‘‘From here a new course was set,’’ declares Augie. He attends a city college at night and finds work at a clothing store during the day. Simon works in the same store, and the family is doing well enough to hire a mulatto (a person of both black and white ancestry), Molly Simms, to help the increasingly blind Mama with the housework. But Simon soon spends the night with her and then fires her. Augie drops out of school and begins selling highend sporting goods for a man named Mr. Renling. At first, Augie feels like a ‘‘house slave,’’ but soon Renling and his wife become mentors for Augie, teaching him how to act in high society. When Augie begins dating a waitress, Mrs. Renling demands that he stop. She has Augie drive her to Benton Harbor, a Michigan resort where, at her side, he learns still more about the rich. He then meets a wealthy heiress, Thea Fenchel, and her younger sister, Esther. Augie decides he has fallen in love with Esther while Thea seems very interested in him. Esther completely rebuffs Augie’s advances, causing him to faint. As Augie broods about Esther, Thea appears and declares that she is in love with him. The Fenchels leave soon after. Simon arrives with his girlfriend, Cissy Flexner, whom Augie finds ‘‘a sly girl, soft though she seems.’’ Simon tells Augie he hopes to marry her soon.
Returning from the resort, the Renlings suggest that they adopt Augie. Though drawn by their wealth, Augie declines the offer. He confesses that he likes his own flawed family, and besides, ‘‘the unvarnished truth is that it wasn’t a fate good enough for me.’’ Breaking with the Renlings, Augie returns to the South Side of Chicago and takes a job trying to sell paint on commission to hotels and hospitals. Augie runs into Joe Gorman coming out of a train station, and the dapper criminal suggests they work together to bring in illegal immigrants from Canada. Humiliated by his failure as a paint salesman, Augie joins Gorman and they speed toward the border in what turns out to be a stolen car. When they stop to eat, they realize a state trooper is looking at the car, so Augie and Gorman split up and run. Augie later sees a beaten Gorman in the back of a police car. Augie makes his way to Buffalo, New York, where he wires Simon for money so that he can return home by bus. When none arrives, Augie makes his way west by hopping freight trains. Along the way he befriends a man named Stoney, is beaten by police, and spends a night in jail. Finally, he arrives in Chicago to find that Grandma Lausch has died, Simon has sold the family furniture, and Mama is living in a tiny rented room. He also learns that Five Properties is going to marry Cissy Flexner, Simon’s old girlfriend. Frustrated at how Mama is being treated, Augie helps arrange to put her in a home for the blind.
Einhorn helps Augie find a job working with an elite dog groomer. Augie is struck by how often the groomer, Guillaume, uses a hypodermic needle to sedate the dogs. Augie moves into a house near the University of Chicago and befriends Manny Padilla, a brilliant math student who supplements his scholarship by stealing and then selling textbooks. Padilla convinces Augie to do the same, though Augie is often distracted by reading the books he steals. Simon finally makes amends with Augie about not wiring him money and proudly announces he plans to marry a rich girl named Charlotte Magnus. Clem Tambow also visits, in part because he is enamored with Mimi Villars, a young woman who lives in Augie’s student house. Mimi is in love with a young graduate student in political science named Frazer. Augie learns that his old friend Sylvester, now a Communist organizer who wants to recruit Frazer, was once married to Mimi’s sister.
Simon prepares to marry Charlotte, and her coarse Uncle Charlie helps set up Simon as the owner of a coal yard. When Augie meets the Magnuses it is clear that they adore Simon. Augie goes to work for Simon at the coal yard, where he meets Happy Kellerman, the yardmaster. At first Simon struggles with the coal yard. But soon, in part thanks to Charlotte’s excellent business sense, he is making money and enjoying his new style of life. Even so, Augie is concerned that there is a new desperation about Simon.
Source Credits: Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010