Chapters 28-29 Summary
When Eugene is sixteen years old, he leaves Altamont to attend university. He has grown to a height of over six feet three inches but weighs just one hundred thirty pounds. He still feels like a child as he departs his home. He would rather go to a more prestigious school, but he gives way to Gant’s wish that he go to the state university. Margaret Leonard gives him an emotional send-off; she tells him that she and her husband think of him as a son.
During the summer, Eugene grows closer to Ben. Luke has returned to Pittsburgh following Helen’s wedding. Gant still lives in his sitting room, having rented the rest of the house to a widow who takes care of him. Eugene tells Ben that he would like to work his way through college to lighten the load for his parents, but Ben tells him to take them for every cent he can.
Eugene’s first year of college is torturous. He is the butt of myriad freshman jokes and pranks. This leads him to fall into a desperate loneliness. He enjoys his classes for the most part, especially Latin, though he is often made a figure of fun by the professor. He struggles with Greek grammar but shines by the time of the examination. He moves lodgings several times that first year; eventually he lives alone.
As he overcomes being the object of torment by the other freshmen, Eugene is taken to a brothel. The “ladies” are impressed with his height. Eugene is eventually given a middle-aged prostitute and loses his virginity. As the boys leave the brothel, Eugene vomits in the gutter. His shame and guilt overpower him for several days, but he eventually goes back to the brothel one more time. When he goes home for Christmas, he has crabs, which he views as just punishment for his sin. Ben takes him to a doctor who gives him some medication. This relieves Eugene’s discomfort and also his guilt. He returns to college feeling less insecure.
As the winter ends, the United States enters the war in Europe. The youth at the university line up to join, but Eugene is too young because he is still only sixteen. His brother Ben is rejected because of a weakness in his lungs. Eugene revels in the English classics and shuns modern literature. Eliza visits Helen and urges her to move back to Altamont with her husband. When Eliza visits Eugene at college, she embarrasses him by passing out business cards to the other students.