Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Objectification much?

Current book: All the King's Men
Pages read: 373 - 460

All right, I'll admit it: I've been remiss in explaining the roles of a couple of characters because they kept being peripheral, but now I have to because they gotten important to the plot. This is what I get for cutting corners.

So, Adam Stanton, the hero-surgeon guy who was once Jack's good friend, is also the son of the previous governor, Governor Stanton. Adam's sister, Anne, was also good friends with Jack, and, there is an implication, had some kind of romantic relationship with him as well. This next section is mostly one long flashback that gives us details about the friendship and romance between the two of them.

After Jack finds out about the dirt on Judge Irwin, he tells Anne, who tells Adam, and both are devastated because it implicates their father, the former governor, in the scandal. As a result, Adam decides to take the hospital job that Stark has offered him, perhaps to make up for his father's corruption, or perhaps because he now sees the whole world as corrupt (and therefore doesn't mind Stark's hand in the business). Meanwhile, Jack finds out that Anne has had an affair with Willie and possibly manipulated him into offering Adam the job. This discovery launches Jack into a spiral of despair during which he drives across the country, stops in a motel, and gets drunk while he remembers his past.

In Jack's flashback, we see his blossoming relationship with Anne when they both teenagers, he in the summer after high school, she a year younger. They were simply friends at first, then found mutual attraction, and finally ended up almost having sex, but stopped just short of it. Adam was less than pleased to find his friend dallying with his sister, but didn't say much about it. The two planned to get married, but after several years of college, Anne lost interest in Jack, who was slacking off and had no ambition, and the relationship died. Afterward, Jack married Lois, who was nice to look at but not much else to him, and lived unhappily in the marriage for a while. That's where I had to stop, so I don't know how their marriage ended just yet, but I'm sure it did.

The way Jack talks about Anne is characteristic of that idea of the young, unspoiled maid who is attractive because of her potential for being spoiled. Once you have her, you won't want her anymore. It's a disturbing little paradox, really (and a pretty common one - look no further than your local mall and the dozens of available Catholic schoolgirl miniskirts), and one which Warren is playing up pretty strongly. There's a sense in it that Jack spoils everything he touches, or, more than that, that the world spoils everything in it.

The way Jack talks about Lois is, if anything, even more disturbing. He says, multiple times, that he is attracted to the "machine" of Lois, but not the "being" that is Lois. In other words, he likes the way she looks and the fact that she has sex with him, and that's about it. He often refers to her as an "it" in this part, and says things like, "when it opened its mouth to say words," in reference to her. Frankly, it's so offensive that it's difficult to read. I'm not saying Warren is a misogynist, because I think he's using the corrosive nature of this idea for a reason, but Jack sure as hell is. Lois is nothing to him but a tool to get over Anne - a toy that he thought would make him happy for a while - and he's proving it to us in the narration.

It's seldom that I've disliked a narrator as much as I dislike Jack Burden. He seemed vaguely human when we were hearing about his first love with Anne, but everything else he's done and is doing is almost cartoonishly reprehensible. I guess Warren's trying to make him the ultimate example of the ruination that is political corruption, but, once again, I think that nuance would suit better than extremity. I'd much rather seem him as an ambiguous character struggling with his morals than as the completely fallen man that he is. Even the scenes of his past never show him doing anything truly moral - he's just icky.

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