Jack’s search for something disreputable about Judge Irwin covered approximately seven months, ending with his visit to Miss Littlepaugh in Memphis in March 1937. Chapter Six overlaps Chapter Five: that is, part of the action described in Chapter Six is concurrent with Jack’s search, and the thematic emphases of the two chapters are similar. Anne and Adam Stanton, however, become much more centrally prominent, and Willie Stark has a greater role than he has had for several chapters.
Willie Stark exhibits several sides of his personality that have only been hinted at earlier in the novel. On one hand, business in the capitol is as usual, as Jack and others use information and threats to hush a potential scandal concerning Tom Stark and the young woman who was with him when he wrecked his sports car. When the girl’s father, who owns a trucking firm, threatens to raise a ruckus, someone points out to him that trucks do use state highways and that the state does control many contracts with trucking firms. The case is kept quiet. A second facet of Willie’s personality can also be seen in the actions surrounding Tom’s accident. In spite of Lucy’s insistence that he must do something to temper Tom’s behavior before something worse happens, Willie absolutely refuses. He wants his son to enjoy life, he says; he wants his son to be a surrogate for him, living out the good times that he never had, climaxing with Tom’s football stardom. Another facet of Willie’s refusal to discipline Tom is based on the notion that Tom’s activities are the manly things to do; Willie insists that, if Lucy had her way, the boy would be a sissy. To some extent, this notion seems to be Willie’s reaction against Lucy’s strict ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Because Lucy does not approve of Willie’s tactics, she has shut herself (figuratively) away from him; as a result, he will not allow her to have any opportunity to remove Tom from his dominance.
When Willie Stark quelled the move to impeach him, he swore to the people of his state that he would build the largest, best medical facility in the United States. His pursuit of this extravagant promise brings out other facets of his personality, some of which seem, to Jack, to contradict his other practices in getting things done. For example, Willie insists that this hospital will be politically “clean” from the beginning of its construction to its finish. When he travels to various places to find out what makes a medical facility good, he devotes all of his energy to that end, avoiding even the idea of taking a woman to bed with him on those trips. He is absolutely outraged that Tiny Duffy, his Lieutenant Governor, wants the contract for the hospital to go to Gummy Larson, who would then “sell out” MacMurfee. Although this would be a political gain, and a big one, Willie does not want to be a part of anything that even appears to be political maneuvering in order to have any part of the building of this hospital. He is fanatical about this, and he tries to convince Jack that he is sincere, but Jack is skeptical. In addition, he expends a great deal of energy getting things together and planning this project, and he insists that the director of the hospital be the very best man possible: Adam Stanton.
Jack, of course, is given the task of convincing Adam to accept the position. The governor’s assignment becomes a mandate when Anne Stanton tells Jack that he must make Adam take the job — no matter what it requires.
Adam Stanton is, as Jack points out to Anne, a romantic, a man who believes that at some time in the past men acted unselfishly and for high-minded purposes. These men were moral and uncorrupted, and Adam wants to be the same kind of man and to act from the same kinds of motives; Adam is not interested in wealth or the trappings of wealth; his fees are low, and he lives in a poor neighborhood, with his only luxury being a fine piano that he plays very well. He is not ambitious, nor is he interested in power or fame, for he has not spoiled himself materialistically, nor has he tried to make a name for himself (nevertheless, he is known around the country as an excellent doctor, one of the best). He simply forces himself to treat as many people as well as he can. He works long hours and allows himself little or no time for leisure or for relaxation; the trip to Burden’s Landing described in Chapter Five is one of the rare occasions when he lets himself relax even a little.
As a result of his character, Adam Stanton is indignant that Willie Stark would even ask him to be the director of the hospital; he wants no part of anything that bears the taint of Willie Stark, of his political methods, or of corrupt politics in general. Adam wavers only slightly when Jack points out to him that this would be a chance to do more good than he could otherwise do, to reach out and help more people than he otherwise could. Adam is polite to Jack, and he does not reject the offer outright, but he is clearly upset when Jack leaves; one can surmise that he is upset both because the offer came from a man whom he considers utterly corrupt and because he has been, even momentarily, tempted by the offer.
When Anne tries to talk with her brother about taking this position, however, he becomes extremely angry. He apparently believes that Anne should know better, should feel the same way about it that he feels, although he tolerates Jack and the fact that Jack works for Willie Stark. When Anne talks to Jack, telling him that he must find a way to convince Adam to take the job, she does so because she feels that Adam is increasingly using his work as an excuse to withdraw from her and from normal human activity and submerge himself in a world of his own devising. In fact, she is so eager for Adam to take the job that she agrees that changing his view of the past is necessary, but she is not prepared for the violence of Adam’s reaction against her and against their father (who had protected Judge Irwin many years ago when Irwin allowed himself to be bribed). Jack’s techniques are successful; once Adam knows about his father’s shady dealings, he agrees to become the director of the hospital. He realizes that no man is immune from corruption — not his father, not Judge Irwin.
Anne Stanton is a rather different person in Chapter Six than she has been in earlier chapters. She seems more tense and more nervous as she asks Jack to walk with her before she explains to him why she asked to talk with him. She is also more brittle and snappish with him after he tells her about her father and Judge Irwin. Additionally, she seems bitter about Jack’s behavior and about his activities and his attitudes. Furthermore, she is concerned about Adam’s withdrawal, whereas earlier she tended to defend him and find excuses for him.
She has changed in other ways, too, although Jack does not discover this until the end of the chapter. In a startling revelation, we learn that she has become Willie Stark’s mistress. There is some evidence later in the novel that she does not actually do so, however, until after she learns about her father; yet, at the very least, she has seriously considered the idea of sleeping with Willie Stark by the time she talks to Jack. She, like Jack, has been drawn to Willie’s energy and his drive, and she, like Jack, finds in that energy and drive a means of avoiding the meaninglessness and drift in her life. In addition, she seems to have glimpsed at least a part of the vision that Willie has, of what he is trying to do. Her reactions throughout the chapter suggest that she is struggling within herself, trying to reconcile the temptation of power (later, power itself) with what she has believed all her life.
When Adam Stanton accepts the position that Jack offers him, Governor Stark insists on meeting him. Willie, of course, does not shy away from confrontations, and he obviously feels that it is best that this meeting take place as soon as possible to avoid later misunderstandings. Although Adam has accepted the position, he allows the governor to visit him, and he is polite, but he is also hostile, abrupt, and straightforward in his attitude toward Willie Stark and in his expression of his attitudes. He, of course, insists that he not be interfered with while doing his job.
It is during this confrontation that Willie Stark most fully reveals his political philosophy. In the barest essentials, Willie believes in two things: original sin and change. That is, men are born in sin, and because of this, the world is filled with weaknesses and bad situations. However, men are also born with the desire to improve things, and they go about changing conditions in any way that they can, trying to make good out of bad. In addition, what men consider to be bad and what methods they use to achieve change will vary because men approve of change constantly. There is no absolute line between good and evil, nor between right and wrong; man must muddle along as well as he can, simply striving to make things better than they were. It would also seem that Willie believes that the ends justify the means; thus, overcoming human “badness” to reach a goal may require harsh means.
This view seems to clearly contradict the view of the world that Adam has had, and still seems to hold. It also seems to contradict Willie’s insistence that no hint of corruption will touch the building of this hospital. Obviously, although he does not say so, Willie Stark believes, deep down, that some goals are better than others, that some motives are better than others, that some methods of reaching those goals are better than others. He has not lost all of the idealism that he had as a young man, as a young lawyer, and as a young politician.
As for Jack Burden, he has received two shocks in succession. The first came in March, when he learned that years ago Judge Irwin had indeed accepted a bribe. This did not jolt him severely, however, partly because he had suspected the possibility, partly because he does not have an idealized view of human beings, and partly because he has unraveled this discovery himself. Learning that Anne Stanton has become Willie Stark’s mistress, however, comes as a severe shock and leaves him numb. These two shocks provide the basis — indeed, create the possibility — for the later change in his outlook and direction.