And The World Of “All The King’s Men” By Robert Penn Warren Essay, Research Paper
The times in which the novel ?All The King?s Men,? by Robert Penn Warren, took place and the atmosphere of racism that was prevalent in the 1920?s, as shown by the dominance of the Ku Klux Klan, have both much in common and much in difference. The setting of the novel is Louisiana in the 1920?s and early 1930?s. These times were full of turbulence and change. There was rapid social change happening along with many changes in they way the economy operated. These changes, while they were good eventually, frightened many people. They began to take refuge in what they considered was old and noble(?), and through this the Ku Klux Klan was revived. While this is not shown through every action that takes place in the novel, much of it does reflect what it was really like in Louisiana in the 1920?s and 1930?s.
The Ku Klux Klan was an active part of the American system in the 1920?s. During this time, due to all the social change and upheaval taking place, many people became scared. It was into this atmosphere that some people decided that they would attempt to prevent change (McVeigh p. 82). To this end, they re-instated the Ku Klux Klan as a new entity full of life and vigor. This was a group that had a lot of power and influence in many states. This meant that if the Ku Klux Klan wanted something, it, more often then not, got what it wanted. One thing that the Klan wanted was to keep down that black race. It thought that the white race was superior to the black race in every way. It believed that blacks did have a role in this country, but role mainly consisted of picking cotton and doing menial labor that no white person wanted to do (Jenkins p. 241). It also meant the ideas of old such as preventing the mingling of the two races and to keep blacks in poverty. This was a new Klan, however, it used some different methods then before. The original Klan had only one weapon at its disposal- violence. That proved to be counter-productive, as Congress passed laws that virtually wiped out the Klan due to the immense cases of violence against blacks. That was in the 1880?s. This new Klan had two weapons in its hands (MacLean p. 148). It still had the time-honored tradition of terror and violence, but it now had a new, even more potent weapon up its sleeves- and that was politics. Due to that vast numbers of the Klan, estimated at around six million active members at its peak, the Klan was able to hold vast marches and parades to use as a show of political force. A politician could ignore a small group of backwater hicks demanding racism, but when a ?…march of 60,000 members took place down Pennsylvania Avenue…? (Schwartz p. 173), the politicians were forced to take notice. They were forced to do as the Klan wanted, because these members were people who would remember whether-or-not the politician helped the and would not vote for whomever the Grand Dragon (Clary p. 324) said not to vote for. The reverse of this was true also. If the Klan gave the support and backing to a politician he had a much better chance of getting elected. This turned out to be a remarkably effect force. The Klan forced many people in politics to do as the Klan wanted. The Klan was instrumental in getting many pieces of legislation passed. One the most famous of these was an anti-immigration bill that set a harsh limit on all immigrants that allowed a limited number to enter based on that country?s population in America in 1880 (Jenkins p. 249). This was considered the Klan?s most powerful victory, because this bill was on its way to dying in congress when the Klan stepped in. The lobbied, heavily, the most influential senators to help pass the bill. If not for the support from the Klan the bill could never have passed (Weller p. 193). Another victory for the Klan came as the support from all the support they received. Until this point in history, one could argue that racism was on its way out in America. However, this idea entirely was debunked after the Klan was revived. It was no longer a backwater, secret organization, but rather was a group that was in the open, and on the forefront of American politics. The fact that a group based entirely on racism could attract six million active members makes one wonder just how many supported the Klan but simply didn?t came out wearing a hood and mask (Schwartz p. 189). This membership fact showed that racism was far from on its way out in America and was, instead, well rooted into the American way. However, the Klan did end up imploding onto itself. Due to murders and violence committed by the Klan and the corruption of its leaders, the membership ranks were decimated to the point where the Klan was barley alive, going from 6 million members to around 4000 in a span of a few years (Clary p. 362 ).
The novel ?All The King?s Men? is a tale of the deceit and deception that took place in 1930?s Louisiana. The state of Louisiana, in the 1920?s and 1930?s, was a place full of racism. It was both open and overt. The people who lived there saw no problem with this or simply refused to speak out against it if they did. This sate had a society that that not only allowed for racism to percolate, but actual helped incubate it. While some states didn?t go out of their way to practice racism and didn?t attempt to stop it, Louisiana
didn?t just not try to stop racism, but Louisiana actively promoted it. They didn?t allow blacks to vote or hold political office. Blacks couldn?t marry or really be seen with whites. Also, blacks were subject to the terror tactics of the Ku Klux Klan, which were as a weapon to help keep blacks down without allowing them any chance to rise from their lowly social status. This was shown in the novel in a couple ways. One way was in the total lack of representation of blacks in this book. This is because society in Louisiana viewed as being worth less then nothing, so being true to what his society believed, Penn Warren made almost no mention of blacks in his book. Another example of this perverse racism is in Penn Warren?s choice of diction. His writing was a product of the environment that he was raised in. This means there is a continuous usage of language that would nowadays considered to be very incorrect and impolite. However, to someone in Penn Warren?s day and age, there would be nothing wrong with speaking this way, because most (white) people didn?t care about how rude or callous they were to blacks and their feelings. While this may seem to make the people of the novel out to be total racists, who are evil people, this isn?t necessarily so. First, this apparent racism is not necessarily what it would appear to be. With a quick glance, it may appear that people like who act like this may be bad, but there is one thing to be remembered. If you view them in the context of the time period of which they lived in, they are not that bad. If one is a product of their environment, then these people aren?t so much bad, as they were just raised incorrectly. Also, if one would look at the other areas of the American south, then this kind of behavior really isn?t all that bad. As for the people in this novel, they aren?t seemingly that racist. In both their actions and language, it seems to be that their attitude towards blacks is one of ambivalence. They don?t care too much for blacks, but they also don?t go out of their way to be racist towards them. I present as an example of this a passage from the opening paragraph. ?Then a nigger chopping cotton a mile away, he?ll look up and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the vitriolic, arsenical, throbbing blue of the sky, and he?ll say ?Lawd God, hit?s a-nudder one done hit!? And the next nigger down the next row, hell say, ?Lawd God,? and the first nigger will giggle.? (Penn Warren, p.1) This statement sums up the attitude of the people from Penn Warren?s novel. This statement doesn?t go out of its way to degrade blacks, but it does insult them with its language. This doesn?t seem to be the intention, however. It simply appears to be a sentence that would be spoken on any day, without any thought as to its diction, not because racism was intended, but rather because its speaker didn?t know any better. This would seem to be proof that the Klan hadn?t taken over entirely in Louisiana (in Penn Warren?s novel), because the people there aren?t actively racist. This brings us to our final topic of discussion- the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and Louisiana, as depicted in Penn Warren?s novel.
There is a conflicting relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and Penn Warren?s novel. At times the seem to have much in common, whereas in other locations they appear to be at opposite ends of the (proverbial) spectrum. To begin with, in many ways there are several similarities between the two. First, there is the remarkable usage of racist language. In most Ku Klux Klan artifacts, whenever there is writing present, blacks are refereed to by using racial epitaphs (the ?N? word). This is a trend that shows a remarkable consistency, one that is on almost all writings produced by the Ku Klux Klan. Another similarity is the economic status of blacks. In the novel it would appear that all blacks are employed in backing, manual labor on a farm. This is almost exactly what the Ku Klux Klan wanted. The Ku Klux Klan envisioned an economy in which all whites were business owners, with a plentiful supply of cheap, black labor (Jenkins p. 242). While this doesn?t exactly make the people of the novel racist, it does raise questions. This is because if the Ku Klux Klan wants something, then more then likely it is tainted with racism. These facts would seem to say that the novel takes place in a place of racism, but there are a few things to consider first. The first of this is that there are no examples, in the novel, of active racism. To be sure, there is foul word usage, but there isn?t are active racism. There is violence or terror being committed towards blacks, nor is there any denying of rights. These activities are among the hallmark activities of racism, but the are lacking in this novel. This brings us to the next and final point. Are the people in this novel racist? At first view, it would appear so. There is racist language, and the blacks are being held down in jobs of a lower status then the white people have. However, on a deeper inspection, you would see that all is not as it appears. As noted earlier, there is no examples of active racism in this book. There is some racist language, but does that really make someone racist? It appears that these people are less practitioners of racism, as they are victims of their environments. Most people in this novel are from poorer families of Louisiana. These families, more likely then not, would have raised the people in an atmosphere of racism. This would desensitize the people to racism, leading them to think nothing of it. This would make the people (unwitting) agents of the society of evil that they were raised in. When examined in this light, it appears that there really is much less of a connection between Penn Warren?s novel and the Ku Klux Klan then appears at first glance.
In conclusion, there is not much of a connection between Louisiana (as displayed by Penn Warren) and Ku Klux Klan. To be sure, there are several connections, such as the choice of diction and socio-economic status of the blacks. However, when viewed as a whole, there is not a very strong connection between the two. This is due to the environment in which the people would have been raised in (as shown by Penn Warren through his writing). This would force the people to act as they did, not through being racist, but more as being ?brainwashed? by being raised in the wrong way.
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McVeigh, Rory. ?Structural Incentives For Conservative Mobilization: Power Devaluation and the Rise of the Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1925.? Social Forces. 77 Jun 1999 p.78-86
Schwartz, Frederic D. ?The Klan on Parade.? America Heritage. 51 Jul/Aug 2000 p. 164-192
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