All the King's Men

1946 novel by Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren is a novel written on American politics set in the 1930s. Warren won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1947.

Quotes edit

Chapter 1 edit

  • To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, the day we went up it.
    • First Lines
  • He'd pop the cube in over the barricade of his twisted black little teeth, and then you'd see the thin little mystic Irish cheeks cave in as he sucked the sugar, so that he looked like an undernourished leprechaun.
  • The end of man is knowledge but there's one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it would save him.
  • How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.
  • I owed my success to that principle. It had put me where I was. What you don't know don't hurt you, for it ain't real. They called that Idealism in my book I had when I was in college, and after I got hold of that principle I became an Idealist. I was a brass-bound Idealist in those days. If you are an Idealist it does not matter what you do or what goes on around you because it isn't real anyway.
  • If the human race didn't remember anything it would be perfectly happy.
  • he was ugly
  • 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.

Chapter 2 edit

  • It may be the reason they don't seem real to you is that you aren't very real yourself.
  • [W]illie was coming up for re-election and his chances looked about as good as the chances of a flea making a living off a carved marble lion on a monument.
  • If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting.
  • "Yeah," I said, "I heard the speech. But they don't give a damn about that. Hell, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em think you're their weak erring pal, or make 'em think you're God-Almighty. Or make 'em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir 'em up, it doesn't matter how or why, and they'll love you and come back for more. Pinch 'em in the soft place. They aren't alive, most of 'em, and haven't been alive in twenty years. Hell, their wives have lost their teeth and their shape, and likker won't set on their stomachs, and they don't believe in God, so it's up to you to give 'em something to stir 'em up and make 'em feel alive again. Just for half an hour. That's what they come for. Tell 'em anything. But for Sweet Jesus' sake don't try to improve their minds."
    • Said by Jack Burden
  • You see a woman around for a long time and think that she is ugly. You think she is nothing. Then, all of a sudden, you think how she is under that baggy tweed or droopy seersucker. All of a sudden, you see the face which is there under the pock-marked mask and is humble, pure, and trusting and is asking you to lift the mask. It must be like an old man looking at his wife and just for a second seeing the face he had seen thirty years before.
  • I looked out the window and saw that it was going to be another day, and shaved, and dressed, and went down to get a cup of coffee.
  • Maybe the things you want are like cards. You don't want them for themselves, really, though you think you do. You don't want a card because you want the card, but because in a perfectly arbitrary system of rules and values and in a special combination of which you already hold a part the card has meaning. Then, even if you do know the rules, a card doesn't mean a thing. They all look alike.
  • But for the present I would lie there and know I didn't have to get up, and feel the holy emptiness and blessed fatigue of a saint after the dark night of the soul. For God and Nothing have a lot in common. You look either one of Them straight in the eye for a second and the immediate effect on the human constitution is the same.
  • Sometimes sleep gets to be a serious and complete thing. You stop going to sleep in order that you may be able to get up, but get up in order that you may be able to go back to sleep.

Chapter 3 edit

  • We get very few of the true images in our heads […], the kind which become more and more vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their reality, but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning which we had only dimly surmised at first. Very probably the last veil will not be removed, for there are not enough years, but the brightness of the image increases and our conviction increases that the brightness is meaning, or the legend of a meaning, and without the image our lives would be nothing except an old piece of film rolled on a spool and thrown into a desk drawer among the unanswered letters.
  • There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the rain.
  • They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people.
  • [The law i]s like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain't enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone's to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time that law gets on the books you would have done something different.
  • "Life is Motion toward Knowledge. If God is Complete Knowledge then He is Complete Non-Motion, which is Non-Life, which is Death. Therefore, if there is such a God of Fullness of Being, we would worship Death, the Father."
    • Said by Jack Burden
  • "Life is a fire burning along a piece of string—or is it a fuse to a powder keg which we call God?—and the string is what we don't know, our Ignorance, and the trail of ash, which, if a gust of wind does not come, keeps the structure of the string, is History, man's Knowledge, but it is dead, and when the fire has burned up all the string, then man's Knowledge will be equal to God's Knowledge and there won't be any fire, which is Life. Or if the string leads to a powder keg, then there will be a terrific blast of fire, and even the trail of ash will be blown completely away."
    • Said by Jack Burden
  • "I'll draw you another picture. It is a picture of a man trying to paint a picture of a sunset. But before he can dip his brush the color always changes and the shape. Let us give a name to the picture which he is trying to paint: Knowledge. Therefore if the object which a man looks at changes constantly so that Knowledge of it is constantly untrue and is therefore Non-Knowledge, then Eternal Motion is possible. And Eternal Life. Therefore we can believe in Eternal Life only if we deny God, Who is Complete Knowledge."
    • Said by Jack Burden

Chapter 4 edit

  • [T]he story of Willie Stark and the story of Jack Burden are, in one sense, one story.
  • [N]othing happened to Jack Burden, for nothing ever happened to Jack Burden, who was invulnerable. Perhaps that was the curse of Jack Burden: he was invulnerable.
  • It is human defect—to try to know oneself by the self of another.
  • For many cannot bear their eyes upon [Negroes], and enter into evil and cruel ways in their desperation.
  • Cass Mastern lived for a few years and in that time he learned that the world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God's eye, and the fangs dripping.

Chapter 5 edit

  • "Boy," he said, "you work for me because I'm the way I am and you're the way you are. It is an arrangement founded on the nature of things."
    "That's a hell of a fine explanation."
    "It's not an explanation," he said, and laughed again. "There ain't any explanations. Not of anything. All you can do is point at the nature of things. If you are smart enough to see 'em."
    • Conversation between Willie Stark and Jack Burden
  • An ambitious man is a man who wants other people to think he is great.
  • Her eyes were glittering like the eyes of a child when you give a nice surprise, and she laughed with a sudden throaty, tingling way. It is the way a woman laughs for happiness. They never laugh that way just when they are being polite or at a joke. A woman only laughs that way a few times in her life. A woman only laughs that way when something has touched her way down in the very quick of her being and the happiness just wells out as natural as breath and the first jonquils and mountain brooks. When a woman laughs that way it always does something to you. It does not matter what kind of face she has got either. You hear that laugh and feel that you have grasped a clean and beautiful truth. You feel that way because that laugh is a revelation. It is a great impersonal sincerity. It is a spray of dewy blossom from the great central stalk of All Being, and the woman's name and address hasn't got a damn thing to do with it. Therefore, that laugh cannot be faked. If a woman could learn to fake it she would make Nell Gwyn and Pompadour look like a couple of Campfire Girls wearing bifocals and ground-gripper shoes and with bands on their teeth. She could set all society by the ears. For all any man really wants is to hear a woman laugh like that.
  • [I]f you ask something quick and sharp out of a clear sky you may get an answer you never would get otherwise. If the person you ask has forgotten the thing, the quick, sharp question may spear it up from the deep mud, and if the person has not forgotten but does not want to tell you, the quick, sharp question may surprise the answer out of him before he thinks.
  • For nothing is lost, nothing is ever lost. There is always the clue, the canceled check, the smear of lipstick, the footprint in the canna bed, the condom on the park path, the twitch in the old wound, the baby shoes dipped in bronze, the taint in the blood stream. And all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out the shadow their eyes implore us.

Chapter 6 edit

  • [T]here once was a man named Dante, who said that the truly proud man who knew his own worth could never commit the sin of envy, for he could believe that there was no one for him to envy. He might just as well have said that the proud man who knew his own worth could not be susceptible to flattery, for he would believe that there was nothing anybody else could tell him about his own worth he didn't know already.
  • [W]hatever you live is Life.
  • [T]he human being is a very complicated contraption and […] they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of bad and the bad out of good[.]
  • The truth shall make you free.
  • [Y]ou have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have to make it out of.

Chapter 7 edit

  • For West is where we all plan to go someday. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.
  • [F]or when you get in love you are made all over again.
  • The person that loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you-chunk of clay out of the mass. So there are two you's, the one you yourself create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you. The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be a perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect alignment.
  • The subject of my future, as a matter of fact, was one on which I had never cared to dwell. I simply didn't care. I would think that I'd get a job, any kind of job, and do it and collect my pay and spend the pay and go back to the job on Monday morning, and that would be all. I had no ambitions.
  • [A]ll life is but the dark heave of blood and the twitch of the nerve.

Chapter 8 edit

  • You live with words a long time. Then all at once you are old, and there are the things and the words don't matter

Chapter 9 edit

  • But if anything is for certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over[.]
  • Nothing fazed him, not insult or anger or violence or getting his face beat into a hamburger. He was a true businessman. He knew the value of everything.
    • Jack Burden speaking of Gummy Larson
  • "It might have been all different, Jack."
    • The dying Willie Stark speaking to Jack Burden

Chapter 10 edit

  • "Well, I'm telling you something. You are the stinkingest louse God ever let live."
    I relished the moment of profound silence which followed, then plunged on, "And you think you can buy me in. Well, I know why you want to. You don't know how much I know or what. I was thick with the Boss and I know a lot. I'm the joker in the deck. My name is Jack and I'm the wild jack and I'm not one-eyed. You want to deal me to yourself from the bottom of the deck. But it's no sale, Tiny, it's no sale."
    • Conversation between Jack Burden and Tiny Duffy
  • A time comes when you think you cannot bear another thing, but it happens to you, and you can bear it.
  • [I]f you could not accept the past and its burden, there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other, and […] if you could accept the past you might hope for the future, for only out of the past can you make the future.
  • "Oh, I know he made mistakes," she said, and lifted up her chin as though facing something, "bad mistakes. Maybe he did bad things, like they say. But inside—in here, deep down—" and she laid her hand to her bosom—"he was a great man."
    • Lucy Stark speaking of the now deceased Willie Stark
  • I must believe that Willie Stark was a great man. What happened to his greatness is not the question. Perhaps he spilled it on the ground the way you spill a liquid when the bottle breaks. Perhaps he piled up his greatness and burnt it in one great blaze in the dark like a bonfire and then there wasn't anything but dark and the embers winking. Perhaps he could not tell his greatness from ungreatness and so mixed them together so that what was adulterated was lost. But he had it. I must believe that.
  • We shall come back, no doubt, to walk down the Row and watch young people on the tennis courts by the clump of mimosas and walk down the beach by the bay, where the driving floats lift gently in the sun, and on out to the pine grove, where the needles thick on the ground will deaden the football so that we shall move among trees as soundlessly as smoke. But that will be a long time from now, and soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time.
    • Final paragraph

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