Chapters 34-35 Summary
Eugene returns to Altamont two weeks before the beginning of his junior year. The war has taken its toll on the tourist industry, and Dixieland has only a few boarders. Ben has come home, having been rejected again by both the army and the navy because his lungs are too weak. Ben is appalled at Eugene’s appearance. Eugene has come home with some money at last, but he is emaciated from being near starvation. Eliza remonstrates with them for wasting electricity; all must economize. While Eliza and Ben argue, Eugene urges them to try to get along because nothing is going to get any better. In despair, Ben tells Eugene that he is a failure. The military does not want him, and he has been a disappointment to his family.
Eugene finds the college in a fever of excitement. It has been turned into an officers’ training camp. He begs the draft board to take him even though he is underage by just a few months. But they tell him that even when he comes of age he cannot join until the next round of the draft, which will not be for two or three months. Eugene is impatient. He dreams of himself as a war hero marching through the streets of Paris. In the meantime, he begins a program to put on some weight. He is now the managing editor of the college paper; because the editor is enlisted in the corps, Eugene is doing most of the work himself. He receives a letter from his father, who is still hanging on. In the fall, he receives a telegram from his mother informing him that Ben has pneumonia.
Eugene joins the family as they wait for Ben’s passing. Helen is furious at Eliza. She blames their mother for Ben’s death, for doing nothing for him, as she believes. Ben does not want to see his mother. He becomes upset every time she enters his sick room. Gant does not grieve for the passing of his son; he bemoans that this tragedy has come on him. Eugene is contemptuous of the self-centeredness of his parents. Eliza refuses to believe that Ben is dying; she is convinced that he will get better. Drained off all emotion, Eugene tells her that it must be so. He stays by Ben’s bed, listening as his breathing becomes more rattling. Eugene does not believe in God but he prays anyway, begging whatever exists beyond death to take Ben gently. They all gather around Ben as he slowly passes away.