Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

Start Free Trial

Chapter 6 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Poppy sends Cass to a doctor, who tells him that, apart from his ulcer, his health is fine but he must stop drinking. He gives him some medication, which Cass does not take. He spends more time enjoying his children. His wife, to him, has become a precious creature. He feels greatly ashamed of the pain he has caused her. He decides to leave Paris and take the family to Italy. Poppy has grown used to Paris, however, and does not want to leave. She asks instead that they go back to America. Cass refuses, stating that everyone in the United States is after money. Poppy points out that he had recently said the same about the French. Regardless, Cass cashes some traveler’s checks and plans to move the family south.

As the family travels on the train to Italy, their pet parakeet dies, causing tears of grief from the children and even Poppy. At a stop, Cass carries the dead bird out to a field to bury it, complete with funeral mass. Back on the train, Cass is struck with the fact of his children’s own mortality. This causes him to reflect on Poppy’s Catholicism, which he has rejected. However, he feels a notion of spirituality when it comes to those he loves. He keeps a journal of his reflections on his new outlook since his visit to the doctor. He has become much more of a family man since turning away from alcohol.

Cass and his family live in Rome for a while. They meet an American couple, the McCabes, who have come on a type of Catholic pilgrimage to Rome. They are surprised to find that Cass is not Catholic. He becomes verbally contemptuous of Catholicism and begins to tell anti-Catholic jokes. One evening they begin to play cards. Mr. McCabe brings out his private label whiskey. Although Cass has been very self-disciplined since his doctor’s visit, he weakens and begins to drink considerably. He becomes belligerent and eventually flies over the table and hits Mr. McCabe. Poppy and the children scream, and Cass takes off.

Cass wakes up in a strange bed, evidently having had sex with someone who took all his clothes and his money. She also left him a very bad case of crabs. Cass calls Poppy, who brings him a box of clothes. On the way back to the hotel, Cass lays his head in Poppy’s lap, feeling very regretful.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapter 5 Summary


Chapter 7 Summary