Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bellow’s third work is not only a picturesque novel of great zest but also a kind of Bildungsroman, an autobiographical record of physical experience as it relates to intellectual and emotional growth. Augie’s own exuberant narration of his life, beginning in Chicago during the Great Depression, reveals a personality who is in some ways a reckless and amoral character reminiscent of the rogue-heroes of the Spanish picaresque novel of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet he is also a man who must define himself by his relationship to others and who views the world at large as basically sound. Many critics have likened the book, and Augie in particular, to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and certainly Augie’s status as folk hero, his take-the-world-as-it-is attitude, and his earthy narrative “talk” are very much influenced by Mark Twain’s classic American novel.
Yet Augie is deeper than Huck because he is less naïve and, because of his origins, more cynical. He is not easily drawn into others’ sphere of influence, as, by contrast, Huck was credulously drawn to the Duke and the King. Augie’s adventures—his various jobs as stock boy, coal salesman, petty thief, prize-fight manager, union organizer, and even eagle trainer—are attempts to taste all of life. Augie is the embodiment of nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman’s belief in the value of all people and professions. All labor is valuable in...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Adventures of Augie March is an autobiographical Bildungsroman covering a Jewish American’s struggle to find himself, through trial and error, from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. Saul Bellow’s hero-narrator Augie March is bewildered by the freedom and opportunities available to Jews in America after centuries of persecution and segregation in other lands.
Augie is a resilient but not a strongly motivated character. Not knowing what he wants, he allows himself to be misguided by a succession of domineering personalities, beginning with the family’s tyrannical boarder, Mrs. Lausch, a refugee from Czarist Russia, who tries to make him an Old World gentleman.
Augie and his older brother Simon have to go to work while still children to supplement the meager family income. Both quickly become hardened by the streets of Chicago. Criminal acquaintances involve Augie in felonies that nearly get him sent to prison. Augie, however, has a love for education and self-improvement because they offer hope of finding self-realization and escape from the ghetto. The combination of slang and erudite diction Augie uses in telling his story is an outstanding feature of the novel.
Simon is another domineering personality who tries to run Augie’s life. Ruthless, money-hungry Simon cannot understand his younger brother’s indifference to materialism and despises his bookworm mentality. They have a dynamic love-hate...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Born and reared in Chicago, Augie March never knows the identity of his father. Grandma Lausch, who is not related to Augie but boards with the Marches, dominates the household, teaching Augie manners and how to lie to people in authority. As a child, he gets involved in petty crime, stealing from a department store where he works as one of Santa Claus’s helpers and participating in a robbery. At Grandma Lausch’s insistence, Georgie, Augie’s mentally challenged brother, is institutionalized. Grandma Lausch eventually goes to a home for the aged, and Augie’s mother goes to a home for the blind.
For a while, Augie does odd jobs for a paraplegic named William Einhorn, whom Augie calls the “first superior man” he knows. Shortly after graduating from high school, Augie attends college at night and works in a downtown clothing store where his brother Simon works. Then he quits his job and school to work for Mr. and Mrs. Renling, selling articles associated with dude ranches to an aristocratic clientele in Evanston, Illinois. Augie learns to ride horses. On Mrs. Renling’s summer vacation, Augie accompanies her to Benton Harbor. There, he falls in love with Esther Fenchel, and her sister, Thea, falls in love with him. Esther rejects Augie, and Augie rejects Thea, but Thea vows that she will see him again.
Returning to Evanston, Mrs. Renling decides to adopt Augie, so Augie leaves the Renlings and works at odd jobs in Chicago. He steals books and almost gets caught in an illegal scheme to bring immigrants out of Canada.
Meanwhile, Simon marries Charlotte Magnus, daughter of a wealthy family, and enters the coal business in which her family works, soon getting his own coal yard. Augie works for him. Simon becomes wealthy. Augie becomes engaged to Lucy Magnus, Charlotte’s cousin. Helping Mimi Villars, his friend and neighbor, get an abortion, Augie is spotted by one of Lucy’s relatives, who tells Lucy’s family. Lucy’s father forces her to break off her relationship with Augie. Simon fires Augie, saying he wants nothing more to do with him.
Augie works then as a union organizer and starts an affair with Sophie Geratis, a chambermaid in a hotel Augie is trying to organize. While Augie is in bed with Sophie, Thea knocks on his door. Augie leaves Sophie for Thea, whom he comes to believe he loves....
(The entire section is 964 words.)