The first four chapters of The Adventures of Augie March introduce us to Augie and his family and the immigrant, Jewish world of his section of Chicago. Augie, the narrator and main character, declares in the opening sentence that ‘‘I am an American, Chicago born . . . and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way.’’ Augie introduces his ‘‘simple-minded’’ mother, who has very few teeth and poor eyesight; his ‘‘idiot’’ brother, Georgie; and his older brother, Simon. His father is apparently dead, and Augie knows next to nothing about him. Ruling over the household is Grandma Lausch, who is not really a relative but instead a willful boarder who hopes to make something of the March boys. When Augie is beaten up by neighborhood boys, who appear to pick on him because he is Jewish, Grandma begins his worldly education, telling Augie that the beating is his own fault and he should not try to fit in with whomever is around him.
Grandma arranges for Augie to pass out handbills for a theater. Then, when he is twelve, she sends him to Chicago’s North Side to work for his successful cousins, the Coblins. Simon, meanwhile, is sent to work at a resort hotel. At the Coblin’s, Augie is treated kindly by Anna Coblin, who buys him new shoes and a jackknife. He helps deliver newspapers for Coblin and also helps Anna’s brother, known as Five Properties, on his route as a milk truck driver. Although Anna hopes Augie will marry into the family, he already has his eye on a different future.
With Grandma’s help, the teenaged Augie takes on a series of jobs. In fact, he declares that understanding the term ‘‘various jobs’’ unlocks the meaning to his ‘‘entire life.’’ Meanwhile, Simon is transformed by waiting on the rich at the resort, and although he is valedictorian of his graduating class, he is no longer interested in following Grandma’s advice. He tells Augie, ‘‘She’s really nothing to us.’’ With Simon’s help, Augie gets a job selling newspapers; he loses the job. He then works along with a friend, Jimmy Klein, as one of Santa’s elves at Deever’s, a neighborhood department store. Realizing that the cash they take from customers is not followed closely, the boys begin pocketing some of it. This scheme is discovered and Augie is severely scolded by Grandma and Simon. Jimmy’s cousin, Clem Tambow, joins the boys in fantasizing about burning down Deever’s, and Jimmy’s older sister, Eleanor, flirts with Augie. For his part, Augie falls for Hilda Novinson, his first crush. These teenage dreams are pushed aside when Grandma demands that Georgie be put into a mental institution before he does something harmful. Augie resents this, but shows his younger brother how to open and close his suitcase before tearfully taking him to an institution.
Source Credits: Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010