Jack Burden Escapes Responsibility
Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men explores the idea of the relationship between the actions of individuals. Jack Burden does not understand this element, resulting in his escaping responsibility and lacking direction and ambition. Jack, when needing to accept responsibility and face the relationship of actions, runs away through Great Sleeps, living in the past, evading the future, and the Great Twitch theory of human motivation.
There are many things that happen to Jack throughout the novel that provoke a feeling of breaking away from reality and escaping into a world of solitude and sleep. Jack calls these episodes Great Sleeps. Jack presents the Great Sleeps in the order in which he thinks of them. The first Great Sleep, in the novel, occurs after Jack quits the Chronicle. He quits as a result of refusing to take sides in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign. Jack dives into a long-lasting sleep, which arouses a feeling of worthlessness in the things that he believes he wants. He compares these material objects to playing cards within a deck. " Maybe the things you want are like cards" (Warren 99). An individual wants these cards because in a certain circumstance -a card game- they have a purpose. Without a game however, there is no need for these cards. While in a Great Sleep, Jack does not need material things, because there is no life. Like cards, the things you want have to be a part of a great complex to have a purpose. The reader can hypothesize that Jack really does not live while in a Great Sleep. He simply wishes to cease to exist.
The first Great Sleep that occurs in the novel is a preview to the reader that shows how Jack handles the situations in his life that require responsibility. The second Great Sleep occurs after Jack quits his college education and does not finish his dissertation in American History. This happens after Jack looks into the life of his great-uncle Cass Mastern. Many things contribute to this particular Great Sleep. The first is that Jack does not understand the motivation behind Cass' actions. This lack of understanding pushes Jack into a Great Sleep. Jack was also afraid that if he did begin to understand the meaning and relationship of the actions of Cass, he might see a connection with his own life.
The third Great Sleep that Jack enters into is after his marriage with Lois. His relationship with Lois is strictly physical. He only sees her as a sexual object that has no purpose other than to please him. However, when Jack starts hearing words come out of her mouth, he begins to see her as a person. This frightens Jack, because he never loves Lois as a person. Jack, like before, runs away from a situation that requires his taking responsibility.
The first three Great Sleeps that occur in Jack's life are different than the last. That particular Great Sleep is a product of Jack knowledge that Anne is having an affair with Willie.
He runs from his problems to California where a very big advancement in Jack's character is made. He realizes that it is a fault within him that has led Anne into Willie's arms. Willie has direction, ambition, and an energy that is attractive to Anne. Jack has none of these qualities. This is the final Great Sleep, because Jack starts taking responsibility and finding a direction. The Great Sleeps show that Jack Burden reacts to situation, not acts, and these reactions always seem to end in the desertion of responsibility. It is only speculation to say that Jack will never have another Great Sleep, but it is clear that as the novel ends, it becomes less likely.
Jack also dodges responsibility for the present and future by living most of his life in the past. Jack is a student of history, and the reader can clearly see that he prefers to live in the past. Jack's preference for the past is shown in the Cass Mastern story. There are many purposes for the Cass Mastern chapter. One of the most important is to show how Jack focuses most of his life on the study and examination of the past.
It is clear that Jacks avoids the present. Jack tries, throughout the course of the novel, to