Literature and Film as Modern Mythology

By William K. Ferrell | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
A "Good" Politician Is Hard to Find

All the King's Men

by Robert Penn Warren

One will deal with various levels of romantic realism in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Color Purple, and The Shawshank Redemption; discover some mildly depressing realism in Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises, and become really depressed by the satire found in The Last Picture Show. Although each of those novels provide: some degree of environmental influence, none approaches the depth to which a culture can completely dominate and alter the values and will of a mature character. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren takes us on a journey into the world of corrupt politics and the ends to which a politician will go to gain and administer power over others. It becomes a contest between the strength of one man's will and the rules by which the "game" is played. In the end, as protagonist Willie Stark confronts his own choices, he will seek redemption for allowing the environment to win.

In the previous novels and films explored, the protagonists are men and women who sought their own redemption in their involvement with others. The act of redemption is a need to purge evil from within one's being through a cleansing ritual form of rebirth. Andy Dufresne, Randle P. McMurphy, and Jake Barnes seek to purge their transgressions by giving to others. In this novel, the evil is not simply the act of committing a wrong due to ignorance or errors in judgment. For Willie Stark, evil goes much deeper as the details imply at every moment of choice, he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong and consciously chooses to perform one malevolent act after another. His transgressions violate the laws of God, nature, and society.

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