All The King's Men

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Cass Mastern Character Analysis

A distant ancestor of Jack’s, Cass Mastern was a student at Transylvania College just before the Civil War, where he carried on an affair with his friend Duncan’s wife Annabelle. Cass later found a life of religion and died in the Civil War. Jack intended to write his doctoral dissertation on Cass but could not. At the end of the novel, Jack is planning, finally, to finish this book on Cass’s life.

Cass Mastern Quotes in All The King's Men

The All The King's Men quotes below are all either spoken by Cass Mastern or refer to Cass Mastern. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvest Books edition of All The King's Men published in 2006.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Jack Burden came into possession of the papers from the grandson of Gilbert Mastern. When the time came for him to select a subject for his dissertation for his Ph.D., his professor suggested that he edit the journal and letters of Cass Mastern, and write a biographical essay . . . .

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker), Cass Mastern
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Jack was a reporter and a political operative for Willie Stark, he was a graduate student. His willingness to dig down into the muck of historical records and official documents is one of his great strengths as a political employee later in life - and this is why, or at least part of why, Jack brings up Cass Mastern. 

But Jack also seems to find something simply compelling about Cass as a human being. Through the veil of the past, Jack believes he shares some of Cass's star-crossed luck. Jack's ability to identify with those from the past - indeed, his desire to live in the past - is one of his notable characteristics, and is a clear contrast to Willie, for whom there is only forward motion, more planning, and future great accomplishment. Jack's involvement with the past is in no sense more pronounced, indeed, than when he speaks to Anne, with whom he is still in love, even though they are now friends. 

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But now and then Duncan Trice had to be out of town on business, and on those occasions Cass would be admitted, late at night, to the house . . . so he actually lay in the very bed belonging to Duncan Trice.

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker), Cass Mastern, Duncan Trice
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

Duncan Trice took Cass "under his wing," and showed him how to behave as a Southern gentleman should. Jack discovers this in the letters, and sees, too, that Cass falls in love with Duncan's wife, Annabelle. 

Here the patterning of the novel turns inward, as Jack realizes, although does not state explicitly, that Cass, the subject of his doctoral dissertation, falls in love with an "Anna" just as Jack falls in love with Anne. And it later is revealed that Anne has been having an affair with Willie Stark, meaning that Jack, like Cass, is the "other man."

Thus Penn Warren creates what is called a "mise en abyme," or a pattern of repeated narratives within the text. Jack looks into the past and finds, despite himself, his own predicament - although at the time of his research, he does not know that he will be working for Willie, nor that Anne will wind up having a romantic affair with him. 

. . . the day came when Jack Burden sat down at the pine table and realized that he did not know Cass Mastern. He did not have to know Cass Mastern to get the degree; he only had to know the facts about Cass Mastern’s world. But without knowing Cass Mastern, he could not put down the facts about Cass Mastern’s world.

Related Characters: Jack Burden (speaker), Cass Mastern
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

As in his descriptions of Burden's Landing, Jack is a romantic - for good and for ill. His sensibility allows him to fall quickly and deeply in love with ideas, with stories, with people. He takes a great deal of enjoyment in his graduate work, and throughout this chapter, he demonstrates to the reader just how skilled he is as a researcher, how willing he was to devote a chunk of his life to reaching back into the archives and describing the past.

But, as this passage indicates, he was not simply interested in describing the past - he wanted to find out the "truth" of Cass Mastern's story. And because he could not discover that truth - though he did not exactly know what the truth might mean - he abandoned the project, never getting his doctorate. This is the flip side of Jack's romanticism - it causes him to take up projects passionately, but it causes him to abandon them just as absolutely when he no longer cares for them or gives them up as impossible. 

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Cass Mastern Character Timeline in All The King's Men

The timeline below shows where the character Cass Mastern appears in All The King's Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...when she visited briefly early in his graduate tenure. Burden was writing his dissertation on Cass Mastern, a distant family relation, whose letters he had been sent, by a long-unknown family... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...Burden’s account of this family story, which was to form the basis of his dissertation. Cass Mastern was one of two maternal uncles of Ellis Burden, the Scholarly Attorney, Jack’s father.... (full context)
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The picture of Cass, an early and smudged photo, Jack finds haunting—it is Cass in his Confederate soldier’s uniform,... (full context)
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cass’s brother, Gilbert, fifteen years older than Cass, walked from north Georgia as a boy (leaving... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Gilbert taught Cass all the gentlemanly arts of riding and of managing a plantation for three years, but... (full context)
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The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
But Burden discovers, again through Cass’s journal, that Cass also learned to live a life of vice and dissipation at Transylvania,... (full context)
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That summer after his first year, with Cass back at Valhalla to be with his brother, Cass received a note from Annabelle reading... (full context)
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The affair lasted all of Cass’s second year, with Cass sneaking over to the Trice house when Duncan was away on... (full context)
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...night after Duncan’s funeral, which was a public event in Lexington, drawing many prominent people, Cass went to visit Annabelle in a small back-house of the Trice plantation, and there, Annabelle,... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...upset to realize that Duncan was aware of Annabelle’s affair (and that it was with Cass), and doubly upset that Phebe, one of the servants was aware too. Although Annabelle has... (full context)
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Cass then discovered, several days after Duncan’s funeral, that Annabelle had sold Phebe down the river... (full context)
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Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
In Lexington, Cass realized that Annabelle had fled back to Washington, DC, where she was born and raised—at... (full context)
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Cass was granted another parcel of land from his brother Gilbert, and though he did not... (full context)
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There, Cass began a career in the law, which continued until 1861 and the start of the... (full context)
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...a dissertation for his doctorate. But Jack realized that, despite knowing all the facts of Mastern’s life, and of the impact this life had on others, and on the way in... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...squalid apartment sent him his box of PhD materials, including the letters, the photo of Cass, and the ring, which have followed Jack from place to place, and which sit in... (full context)
Chapter 10
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Personal History, Memory, and Time Theme Icon
The South and Southern Culture Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...give to Lily Littlepaugh, only to find out she is dead—to write his book on Cass Mastern, which he fully intends to finish. At that point, he and Anne will sell... (full context)