Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

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Chapter 8 Summary

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A young, American painter named Waldo Kasz worked near Sambuco. He had a reputation of being a mean-spirited recluse. The similarity of his name to Cass Kinsolving’s lead to Cass’s introduction to Mason Flagg.

Cass tells Peter of a dream he had in which he was in an airplane, and in the airplane was a concrete shower. Cass saw himself turn on the taps only to have gas come out rather than water. Cass saw himself dying and was unable to help himself. Some Negroes came in, asking each other how they could let it happen. This dream reminds Cass of an incident from his childhood. When he was fifteen, his uncle sent him to Virginia to work with a great uncle. Cass worked in an auto supply shop, where he met a man named Lonnie. Lonnie claimed to have a special understanding of the local Negroes; he did not think of them as equals. Cass went with Lonnie out to the home of a Black man named Crawfoot to repossess a radio. Crawfoot was not home, so Lonnie searched for the radio and finally found it hidden beneath the floorboard. It was cracked, which set Lonnie off. He began to tear up the place, wrecking everything in it. Cass felt sick at the act but soon joined in anyway. Cass reflects on the depths of evil in his fifteen-year-old self—something he had not thought about for a long time.

Cass returns to his story. When Mason arrives in Sambuco, Windgasser tells him an artist named Cass is living below him, and Mason thinks he means Waldo Kasz. Mason is impressed and visits Cass, asking to see some of his work. Cass feels confused but brings up some of his old paintings and sketches. Mason, along with Rosemarie, enthuses over the work, discussing its presentation of space and so on. The conversation continues, and Mason offers Cass a drink. While Rosemarie goes off with Poppy and the children, Cass quickly becomes drunk. Mason continues to discuss art, which begins to irritate Cass, who thinks of Mason as a dilettante who really knows little about art because he is obviously impressed with Cass’s feeble attempts. Francesca arrives, explaining that she has come to be a servant to the family. Cass feels even more desirous of her but explains that he cannot afford a servant. Francesca begs him to let her work, and Cass eventually agrees. Mason makes rude comments about Francesca. Finally, Cass interrupts Mason and tells him to stop calling him Waldo. Mason finally understands that he is not talking to Waldo Kasz, but the two become friends of a sort. Cass helps Mason unload supplies the latter has picked up at the local PX and gives him a bottle of whiskey, which Cass reluctantly takes. Cass feels that it is at this point that he became somehow in Mason’s grip.

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