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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The chapter shows the narrator remembering his student days when he was studying for his doctorate. When Jack Burden decides to pursue an investigation into the past of Judge Irwin, he recollects the period when he had done research on Cass Mastern for his doctoral thesis. At that time he was staying in a shabby apartment with two other students. His roommates were enjoying themselves but he was immersed in his subject of study. He had received a parcel of letters and notes written by Cass Mastern from his cousin. His guide had suggested that he should edit and compile these notes in order to form his doctoral thesis. So he had devoted hours studying the autobiographical jottings of Cass Mastern. Cass, a great grand uncle of jack, had initially worked for his brother in a plantation. Later, he had visited Transylvania in Lexington, to pursue higher education. There he had befriended Trice and his wife. Circumstances had brought Cass and Annabelle Trice together and they had been involved in an affair. When Trice had discovered about their relationship, he had committed suicide.
Annabelle, feeling guilty, had sold her maid to a slave dealer when the girl had got to know about her secret affair. Cass had been repulsed by the callous action of his beloved and had decided to bring back Phebe. However, his search had proved futile. In the mean time, Mrs. Trice leaves home. Cass returns back to his plantation and starts working with the Negro slaves. However, at the end of two years he lets the slaves free and offends his brother. Later, he enlists himself in the army. While fighting he gets hit by a bullet and lands himself in a hospital. A short while later, he dies. Jack absorbs all the information and prepares the thesis but fails to complete his work under the pretext that he is unable to understand Mastern. Burden abandons not only his thesis but also the apartment where he was studying for his doctorate. Thus one more chapter of his life comes to an end.
The technique of shifting from the present to the past continues in this chapter also. When Willie Stark asks Burden to do research on the past of Irwin, Jack Burden remembers a similar experience he had had in the past. The narration of the subject of his research introduces another story into the main story. This story deals with Cass Mastern’s life with particular reference to his love life.
As Burden unfolds the nature of his research, he reveals his own nature in conducting the research. He had dwelt into the past of Mastern in order to avoid his present. To some extent his attitude is like that of his roommates’ with a little difference. In his own words, "They had this in common: they were all hiding. The difference was in what they were hiding from. The two others were hiding from the future, from the day when they would get degrees and leave the university. Jack Burden, however, was hiding from the present. The other two took refuge in the present. Jack Burden took refuge in the past." Burden is an escapist. He would like to forget the present because the present reminds him about his life and responsibilities. And by probing into the life of Cass Mastern, he temporarily forgets about himself.
Cass Mastern and Jack Burden can be compared and contrasted as characters. Both Mastern and Burden are drifters. They do not have steadfast aims or burning ambitions. They take life as it comes and accept it on its terms. They both are weak, as they are lead by stronger characters in the novel. Cass Mastern remains a shadow of his brother Gilbert, while Burden acts according to the wishes of the Boss. However, Mastern is a man with a conscience unlike Burden. He does his best to free Phebe and later frees the Negro slaves from his plantation. Burden is not troubled by such a conscience. He agrees to probe into the past of Irwin, even though the Judge had been his good neighbor and friend.
After doing research for one and a half years, Jack abandons his thesis. His lack of conviction makes him conclude that Cass Mastern is difficult to understand. In fact, he does not want to understand the man. He is afraid that the life of Cass Mastern might reveal certain home truths, which might influence him. Also, he has no desire to complete his thesis and acquire a doctorate degree. He had postponed the present by dwelling into the past, but when the past reminds him of the present, he turns away from it. Jack Burden, thus, cuts abruptly another part of his life.