Study Guide

All the King's Men Education

By Robert Penn Warren


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.