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The Adventures of Augie March

The Adventures of Augie March

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What was it like to grow up in poverty during the Great Depression? For Augie March, the titular character in Saul Bellow's (1915-2005) The Adventures of Augie March, the stock market crash of 1929 changes the course of his entire life. Set in Great Depression-era Chicago, Bellow's novel tracks Augie's moral and emotional development from boyhood to adulthood. The Adventures of Augie March explores themes like the development of personal identity and the cost of survival.

The Adventures of Augie March Summary

Augie March is born into a poverty-stricken family in Chicago. His father has long since abandoned Augie's family. Augie lives with his handsome but scheming brother Simon, his loving but mentally handicapped brother Georgie, and their half-blind mother in a house owned by an elderly Russian woman they call Grandma Lausch.

Grandma Lausch is Machiavellian in nature and teaches Simon and Augie to do whatever it takes to survive. She forces the boys to get summer jobs at 12 to help make ends meet. Over time, Simon becomes disrespectful to Grandma Lausch, resulting in a power struggle in the household. Augie's mother is completely submissive to Grandma Lausch and cannot stop the older woman when she sends Georgie away to an institution.

This pushes Augie's family further apart, and Augie falls in with a crowd of petty thieves for the first time. Simon eventually puts Grandma Lausch in a nursing home, citing her growing dementia as the reason for her institutionalization.

Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher and diplomat. He is best known for his political book The Prince (1532), which postulates that "the ends justify the means." Any course of action can be morally excused if the end goal is morally important.

When Augie gets to high school, he stops caring about his schoolwork. He finds a job as an assistant to an incredibly wealthy real estate tycoon named William Einhorn. Einhorn is partially paralyzed but perseverant and determined. He has made his wealth off seedy business dealings and shady investments. When the stock market crashes, Einhorn loses almost everything. He has to let Augie go, but the two keep in touch, and Einhorn treats Augie like his son. Einhorn admonishes Augie when he hears Augie has become involved with thief Joe Gorman. Augie feels guilty robbing people but does whatever it takes to survive in the Great Depression.

Augie begins working at a sporting goods store owned by the affluent Mr. Renling. Mrs. Renling is immediately taken with Augie and treats him as her son. She gives him a flashy wardrobe, takes him to riding lessons, and even invites him on holiday with her. While on vacation, Augie meets Thea and Esther Fenchel, two beautiful, aristocratic sisters. Thea falls in love with Augie, but he rejects her in favor of Esther, who refuses Augie's advances. Upon their return to Chicago, the Renlings offer to adopt Augie and leave their fortune to him when they die. In response, Augie runs away and again becomes involved in criminal activity.

The Adventures of Augie March, Family holding hands, StudySmarter

Fig. 1: The Renlings want to adopt Augie as their son, but he refuses.

Augie finds himself working with Gorman a second time, this time transporting illegal immigrants into the country. The car the two men use, however, has been stolen. The police catch up to them and arrest Gorman while Augie evades capture. He hitchhikes his way back to Chicago once more.

Augie returns to his hometown, only to discover his mother is fully blind, Grandma Lausch is dead, and their house has been sold. He begins selling stolen textbooks to help his mother find new housing. Meanwhile, Simon marries into a wealthy family, taking coal heiress Charlotte Magnus as his wife. Simon wants Augie to marry Charlotte's cousin, Lucy, to gain access to even more of the Magnus family's money. Augie, however, becomes involved in a scandal when he gets caught helping his friend Mimi Villars obtain an illegal abortion. Both the Magnus family and Simon renounce Augie.

Abortions have long been a heated topic of political and religious debate. The first abortion on record occurred in Egypt in 1550 BCE. Many early methods of abortion were not surgical processes but often induced by physical labor and natural herbs. Abortions have been common in North America since the 17th century.

Official abortion laws first appeared in the United States in 1821. It wasn't until after the Civil War that abortion became illegal nationwide. In 1973, the historic Roe v. Wade case legalized abortion on a federal level. On June 24, 2022, Roe v. Wade was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

Mimi gets Augie a job working as a union organizer. He then begins an affair with Sophie, a woman engaged to be married. Sophie only wants to get her sexual passion out before her wedding and does not want to marry Augie. One night while the two are having sex, Thea knocks on Augie's apartment door. She is still in love with Augie and tells him she is going to Mexico to get a divorce and realize her dream of training an eagle to catch lizards. This time, Augie falls in love with Thea, and they buy an eagle on their way to Mexico.

The Adventures of Augie March, Bald eagle above water, StudySmarter

Fig. 2: Thea wants to train a bald eagle to hunt.

Thea is disappointed when the eagle doesn't meet her expectations. Her relationship with Augie also becomes strained, worsening when Augie gets in a bad accident. Although Thea nurses Augie back to health, he becomes interested in a beautiful young woman named Stella, who is escaping a bad relationship herself. After Augie has sex with Stella, Thea leaves him, and Augie returns to Chicago.

In Chicago, Simon has become wealthy but brutish. He cheats on his wife and falls in love with his mistress. Augie returns to seeing Sophie and working odd jobs in Chicago until World War II breaks out. Then, he enlists as a merchant marine and is shipped out for training. He is reunited with Stella, who has become a Mexican actress, and the two get married. Augie almost dies when enemy forces torpedo his ship. Luckily, he survives and is saved by an English ship.

The novel ends with Augie and Stella in Paris. Augie becomes involved in black-market dealings and grows restless in his marriage.

The Adventures of Augie March, Couple in front of La Seine, StudySmarter

Fig. 3: The novel's ending is unclear whether Augie will finally settle down with his wife in Paris or if he will continue his restless lifestyle.

The Adventures of Augie March Characters

The Adventures of Augie March unsurprisingly centers around the eponymous character, Augie March, as he interacts with many minor characters, including family members, coworkers, employers, and lovers.

The March Family

The March household comprises Augie, Simon, Georgie, their mother, and "Grandma" Lausch.

Augie March

The novel's protagonist and titular character, Augie March is born into a poor family and spends the entirety of the novel growing up. As Augie grows from a child to a teenager to an adult, he navigates a slew of romantic relationships and odd jobs. Augie is likable, but he is willing to compromise his morals if it means making enough money to survive. Several adult characters want to adopt Augie, but he refuses each time.

Simon March

Augie's older brother, Simon is more Machiavellian than Augie. Simon is clever and stubborn, often going head-to-head with authority figures like Grandma Lausch. Simon marries for money and pressures Augie to do the same. At the end of the novel, Simon is very wealthy, but he is disillusioned with his life.

Georgie March

Augie's younger brother, Georgie is born with a mental disability. His mother and older brothers are protective of him, but they are unable to stop Grandma Lausch from sending Georgie to a mental institution.

Augie's Mother

Augie's mother is often overwhelmed by raising Augie and his brothers by herself. The boys' father left the family when they were young, and Augie's mother struggles to make ends meet. Grandma Lausch takes advantage of Augie's mother and tells her what to do. Augie's mother goes blind and is sent to a special home for the blind.

Grandma Lausch

Grandma Lausch is not the Marchs' actual grandmother, but rather an elderly woman with whom they live. Grandma Lausch trains Augie and Simon to do whatever it takes to succeed. The family turns against her when she puts Georgie into an institution.

Coworkers and Employers

Augie works a series of odd jobs, ranging from thief to union organizer to dog groomer. He works with many different people along the way.

William Einhorn

A disabled real estate tycoon, William Einhorn hires Augie as his assistant when Augie is in high school. Einhorn comes to love Augie, but Einhorn has to let Augie go when the Great Depression ruins his finances.

Joe Gorman

A well-known thief, Joe Gorman convinces Augie to join him in some robberies. Joe Gorman is later arrested for transporting undocumented immigrants in a stolen car.

Mr. and Mrs. Renling

Augie meets Mr. Renling when Renling hires him to work in his sporting goods store. While Augie is working for Mr. Rengling, his wife takes a special interest in the young man. She buys him a new wardrobe, introduces him to fine society, and even takes him on vacation. Augie flees when the Renlings propose adoption.

Love Interests

Like his jobs, Augie also has trouble settling down in his romantic relationships.

Thea Fenchel

Augie first meets Thea when he's on vacation with Mrs. Renling. Thea immediately falls in love with Augie, but he rejects her for her sister. Thea tells Augie they will be reunited, and they fall in love several years later. Thea and Augie travel to Mexico so she can get a divorce and live out her dream of teaching an eagle to catch lizards. She and Augie break up when she (correctly) suspects him of cheating.

Esther Fenchel

Thea's younger sister, Esther Fenchel rejects Augie's advances, believing his motives to be impure.

Sophie Geratis

When Sophie and Augie first meet, Sophie is engaged to be married. She has an affair with Augie, claiming she plans to satiate all her sexual desires before marriage.


While living in Mexico with Thea, Augie helps Stella out of a toxic relationship. He has sex with Stella, and after a period of separation, Augie and Stella marry. Neither Augie nor Stella fully enjoys married life.

The Adventures of Augie March Analysis

The Adventures of Augie March purposefully has very little plot or major conflict between Augie and the other characters. This is because the novel focuses almost entirely on establishing Augie's identity as he grows from a child to an adult. The Adventures of Augie March is a picaresque novel, with young Augie navigating corrupt Great Depression-era Chicago. As is typical in a picaresque novel, Augie is a roguish youth who gets involved with shady characters like Joe Gorman, Thea Fenchel, and William Einhorn, who often lead him morally astray. Augie has a good heart and a sense of responsibility to his family, but he is willing to do whatever it takes to survive and protect the people he loves.

A picaresque novel centers around the adventures and exploits of a lone, roguish character who navigates the corrupt society around them.

The Adventures of Augie March, Hand holding bubble with family inside, StudySmarter

Fig. 4: Augie is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family.

The Adventures of Augie March is also an example of Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story that tracks the major changes of a character's psychological and moral growth as they age. Typically, the central character reaches emotional maturity at the end of a Bildungsroman, is better able to see the world as it is, and fits into a society they once rebelled against. Augie, for example, finally marries and settles down in Europe instead of wandering listlessly and dating aimlessly. Augie also becomes more emotionally intelligent than his brother, who has become wealthy by manipulating a woman into marriage and then cheating on her.

A Bildungsroman follows the formative years of young characters as they develop psychologically and morally.

Augie is disillusioned with Simon's life but also realizes he feels stifled in his own. Augie wishes his life and marriage had more meaning and compares himself to the unsure but intelligent Christopher Columbus.

The Adventures of Augie March Themes

The main themes in The Adventures of Augie March are the development of personal identity and the cost of survival.

The Development of Personal Identity

The story begins by establishing the foundation of Augie's identity: he is a Chicago-born American tasked with raising himself. Because his father wasn't in the picture and his mother "didn't have much to teach" (Chapter 1), Augie was left to his own devices. His identity develops throughout the novel as he learns how to work, navigate a world that's often unfair, and build relationships with women.

Augie's identity shifts as he ages and his life changes. While working for the Renlings, for example, Augie dresses in the finest clothes and takes riding lessons. His flashy lifestyle is completely different from the poverty he experienced growing up. This identity is completely different from the man who follows Thea to Mexico and relies on her when he becomes badly injured. His sense of identity also shifts when he enlists in the war and realizes he wants to marry and settle down. Through each phase of his life, Augie's identity evolves and shifts. This is incredibly important to Augie, who says, "a man's character is his fate" (Chapter 1).

The Cost of Survival

Growing up poor, Augie learns to do what it takes to survive. Grandma Lausch is the first person to teach Augie and Simon how to steal from businesses, lie to protect themselves, and serve their own interests. Augie learns that Chicago is a cruel place, made even crueler by the financial strain of the Great Depression. Augie finds himself committing robberies with Joe Gorman after losing his job in the stock market crash. Augie feels guilty for his actions, but the need to survive outweighs his moral obligations to others. Augie continues to involve himself in unsavory jobs to make ends meet through the novel's end. He wants to settle down and abandon his wayward lifestyle, but he doesn't know how else to get by.

The Adventures of Augie March, Thief stealing money, StudySmarter

Fig. 5: Augie is willing to compromise his morals for the sake of survival.

The Adventures of Augie March Quotes

Below are some important quotes in The Adventures of Augie March.

In another direction, the criminals. Except that I never thought of them as such, but as boys I knew in the poolroom and saw also at school, dancing the double-toddle in the gym at lunch hour, or in the hotdog parlors. I touched all sides, and nobody knew where I belonged. I had no good idea of that myself." (Chapter 7)

This quote reveals Augie's struggle to establish his identity and fit in with others. Where society sees criminals, Augie sees complex individuals who have fallen on hard times. Augie understands the nuance of the human condition and knows that things aren't always what they appear to be. He struggles to fit in because society likes to put people in tidy boxes. Augie "touche(s) all sides" and contains multitudes, which makes his society uncomfortable.

I mean you have been disappointed in love, but don't you know how many things there are to be disappointed in besides love? You are lucky to be still disappointed in love. Later it may be even more terrible." (Chapter 20)

Augie lives a difficult life but never lets it paralyze him. Every time he faces a challenge, he rises to the occasion and continues on with his life. In this quote, Augie considers disappointment in relationships and disappointment in life. Although a failed relationship might seem monumental, it is not the end of the world or Augie's life. He will be able to bounce back and keep living.

The Adventures of Augie March - Key takeaways

  • The Adventures of Augie March was written by Saul Bellow and published in 1953.
  • The novel is a picaresque novel in which Augie March experiences his coming of age.
  • The book primarily centers around Augie's moral and emotional development instead of a specific plot.
  • Augie navigates romantic relationships and a series of odd jobs as he attempts to sustain himself in the Great Depression era Chicago.
  • The main themes in The Adventures of Augie March are the development of personal identity and the cost of survival.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Adventures of Augie March

The Adventures of Augie March is a 1953 picaresque novel, written by Saul Bellow.

The Adventures of Augie March is about a poor boy named Augie March, who grows up in Chicago during the Great Depression. 

The main themes is the development of personal identity. 

The Adventures of Augie March was written by Saul Bellow. 

The main character is the eponymous Augie March.

Final The Adventures of Augie March Quiz

The Adventures of Augie March Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Who wrote The Adventures of Augie March?

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Saul Bellow

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When/where is The Adventures of Augie March set? 

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In Chicago during the Great Depression

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Who does Augie live with as a child? 

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His mother.

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True or false: Grandma Lausch is not Augie's grandmother? 

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What struggles does Augie's mother face? 

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She is a single mom.

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Why does Augie lose his job with Einhorn? 

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The Great Depression causes Einhorn to lose most of his money.

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With which two sisters does Augie enter into an awkward love triangle of sorts?

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Thea Fenchel.

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Why does Simon marry Lucy? 

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For her money.

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Why won't Charlotte marry Augie?

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She learns he helped a woman get an illegal abortion. 

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What does Thea want from Augie when she reenters his life? 

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To come to Mexico to help her train an eagle to hunt lizards.

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True or false: Augie never marries? 

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Where is Augie at the end of the novel? 

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Paris with Stella.

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What kind of novel is The Adventures of Augie March?

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Why is The Adventures of Augie March a Bildungsroman?

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It tracks Augie's moral and psychological development.  

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What are two of the main themes in the novel? 

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The development of personal identity.

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