoc and exposes truth. It's also a record of some very dirty politics.

    [Jack:] "Governor Stark wants you to be director of the new hospital and medical center." (6.71)

    Though this quickly escalates to a political situation, initially it is not. Willie wants Adam to run the hospital because Adam is the best. But Adam and others think Willie is using him as a political tool.

    [Willie:] "I told you to dig on Irwin. What did you get?" (8.222)

    When the Boss has nowhere left to turn, with regard to the Sibyl Frey situation, he turns to Judge Irwin. This shows how politics can become inextricably linked to the personal lives of Jack, Willie, and the Judge.

    [Willie:] "And I – I had to buy, the sons of bitches made me buy!" (9.69)

    It's a point of pride for Willie to never have to bribe anybody. He certainly prefers blackmail. With the Judge dead, Willie doesn't have any competing dirt to counteract the dirt on Tom. So he has to resort to filthy lucre. This is the beginning of the end of the politics in this novel.

  • Memory and the Past

    […] he was like a circus elephant, he never forgot anything, the fellow who gave him the peanut or the fellow who put snuff in his trunk. (1.86)

    Jack doesn't talk about Willie's superb memory often, but it's probably one of the things that explain their mutual attraction. To both of them, memory is everything.

    In a town like Mason City the bench in front of the harness shop is […] the place where Time gets tangled in its own feet and lies down like an old hound and gives up the struggle. (2.18)

    Mason City is stuck in the pre-Civil War days. The old men on that bunch can't quite square the present moment with their memories of the past. Getting time's feet untangled is what drives Willie, Jack, and many of the other characters.

    "No," [Mrs. Murrell] said, "he [Ellis] isn't dead. He has gone away but you can think of him like he was dead, Son."(3.36)

    That's some heavy fare for a six year old to swallow. No wonder Jack has issues with Ellis before he learns the truth. In this moment, it seems as if Mrs. Murrell hates Ellis. Why? We don't know for sure. We never hear her side of the story. Not all of the secrets in this novel are revealed.

    But I must tell about my first excursion into the enchantment of the past. (4.6)

    This is a pivotal moment for the novel. All the sudden we are plunged into shocking antebellum times. Plus, since Cass Burden is the dominant narrator of this section, and since his style is so different from Jack's we need to reorient ourselves.

    Then it was another day, and I set out to dig up the dead cat, to excavate the maggot from the cheese, […] to find the deceased fly among the raisins in the rice pudding. (5.128)

    Jack doesn't consider digging up dirt on Judge Irwin to be an enviable task. All the same, he still feels the familiar pull of "the enchantment of the past." All the dead things in his extended metaphor foreshadow the multiple deaths that will occur when he finds the seemingly dead things he seeks. History is only dead when nobody knows it.

    [Anne:] "Those things – those papers you said you had – send them to me."(6.276)

    Like Jack, Anne can no more resist the enchantments of the past than Jack can. Also like Jack, she won't be satisfied until she has seen the evidence and analyzed it thoroughly, coming to the most logical conclusion.

    I dreamed gently back over the years. (7.12)

    This is one thing Jack means when he says he "drowned in West." He couldn't well remember all this stuff when he was in Mason City or Burden's Landing – where everything he needs to remember happened. He needed to get our of town in order to get a perspective on his past with Anne that would allow him to constructively deal with their present situation.

    My mind took one of those crazy leaps and I saw her floating in the water […] with her eyes closed and the violent sky above and the white gull flashing high over […] (8.114)

    Jack is so hooked on memory that it intrudes on his love life, and Anne's. It will take them almost twenty years to get past the memories of the past. In other words, neither of them will forget that Jack left her cold after undressing her on that rainy night long ago.

    [Judge Irwin:] "I could just – […] I could just say to you – I could just tell you something […]. But I won't," he said cheerfully, and smiled directly at me. (8.393)

    Did you guess the Judge was Jack's father at this point? We didn't. But when we learn the truth, we flash back on our memory of reading these lines. Isn't memory nifty, in a grim kind of a way?

    But in the end the truth gave the past back to me. (10.439)

    This could be this book's motto. The truth of the past might be painful, it might be dirty, it might be ugly, it might get people close to us killed. But it the end it's our only hope for the future.

  • Transformation

    But then, who is the hell is this in the back seat of the big black Cadillac that comes ghosting through town? (1.315)

    Jack is trying to figure out how the little boy Jack he remembers from the Burden's Landing street has turned into the present Jack. Remember, what Willie will soon ask him to do will transform all of their lives forever.

    [Willie Stark:] "I'm not going to read you any speech. You know what you need better'n I could tell you. But I'm going to tell you a story." (2.140)

    This is just a small moment from Willie's first good speech. Transformed by the potent combination of Jack's liquor and the cold hard truth, Willie changes into the Boss, and he can never go back. This passage also shows how a good story has the power to move us.

    I lay on my back with my back, with my head in her lap, the way I had known I would do. (3.11)

    This represents a major transformation in the way we look at Jack. We thought he was a tough guy, but his mother instantly transforms him into a child. Mrs. Murrell is a powerful force in Jack's life.

    So Jack Burden made the acquaintance of Cass Mastern, who had died in 1864 at a military hospital in Atlanta […]. (4.26)

    Cass Mastern's story transforms him, even Jack is not sure how or why? That's why he's planning to write a book about Cass at the end of the novel.

    The old man broke off a piece of chocolate and placed it between the expectant lips, and peered into George's face […] (5.286)

    This is a moment of triple transformation. George and Ellis both became mentally ill as a result of tragedies with their love lives. Watching Ellis feed George chocolate triggers a memory of Ellis feeding Jack chocolate. This momentarily transforms Jack's bitterness toward Ellis into love.

    I did not say anything. I did not need to. For, looking at me, she nodded quite steadily. (6.456)

    This moment, when Jack gets confirmation that Anne and Willie have been sleeping together, is what sends Jack West. Ultimately, this trip will lead to Jack's development of the Great Twitch theory. That's some major transformation.

    Therefore, if you have any home movies, I earnestly advise you to burn them and to be baptized to get born again. (7.12)

    Jack is just full of advice. Look at all the transformations he mentions here. Burning home movies is a metaphorical attempt to change the past. Baptism and being "born again" represents religious transformation.

    It was like the ice breaking up after a long winter. And the winter had been long. (8.502)

    Jack is talking about the tears he shed upon learning that he is the sole beneficiary in the Judge's will. This is probably the only time we see Jack break down and cry. His heart has begun to thaw along with the deep freeze of his past.

    I tried to tell her how if you could not accept the past and its burden there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other. (10.432)

    Jack's feelings toward his mother have transformed considerably from the first time we see them together. He's trying to explain his larger transformation to her as she prepares to embark on what we hope will be transformative for her – a trip to Reno.

  • Education

    That was my idea. It would be the nuts all right. The Boss sitting there with an old schoolbook in his hands. A good example for the tots. (1.210)

    Part of the Boss's appeal is the fact that he doesn't have a fancy education because he couldn't afford it. He passes the bar exam by studying the law books for years. We also get a sense of Jack's quirky personality here. His coolness masks the passion for education that illuminates him.

    "Lucy is the schoolteacher," I said. (2.7)

    This is an early moment in the story of Willie Stark. His wife, Lucy, is all about education. Willie probably already wanted to transform the education system when he met her. In a way, their shared interest in education is the foundation of their relationship.

    Three kids were killed outright. They were the ones that hit the concrete walk. About a dozen were crippled up pretty seriously and several of those never were much good afterward. (2.152)

    This image is terrifying for many reasons. The horrible sight of dead and crippled children and the image of a school broken apart by tragedy touch us all. It is also, as Jack rather cynically points out, the tragedy that almost ensures Willie's political success.

    I suppose that that day I first saw Anne and Adam as separate individual people […] And perhaps, too, that day I first saw myself as a person. (3.70)

    This passage presents a compelling argument that summer vacation is an important part of a balanced education.

    Long ago Jack Burden was a graduate student, working for his Ph.D. in American History, in the State University of his Native State. (4.7)

    This is Jack talking about himself in the third person. This stresses that the Jack Burden who was working on his Ph.D. and the Jack Burden that walked out on his Ph.D. are two completely different people. The Cass Mastern papers provided him with more education than he originally sought.

    "This lady Caroline Turner, who never had black around her and who had been nurtured in sentiments opposed to the institution of human servitude quickly became notorious for her abominable cruelties performed in her fits of passion." (4.151)

    The story of Caroline Turner (within the story of Cass Mastern) must have been quite educational for Jack. What Cass is saying is that Caroline Turner was raised in segregation in an antislavery environment. As soon as she is around slaves, she starts abusing them hideously. This is a bizarre phenomenon that isn't adequately explained in the book. We think explaining this story might take a whole book.

    As I turned away, there was a wild burst of music from up in the building […]. It was Adam's piano. (6.113)

    We can't talk about education without talking about Adam. He's probably the most highly educated guy in the book. Yet, he seems lacking in the school of how-to-live-among-other-human-beings. His piano music seeping into the nights might be an attempt at communication.

    [Jack to Anne:] "It wouldn't be right." (7.115)

    These words represent a painful aspect of Anne's (summer vacation) education. She learns that Jack is a more complicated guy than she thought. The lesson is so heavy it takes her years to understand it. We assume she does eventually understand it, though, because she finally marries Jack.

    [Lucy Stark:] "It's just a little baby. It's a little baby in the dark. It's not even born yet, and it doesn't know what's happened. About money and politics and somebody wanting to be Senator." (8.5)

    Lucy is making a stunning contrast between the baby (who has zero education) and politicians (who have too much education). Some argue that the more educated we become, the more innocence we lose. Jack shows us that it can also work in the reverse.

  • Slavery

    When Gilbert gave him a small plantation, he managed it with such astuteness […] that at the end of the time he could repay Gilbert a substantial part of the purchase price. (4.34)

    We don't know yet just how big a role slavery will play in the story of Cass Mastern, but we do know that he's a slave owner. He didn't even have to ask for it. It was put in his lap by his brother, and Cass didn't even know he should refuse. But he learns.

    "Oh she'd stay right here and look at me and tell, tell what she knows and I will not abide it!" (4.104)

    This is Annabelle's response to Cass's question about why she sold Phebe into sexual bondage instead of freeing her. We think Annabelle is being irrational here. Phebe would never be believed over Annabelle, and she knows better than to try. Annabelle's action ultimately speaks to a deeper shame.

    "Oh, I see, you are very concerned for the honor of a black coachman." (4.112)

    Cass judges Annabelle's action all the more harshly because Phebe was married to a neighboring coachmen, and was thus separated from family. Annabelle first accuses Cass of wanting her sexually, and then pokes fun at his sentiment. Cass is a plantation owner, after all. He has no right to judge anybody in the matter of slavery. But, he is starting to see the ills of slavery.

    Then he [the Frenchman] let his hand fall to the side, with the crop. "Open your mouth," he said to the girl.(4.133)

    When Cass tries to find Phebe he goes to a place where young women are being "shown" to prospective buyers. They will be shipped to brothels to maximize their earning potential. The scene that precedes this quote is one of the most uncomfortable in the novel.

    "For many cannot bear their eyes upon them, and enter into evil and cruel ways in their desperation." (4.151)

    Cass is suggesting that the institution of slavery has so corrupted those who practice it, that its practitioners can no longer tamp down the shame. As talk of abolition becomes prominent, slave owners across America begin to see the evil of their ways.

    In the end he repaid his debt, and set free his slaves. He had some notion of operating the plantation with the same force on a wage basis. (4.145)

    In Cass's society, giving former slaves a salary was unheard of; this practice eventually leads to tragedy. The light bulb has gone of in Cass Mastern's head, but the problem is too big for him to solve alone.

    So Cass put his free Negroes on a boat bound upriver, and never heard of them again. (4.150)

    Some of these former slaves may have reached freedom and managed to have a decent life, in spite of what Cass thinks. He thinks he sent them away because he "cannot bear their eyes upon him." In his case the people he freed look at him as a hero. His shame is in not being able to live up to his potential as a advocate of equal rights.

    In any case, he laid aside the journal and entered upon a period of the Great Sleep. (4.166)

    The piece of American history that Jack encounters in the Cass Mastern story is so shocking to Jack that he temporarily disassociates from the world. He can no longer understand where he is in space, time, or history.

  • Love

    She was a big girl and I was so much in love with her that I lived in a dream. (1.314)

    Ahh. The love story. It's a good one too, isn't it? A bright spot in all the tragedy of this novel.

    I am merely pointing to something which is different from love but which sometimes goes by the name of love. (1.276)

    Jack is talking about the way Willie's dad wants Willie's company. As you might have noticed, Jack's views on father-son relationships tend toward the negative for most of the novel. Not to say that his statement doesn't have some truth to it. We're just warning you that Jack isn't the most reliable narrator on this issue.

    "He's a nigger-lover," the little old bald, knotty-headed fellow submitted. (2.97)

    The guys in the Mason City courthouse are saying they don't like Willie because Willie wants to see equality for all people. This is part of why we love Willie.

    "I love you, Mother," I said. "I'll always love you." (3.39)

    This is six-year-old Jack's response to his mother's statement that Ellis left because he didn't love her. We can be pretty sure by the end of the story that Jack's six-year-old promise is upheld. Jack will always love his mother, more so now that he knows that she too is capable of love.

    I asked: "What about love?"

    I was perfectly sure that the Judge had has his innings, but I was also perfectly sure that nobody around the Landing had anyone on him in that respect. (4.135-6)

    Boy, was Jack wrong about that. This also shows just how well the Judge and Mrs. Murrell have kept their secret. The only other person who knows is Ellis Burden, and he appears to have permanently wiped it from his memory.

    [Anne Stanton:] "Sure, I love you, Jackie-Boy, Jackie-Jackie Bird, who said I didn't love poor old Jackie-Bird?" (7.82)

    She's probably telling the truth. After the incident, though, Anne might be confused about what love means. We certainly think that Jack is confused.

    By that time, too, you wouldn't be able to tell if it was the frenzy of love or hate that coiled and tangled them together. (8.156)

    Jack is talking about the fighting that is a huge part of the relationship between Sadie and Willie. She definitely loves him, and if we know the Boss, he loves her too. But then again he kind of loves everybody. Sadie probably only loves him.

    [Anne:] "He [Willie] called me early this afternoon. I went there. He is going back to his wife." (9.450)

    Jack's reaction to this is one of surprise and relief. He is surprised because he can't imagine choosing anyone over Anne. Why he's relieved is obvious. At least now he has a chance to get back together with the love of his life.

    With me is my wife, Anne Stanton, and the man who was once married to my mother. (10.439)

    What a long way this trio has come. We find this to be a loving moment that speaks for it self.

    Besides, Jude Irwin was my father and he was good to me, and in a way, he was a man and I loved him. (10.450)

    What Jack probably means by "in a way, he was a man," is that he can understand how the Judge's idea of suicide fit the Judge's idea of what it means to be a man. This is an idea, by the way, that the Judge has passed down to Jack. Because Jack can empathize with the act on some level, he is able to love the Judge in spite of it.

  • Race

    Then a nigger chopping cotton a mile away, he'll look up and […] say, "Lawd God, hit's a-nudder-one done hit!" (1.1-2)

    This is scary stuff to find on the second page of ones novel. It's hard to tell if Jack is parodying stereotypes of speech, or imitating speech he has actually heard. It's also an odd moment because Jack is imagining what's going on "a mile away." This quote reveals that, even though its 1933, black men are still picking cotton in fields.

    Yeah […] so that is the tale, for Mason country is red-neck country and they don't like niggers, not strange niggers, anyway, and they haven't got many of their own. (2.34)

    Jack has some issues with race, but they pale in comparison to those of the old men from whom he gets "the tale." He uses the awful word to show just how freely this word was tossed around in Mason City.

    "No sale," I said. "I like mine vanilla. But now you've raised the subject, what's nigger-loving got to do with it?" (2.100)

    Jack finds that the story in the Sheriff's office is the same as the one on the bench outside the harness shop. He turns their racist remark into sexual innuendo, while echoing their speech back to them. Jack's speech often reflects the racist speech of his surroundings.

    "Leave your bags in the car," she [Mrs. Murrell] said. "The boy will get them." (3.3)

    Though this is 1933, almost 60 years after the Civil War, Jack's mother still has black servants. As we saw with the school contract situation, it wasn't easy for African-Americans to get jobs other than in the work they were doing when they were slaves.

    "I had never noticed that her hand was the color of pure gold." (4.263)

    This is Annabelle talking about Phebe. By comparing Phebe to gold, she admits that Phebe is precious, but stands by her belief that Phebe, like gold, is property. We put this under race because it speaks directly about skin color. Phebe's skin color shows that she is probably is of "mixed race."

    "But the young gemmun got a hankeren fer yeller." (4. 88)

    Phebe's skin color is somewhat unusual. Annabelle was able to get more money for Phebe because of her skin than she would have otherwise. Sadly, it seems her new owners will make their money back by turning Phebe into a sex slave.

    He lives there above a spick restaurant, and nigger children played naked in the next block among the starving cats, and nigger women sat on the steps […]. (5.147).

    Jack sounds terrible here. His racism is mostly manifest in his speech. Yet, he uses the words in anger, almost against themselves. Perhaps this is something that changes for Jack as a result of his encounter with Cass Mastern. We hope so. Language is a powerful tool.

    "History is blind, but man is not." (10.438)

    This is a quote from Hugh Miller. Jack quotes him near the end of the book. Hugh is suggesting that history is blind because what has happened has happened. History can't see itself. But we can see history. And if we look at it with open eyes there is hope that we can understand it. This speaks directly to the theme of race.

  • Religion

    And since the Lord moves in a mysterious way, it should not have surprised Willie that He was using some fat men in a striped pants and a big car to do His will. (2.162)

    Jack always uses this semi-sarcastic tone when talking about Willie's feeling that he was called to save the state. Since we don't ever get into Willie's head, we can't know how he feels about religion.

    I told [Tiny] he better go ahead and distribute the loaves and fishes and pray God for Willie to arrive by two o'clock. (2.396)

    Jack is constantly comparing Willie to Christ. Part of this is a comment on what the people of the state want. They want their political leader to be as close to their idea of Jesus as possible.

    [Willie Stark:] "And it came to him with the powerful force of God's own lightening […]" (2.447)

    Willie goes all out in this first speech (during which is completely drunk). He flat out tells the people he was chosen by God, and brings up the issue of the schoolhouse to prove it.

    But for the present I would lie there […] and feel the holy emptiness and blessed fatigue of a saint after the dark night of the soul. (7.179)

    This is Jack's third period of the Great Sleep. It seems like this sleep is almost a religion to Jack when he experiences it. When life gets too heavy or too light, some people turn to God, and some turn to other things. Jack turns to sleep.

    But those tracts he wrote were crazy, I thought back then. I thought God cannot be Fullness of Being. (3.421)

    Ellis Burden's religious beliefs have a lot to do with Jack's general cynicism toward all things religious looking, sounding, or tasting. This lines suggest that Jack might, at the end of the story, have come to see something true in what he originally thought was "crazy."

    You are at one with the Great Twitch. (8.14)

    Jack calls this a "mystical experience" but doesn't realize he's in danger of reliving what went down between Ellis and his mother. Ellis found out about Jack's mother and Judge Irwin, and he created his own special brand of Christianity. Jack finds out about Anne and Willie and creates his own "religion" to deal with it.

    [Willie Stark:] "He'll be all right."

    [Lucy Stark:] "God grant it." (9.298-99)

    This conversation between Lucy and Willie is repeated several times as they wait to learn about Tom. Willie can't surrender his hope for his son to God. Yet, it's all Lucy can do.

    But later, much later, he woke up one morning to discover that he did not believe in the Great Twitch anymore. (10.438)

    Jack doesn't tell us if he found a religion to replace the Great Twitch. If the pattern of his life holds, Jack will continue to ponder religion for some time to come.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    "Yes," said Willie, "I'll take some orange pop." (1.129)

    Does this sound like our Willie? Not too much. The post-alcohol Willie would never talk like that. This line speaks to his complete transformation.

    "Gimme a slug." It was the Boss's voice.

    "You know where it lives." (1.227-228)

    This is about ten years after the first quote we gave you. It's important because it shows how Jack and Willie are bound together at the hip (where Jack's flask lives) by alcohol.

    "It's the first time," [Willie] said. "I never got drunk before. I never even tasted it but once before." (2.371)

    Willie isn't quite hooked on booze yet. But the day is young. This whole scene is given too us after we know that the Willie of many years later has already made drinking a part of his daily life.

    [Jack Burden:] "According to the old folks […], the best way is to put two shots of absinthe on a little cracked ice and float on a shot of rye. But we can't be fancy. Not with Prohibition." (2.403)

    We almost forget that Prohibition is on for much of novel. This ceremony also marks another stage of Willie's induction into the drinking life.

    "Hair, hell," [Sadie] said, "he must have swallowed the whole dog." (2.432)

    Sadie can see just how drunk Willie is. She isn't at all convinced that Jack's "cure" will work. She still thinks Willie is a complete "sap." She'll sure change her tune in a few minutes.

    They drank because they didn't have the slightest interest in what they were doing now, and didn't have the slightest hope for the future. (4.10)

    That's a pretty harsh assessment of his old college roommates. Jack knew them well, though, and we'll have to take his word for it. What we find interesting is that they use alcohol for a very different reason than Willie does. While they use it to forget their lives, Willie uses it to, in a sense, save his.

    […] I knew that if I didn't drink the bourbon, as soon as I shut my eyes to go to sleep the whole hot and heaving continent would begin charging at me out of the dark. (7.6)

    Though we don't all treat it with bourbon, we do all know what Jack is talking about. That combination of exhaustion and having our worlds badly shaken is a good recipe for night terrors.

    And as I drive down the night street, I wondered what Anne Stanton would have to say if she'd been there in that room and had seen the Boss piled up there, out blind on the couch. (9.109)

    Hey, we wondered that, too. The clean image we have of Anne seems incongruous with the image of the drunken raving Boss. But then again, we don't really know Anne that well. What do you think she thinks about Willie's drinking?