Chapters 5-6 Summary

Steve, the oldest Gant boy, is expelled from high school because of his behavior. He begins to follow the path of his father by drinking excessively and spending his money at the brothel. Gant blames his behavior on Eliza; Eliza says Steve might have turned out differently if he had not had to go to every dive in town to drag his father out. Gant berates his other boys for not working, claiming that he is a good provider for the family.

In 1904, Eliza decides she wants to go to St. Louis to see the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. She says she might even decide to stay there and run a boarding house. She eventually takes most of the children, leaving Gant and Daisy behind. Years later, Eugene can remember much of this time, especially his brother Grover bending over him in the backyard of their house in St. Louis. The boys work at the Fair Grounds and get caught up in the wilder life of the big city. That summer, Grover catches typhoid fever and dies. Eliza blames herself; she thinks this would not have happened if she had not left Altamont. Gant comes to St. Louis, and together Eliza and Gant take the family, along with Grover’s body, home to Altamont.

Grover’s death leads Eliza into a desperate sadness from which she has difficulty emerging. As winter approaches, Eugene becomes interested in the books in the family home, especially a pictorial history of the world. His father reads to him from Shakespeare and books of poetry. Gant returns to abusing Eliza, who often locks herself away for safety. He is horrified by the taxes on the property Eliza has accumulated. She points out that she wanted to trade in one vacant property for two houses, which would bring rent, but he would not agree to it.

Gant’s relationship with his daughter Helen grows closer. She is the only one who can control him, which irritates Eliza. The relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained. The fruit trees Gant planted in the early years of his marriage produce an abundant harvest. For the coming holidays, he buys turkeys and pigs, and the table sags under the feast. Gant prods Eugene into overeating; he pokes him in the stomach and declares there is still a soft spot. Gant has retained his Pennsylvania Dutch love of plenty.