Chapters 32-33 Summary
When Eugene returns to school for his sophomore year, he sees that the student body has grown younger and smaller because the upperclassmen have headed off to the war in Europe. Eugene rooms with a boy from Altamont named Bob Sterling. Bob, however, has heart problems. Eugene finds him one day on the stairs with his heart barely beating. Bob goes home, and Eugene writes him regularly until he learns that Bob has died. After Bob’s widowed mother comes to pick up Bob’s things, Eugene vows to live alone, but he soon acquires two more roommates.
At Christmas, the entire Gant family gathers in Altamont because they expect this to be the last Christmas they have together. Gant is slowly but inexorably dying from cancer. Eliza comments that she might be the next to die, but Helen (whose own health is fading) berates her for her self-centeredness, jealous of the attention Gant is getting. Luke returns from the naval school in Newport, where he had joined the Navy. He is limping because he gave skin on his leg to a friend who was in need of a skin graft. Eugene feels fed up with the family and gets drunk. His mother and siblings are surprised that the scholar of the family would sink so low. They feel he is throwing his life away. Eugene tells Eliza that he has in effect already left the family.
Eugene stays around for a few days after the holidays. Along with the rest of the family, he is waiting for Gant to die, but Gant lives on. During the spring semester, more students leave school to join the military. Eugene visits Ben in Philadelphia. As summer approaches, Eugene decides to go north to Virginia to seek out Laura James. Gant tells him Laura is now a married woman and is most likely having a baby, so Eugene has no right to go after her. Nevertheless, Eugene leaves.
In Norfolk, Virginia, Eugene cannot bring himself to see Laura. He spends all his money and then tries to find a job. He can find only common day labor, but he takes it so he can survive. He cannot seem to hang on to his money and gradually comes close to starvation. He finally finds a job that pays well. As summer draws to a close, he writes a letter to Laura. He tells her that he spent the entire summer near her but did not come to see her. He tells her that he has had several women since she left. When he mails it, he instantly feels remorse for his schoolboy tone.