In the novel, All the King’s Men written by Robert Penn Warren, Jack Burden and Willie Stark are paired as the two main characters. All the King’s Men is a unique novel because both Jack Burden and Willie Stark are considered dynamic characters, with each of them undergoing a significant change in their personalities as the story progresses. Over the years there have been controversy over which character is the most important. Although Willie Stark is a more commanding and domineering character, I feel that Jack Burden is the most important character because he is the narrator of the novel and the character we learn the most about.
All the King’s Men is the story of Willie Stark told by Jack Burden. Jack Burden also tells his story as it goes along with Willie Stark’s. Both Jack Burden and Willie Stark need one another for the story to be told. Without Willie Stark, Jack Burden's story would be insignificant and without Jack Burden, Willie Stark's life would have little shape or meaning. Because Willie Stark’s story is told by Jack Burden, it is seen through Jack Burden’s eyes with Jack Burden’s own thoughts and opinions clouding Willie Stark’s story.
I believe this is one of the reasons as to why Jack Burden is the more important character because it makes it clear that his interpretation of the story is the one that counts. Jack Burden puts his spin on every aspect of Willie Stark’s life from his political beliefs to Willie Stark’s relationships with his mistresses demonstrating, in my opinion, the author’s way of making Jack Burden the main character over Willie Stark. I would describe Jack Burden’s personality as “Stiff”.
The majority of Jack Burden’s reactions and attitudes regarding his situation stem from his experiences as a six year old. When Jack Burden’s believed father, better known as the “Scholarly Attorney” left his family, Jack was bewildered. Jack Burden was unable to understand why his father decided to desert his mother, Anne and him, and he was unable to understand the motive behind his father’s decision. Jack Burden’s mother, Anne, remarried and sent Jack off to school resulting in him feeling abandoned. Jack Burden was also unable to understand his mother’s actions.
As he recalls his past concerning his mother and father, it is clear to see where his lack of responsibility, ambition, and his inability to take responsibility for his own actions comes from. Jack Burden’s inability to understand his parent’s motivation causes him to be unable to understand human motivation in general. We are consistently taken back in time to learn about Jack Burden’s past experiences, some containing Willie Stark. Unlike Jack Burden’s recount of his own past, his recount of Willie Stark’s past seems lack luster and contains much less personal detail compared to Jack Burden’s.
This, I believe, also illustrates Jack Burden’s importance over Willie Stark. While reading, We learn about Jack Burden’s pleasure in contradicting his mother with every opportunity he is afforded. This explains a lot about Jack Burden’s beliefs regarding the old and new south. Jack Burden comes from a wealthy family with traditional conservative beliefs. Jack Burden illustrates his belief in liberal politics by working for Willie Stark, and with his positive opinions on the black southerners.
As the plot starts to unfold and secrets come to light, Jack Burden is shocked to learn that his former love, Anne Stanton, has become another one of Willie Stark's mistresses. When Jack Burden learned of this information he recollects his past relationship with Anne and realizes that his own actions, attitude, and behavior had a prominent effect on their failed relationship. Jack Burden also comes to the realization that his marriage to Lois Seager failed because of his mental and emotional detachment from her. Following his suicide, Jack Burden finds out that Judge Irwin is actually his biological father.
Jack Burden is baffled by Judge Irwin's ability and willingness to accept the responsibility and the consequences for his own actions, which resulted in the Judge’s Suicide. The final shocking event to affect Jack Burden is caused by Adam Stanton when he murders Willie Stark. After Willie Stark’s murder, Jack Burden has no choice but to reconstruct and change his perspective on life, a process that had already begun following Judge Irwin's death. Towards the end of the novel, Jack Burden has changed as a person. Jack Burden shows signs of respecting and caring for other people’s feelings.
Jack Burden gives support to Anne Stanton during her time of grief regardless of his feelings about her affair with Willie Stark. Jack Burden also accepts Sadie Burke’s response to Willie Stark’s death without pulling back as he once did and instead makes and effort to comfort her. Jack Burden respects Sugar-Boy's feelings regarding Willie Stark’s death instead of belittling him as he once did. Jack Burden brings the “Scholarly Attorney” to live with him disregarding his negative feelings about his religious beliefs.
By the end of the novel, Jack Burden gains the ability to care about other people and their feelings and accept their actions as well as accepting and taking responsibility for his own. Jack Burden is by far the most important character for the reasons that he is the narrator of the story and his opinions and views take precedent over everyone else’s. We also learn more about Jack Burden’s life and experiences which gives us more insight and understanding into his character than with Willie Stark and all of the other characters.
Jack Burden also experiences the most tragedy and life changing events as opposed to Willie Stark and the other characters. Jack Burden loses the most while also gaining the most in comparison to Willie Stark and the other characters in the novel. Lastly, Jack Burden continues to change in his personality and attitude and he continues to progress and grow in his life beyond the ending of the novel whereas Willie Stark’s life and story ends with the ending if the novel. Jack Burden’s story is not over making him the most important character in the novel All the King’s Men.