Chapters 9-10 Summary
As spring arrives, Eugene and the other boys torment the black, Jewish, and poor white people in town. He observes his father at his stone cutting and thinks his father is a master at his work. Gant drives the boys off his front steps, but just as soon as they return he forgets his anger. Eugene feeds his love for books, devouring all the books at home and then proceeding to the town library. At first he reads the adventure stories of the day, especially the Horatio Alger books, which usually depict a poor boy’s rise to fortune. He moves on to more adult fare and eventually discovers the pleasures of romantic fiction. He pictures himself as the hero of the tale, wrapped in the arms of the voluptuous heroine. He takes this passion with him and fantasizes about Miss Edith, his fourth grade teacher. He imagines being kept in at recess under the longing gaze of Miss Edith. After school, he dreams of taking her home and relieving their passion under a tree in the autumn moonlight. The mayor of Altamont tells Gant that Eugene reads so many books that Gant should make a lawyer out of him.
Both Gant and Eliza believe in “economic independence,” so they send the boys out early to find jobs to earn their pocket money. Neither parent is much interested in exactly what type of job they find because any job that earns money is honorable. Ben wakes up early to deliver papers but never reveals to anyone at home exactly how much money he earned. Gant complains that other boys give their earnings to their parents for safekeeping, but he never sees a penny from his boys. Eugene delivers The Saturday Evening Post, though he hates it. His brother Luke had delivered it by himself previously and made quite a reputation for himself as a salesman. Gant brings up “Little Jimmy,” a boy who lost his legs and became an object of pity in the neighborhood. Eugene thinks that both he and Ben have been aristocrats from birth, though they resent their lack of social status. Ben berates Eliza for not providing clean clothes for Eugene when he goes out to deliver. He tells her that if she does not cut Eugene’s hair, her youngest son will grow up to be a tramp. She warns Ben that pride goes before a fall, but he points out that they have no place left to fall. Even her own brothers and their wives never come to visit. This is true, and it hurts Eliza. Ben is unmoved by her tears.