Study Guide

All the King's Men Race

By Robert Penn Warren

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Then a n***** 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 n*****s, not strange n*****s, 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 n*****-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 n***** children played naked in the next block among the starving cats, and n***** 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.

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