In the fall of 1929, just before the stock market crash, Augie goes to work for a local businessman named William Einhorn. Augie calls Einhorn ‘‘the first superior man I knew’’ and becomes the ‘‘arms and legs’’ of his severely handicapped mentor. The Einhorn fortune was made by Einhorn’s father, the Commissioner. Augie is essentially adopted by the Einhorn family, which includes Einhorn’s younger half brother, known by all as Dingbat, as well as Einhorn’s wife, Tillie, and his college student son, Arthur. Augie does everything for Einhorn, serving as his ‘‘secretary, deputy, agent, companion.’’ In return, Einhorn replaces Grandma as Augie’s mentor, though his advice and actions are not always honorable. Augie learns that Einhorn carries on ‘‘with one woman after another,’’ including his employee Lollie Fewter, with whom Augie also has a romantic liaison. Later, Augie observes Einhorn burning his own living room for the insurance money when Tillie demands they redecorate. Consequently, Augie receives a fire damaged set of Harvard Classics, books that will also shape the way he looks at the world.
As he begins his senior year in high school, Augie’s world is shaken by the rapid deterioration of both Grandma Lausch’s health and Mama’s eyesight. When Simon appeals to Grandma’s sons for help, they respond by placing her in the Nelson Home for the Aged and Infirm. Soon after, it becomes clear that the Commissioner is dying. Following the funeral, Augie sits with Einhorn as he writes his father’s obituary and burns some of his personal papers. Soon after, the stock market crashes and the Einhorns lose much of their wealth and sense of power. The March family also loses its savings when their bank closes. Simon toys with radical politics and Augie falls in with a petty gangster named Joe Gorman. Gorman convinces Augie to help him rob a handbag store. When Einhorn hears of the robbery he counsels Augie to steer clear of criminals like Gorman. He observes that Augie has a strong desire to oppose the world around him, but notes that the prisons are full of just such men. Augie is stunned by Einhorn’s insight and realizes that Einhorn’s advice is not to follow his example but to chart a different course. Even so, Einhorn enlists Augie’s help to swindle a gangster, and he takes Augie to a prostitute on the night of his graduation from high school.
Source Credits: Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010