Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

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Chapter 3 Summary

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Cass and Peter reminisce about the day Peter arrived in Sambuco. Cass feels embarrassed by his drunken behavior that night. They say the party was the last time they saw Mason alive. Peter tells Cass that, after the weekend at Mason’s home where he revealed that he had been kicked out of school once again, Mason was sent off to a strict military school. Afterward, Mason went on to Princeton—accepted mostly because of the large donation his father gave for the college library. Peter and Mason kept in touch by letters over the ensuing years but did not meet again until after college, when both were living in Greenwich Village in New York. A neighbor of Peter’s, named Garfinkel, told Peter how impressed he was with Mason’s talent as a playwright. Mason’s self-destructive behavior threatened to ruin that, but Garfinkel had great hopes for him. Peter heard that Mason was married to a woman named Carole, but she was not really his wife. He then learned that Mason’s wife was Celia, and he was introduced to her. She was quite different from Carole, according to Peter.

Another flashback reveals more of Peter’s relationship with Mason. Mason tells Peter that art is dying and is sure to be dead by the end of the century. The only true freedom is found in sex. He invites Peter to a party, which he learns is really an excuse for an orgy. He meets a girl named Lila who is repelled by the actions of the others. She and Peter watch them and decide to dance. Soon, however, they leave; Peter explains to Mason that Lila is not feeling well. Lila does not understand why Mason resorts to such orgies when his wife is so nice.

Peter spends time with Mason and Celia, thinking how much Mason’s wife treats him in the same way his mother did. One night Celia shows up at Peter’s door, bleeding from having been hit by Mason on the back of the head. She assures Peter that Mason does not hit her often, but she became frightened and thought only of escaping. Peter’s home was the closest place she could think of. Peter eventually takes her to the hospital, where they treat her wound and promise to fix her up before letting her go home.

The next day, Peter boards the ship bound for Europe. His cabin is filled with gifts from Mason as well as two unappealing cabin mates. Mason arrives with Carole, and Peter berates him for his behavior toward the women in his life. When Peter arrives in Paris, he receives a letter from Mason stating that Carole left him.

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Chapter 2 Summary


Chapter 4 Summary