Earlier in the novel, when he talked about his days as a graduate student of history, Jack Burden said that, whereas his roommates were trying to escape the future, he was trying to escape the present. To that end, he buried himself in the study of the past, particularly in the study of Cass Mastern's papers, trying to understand Cass Mastern. From the perspective of the completed novel, it is easy to see that Jack Burden felt cut off from his past, from a past with which he could identify, and that he was trying to find, in his study of history, something that would give shape and meaning to his life in the present, without which he could not face the present, much less the future. When he fails to understand Cass Mastern — and thus fails to understand his past — he simply leaves it all behind and drifts, letting the various forces control his direction.
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