Adventures of Augie March: Chapters 12-15
With the cold weather, Simon begins to make money and his spirits rise. His and Charlotte’s wedding is a grand affair, and he is so concerned with appearances that he tries to stop Mama from carrying her white cane in the church. “Money makes you meshuggah [crazy],” comments Cousin Anna angrily.
Augie is now dating Charlotte’s cousin Lucy Magnus. Simon is impatient to see Augie to marry into the family and live as he does. He sees opportunities for them both. “The world hasn’t set too tight yet,” he says. “There’s room, if you can find the openings to it.” Augie is not sure yet what to make of the rich lifestyle. He has fun with Lucy, but is not ready to be married.
An incident at the coal yard is revealing of Simon’s power-hardened character. A drunk coal dealer starts a scene, and Simon beats him in the face with a gun. Afterwards, he calls his pal at the police station to have the dealer jailed. This is Simon’s way of dealing with trouble, and throws him into sharp contrast with Augie, whose passivity and indecision is beginning to disgust Simon.
Mimi discovers she is pregnant with Frazer’s child and wants an abortion. Their neighbor, Kayo Obermark, remarks that Mimi has hard luck, but then corrects himself. It’s not bad luck, he notes, but her own choices that have led Mimi to suffer. “Everyone has bitterness in his chosen thing,” he says. “That’s what Christ was for, that even God had to have bitterness in his chosen thing if he was really going to be man’s God, a god who was human.”
Augie takes Mimi to have an injection, but when that fails to cause a miscarriage, he takes her to have an operation. He even tries to steal some books to get money to pay for the abortion, but is caught in the act by a store detective, who turns out to be his old friend Jimmy Klein. Jimmy scolds him, but when he learns what the money is for, he lends Augie the cash.
The abortion, however, is botched, and Mimi nearly dies of hemorrhaging and septicemia. Augie is frantic and takes her to the hospital on New Year’s Eve, when he is supposed to be taking his rich girlfriend Lucy on a date. Meanwhile, Kelly Weintraub, a relative of the Magnuses, has seen Augie leaving the abortionist’s office with Mimi and tells Lucy’s family. Lucy breaks up with Augie, but he hardly cares, as he is too concerned with Mimi.
Finally, it looks as though Mimi will recover, and Augie leaves her resting in the hospital. On his way home, he gets a flat tire. He realizes he’s not very far from the Coblins’ house, so he walks there and sleeps on their couch for the night. The Coblins are delighted to see him. The next morning, Augie looks out “into the brilliant first morning of the year.”
The breakup with Augie has infuriated Simon, who cuts him off. No longer a child, Augie feels himself out of the protective circles of his youth, “thrown for fair on the free spinning of the world.” He resumes stealing books, and lives off money loaned him by Mimi. Through with Frazer, Mimi is now seeing Arthur Einhorn, William Einhorn’s son, who is a struggling poet and writer.
Augie gets a job with the Works Progress Administration, working for a housing survey for the winter. He sees a fair amount of the poverty of the times. Next Mimi gets him into union organizing. He starts out at a union hall, taking the grievances of chambermaids, porters, doormen, waitresses, and the like. Soon, Augie is called upon to organize the laborers, a job he seems too relaxed to handle well.
While in the old neighborhood, Augie drops by to see the Einhorns and learns that they are bitterly disappointed with Arthur. He fathered a son and left it for his parents to raise. Einhorn asks Augie about Arthur and Mimi. He seems uncertain as to whether he approves of the match, and suspects Augie of sleeping with Mimi himself.
In fact, Augie is involved with a beautiful Greek chambermaid named Sophie Geratis. She is engaged to someone else, but wants to have an affair before she gets married. One evening while Sophie and Augie are in his room together, Thea appears at the door. She is still in love with Augie, and hired a detective to find him. She leaves a note asking him to come see her immediately.
Augie longs to see Thea, but the next day, he is delayed by an urgent strike at a hotel. The scene escalates into a brawl, and Augie is attacked by a rival union leader and his gang, who pursue him through the streets. He flees into a taxi and goes straight to Thea’s.
There is a powerful feeling of love between Augie and Thea almost immediately, and they spend the next few days together at her apartment. Since their last meeting, she got married to a rich older man whom she did not love. Now, she is on her way to Mexico to file for divorce, and wants Augie to go with her. It is a good time for Augie to leave anyhow, as the union men are gunning for him, so he agrees.
Thea outfits Augie with a new sporting wardrobe for the trip, and surprises Augie with an unusual plan. Besides getting a divorce while in Mexico, she plans to train an eagle to catch lizards, and make movies and articles about it for National Geographic. Augie is not sure what to think. He is also taken aback to learn that after the divorce, Thea won’t have much money. Despite his skepticism in the Mexico plans, Augie is too much in love to argue, and anyway, he doesn’t have anything else in mind.
The two drive to Mexico, camping along the way. Augie vividly recalls the details of their first days together, with minute focus on things such as the sound of insects and the wind in the leaves. On their way, they stop to pick up an eaglet from a dealer in Texas. Seeing the fierce eagle in his cage, Augie is afraid. Thea has no fear, however, and is excited to begin training the bird, whom Augie dubs “Caligula.” Thea teaches Caligula to fly after a bait of chicken, hoping that soon she can introduce him to his real quarry, giant iguanas. After ten days of travel by car, with the eagle in the back, they reach Mexico City.
Analysis of Chapters 12–15
Augie makes a crucial moral choice by helping Mimi. In effect, he chooses love over possibilities for wealth and status, as his decision to aid Mimi, a friend he loves, causes Lucy to break up with him and Simon to cut off his pay. Augie’s choice shows definitively that he is not to follow his brother’s path in life. He simply is too soft-hearted, not possessing of the Machiavellian ruthlessness that has made Simon so successful.
Augie’s almost comical susceptibility to love, as well as his flightiness and lack of direction, comes across in these chapters. When Thea comes to find him, he is all too willing to abandon Sophie for her and take off for Mexico. He leaves his job as a union organizer in the process. He is simply not suited to any great political cause; the job was an interlude for him, and not a grand calling.
Having been adopted by Grandma, Einhorn, the Renlings, and Simon, Augie now is taken over by the powerful personality that is Thea. It is her money (actually Smitty’s) that maintains him; it is her family’s home that they will stay with in Acatla; and it is her plan to train eagles that becomes involved with. He goes along with her, as he admits, because he has nothing else planned: “She had the initiative and carried me; if I had had a different, independent idea I might have tried to take the lead instead. But I had none.”