All the Kings Men Essay
In All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, Willie Stark is just one example of a morally ambiguous character. When we are first introduced to Willie, he is treasure of his town, Mason County. As the novel progresses, he is put in the position of governor. Motivated by his high ambition, Willie becomes a corrupt politician like many others. He is quickly caught up into the world of blackmail and threat. Even though Willie is caught up in committing morally wrong actions, his character is still good and well rounded.
Willie’s good and bad actions do not allow us to decide whether he is a solely good or solely bad character. Throughout the novel, Willie is often seen as somewhat of a hero to the people. As he takes on his role of governor, he makes all decisions with his people in mind. He has intentions of bettering everyone’s lives. He continually promises to build roads and bridges, and he goes through with these promises. Willie draws people in with his speeches and keeps their votes by continually reminding them that he has never let them down.
Although Willie Stark may sound like a top notch person, his strategy to accomplish his goals, flaws his character. To accomplish his intentionally good goals, Willie continually bullies and blackmails people to get to the top. He hires Jack Burden to “dig up dirt” on anybody that he sees as a threat, or an advantage, to his campaign. He is desperate to reveal secrets about people’s pasts, so he can use the secrets to his advantage later. Willie also messes with people’s minds and what they believe in to get his way.
For example, at one point in the novel, Willie promises to build the most amazing hospital for all the people. He promises that it will be the best hospital to take care of everybody. He plans to hire Dr. Adam Stanton, one of the best doctors. Adam does not like to be associated with anything that involves Willie because he likes to stay away from corruption. Willie does not let this stop him; he plays with Adam’s mind and reminds him that he has spent his whole life helping people, and the hospital would be another way to help the town. Adam reluctantly accepts the offer, thinking of the people of Mason County.
Aside from the blackmailing and bullying, Willie, a married man, has multiple affairs throughout the novel. Among the women were his secretary, Sadie Burke, and Anne Stanton. In the end, Willie does come to his right mind and decides to quit his affairs, but unfortunately he is killed before righting some of his wrongs. Willie Stark can be seen as a morally ambiguous because even though he accomplished plenty of good things, he blackmailed and mentally hurt people along the way. The question is: do Willie’s good deeds right all his wrongs actions?
In the novel, Willie says that corruption is influenced by four things: love, money, fear, and ambition. Willie’s character can be connected to this theme because his corruption is influenced by ambition. He knew what the people in his town had gone, and were continuing, to go through. When he took his position as governor, he really did have honest to good intentions of helping the people. He wanted to better their lives and make things easier on them; but he was so determined to change things, he was willing to do anything to make that change.
His ambition was so high that he committed all the actions of blackmailing and ruining many people’s lives. Willie Stark’s character had plenty of good qualities, but he knew he could not make it to the top without knocking a few people down along the way. Willie believed that all men were born into sin, but that because of that sin, men wanted to make improvement and change; but the change would come out of bad. Willie is a perfect example of his philosophy. His goals were for the people, but his way of accomplishing those goals came out of evil actions.
Willie’s corruption also somewhat came out of love. His multiple affairs with women may have happened out of love because he was always away from his wife. Willie Stark, neither good nor bad, was longing for a change in his town and for people everywhere. His ambition influenced his corrupted actions, but also helped him accomplish good things. In All the King’s Men, Willie Stark cannot be defined as neither good nor bad. Although Willie has good intentions to make change, he gets caught up in the ugly side of politics.
He accomplishes many of his goals and eventually does make some of the change he hopes for, but his actions can be defined as morally wrong. Willie proves his own philosophy that good comes from bad. His good goals were accomplished through corrupt actions, but he kept all his promises, and helped all the people in his town. Willie’s can be seen as a morally ambiguous character because his bad actions, which helped accomplish his good goals, cannot help define him as solely good or solely bad.