One Book, One Chicago Fall 2011
Riverside Park Carousel and Circle Swing
Courtesy Chicago Public Library, Special Collections & Preservation Division
- The first chapter ends with Augie beaten up by someone whom he thought was his friend, and Grandma Lausch considers it a learning experience. She also tells Augie that, “A child loves, a person respects. Respect is better than love.” Does Augie follow this advice? Was the fight with his friend a turning point or a sign of things to come?
- How does Augie’s relationship with Einhorn shape him? Is Einhorn the first of many imposing figures who hold influence over Augie?
- Why does Augie seem to resent Grandma Lausch for trying to shape him, but is grateful to Einhorn?
- Augie turns down an adoption offer from the Renlings, and takes offense when Simon disparages his family in front of the Magnuses. How does Augie’s idea of family influence the decisions he makes throughout his life?
- Others always want to care for Augie. Is the reverse true? Does Augie feel obligated to take care of his brother George or his mother? Grandma Lausch? The young man, Stoney, from the train?
- How does Augie react to Mimi Villars’ attitudes on life, marriage and love? Is theirs a friendship of equals? How do Augie and Mimi differ on the subject of love?
- When Mimi gets pregnant, she compares her dilemma with that of Augie’s mother when she had her sons. Do you think Augie subconsciously made this connection on his own while advising and later helping Mimi?
- Augie not only moves from mentor to mentor, but from job to job. Does he ever feel defined by his job? Do you think that America at this time—the first part of the 20th century—was a time when most Americans felt defined by their employment?
- Simon enters into a sort of arranged marriage with Charlotte Magnus; and their relationship is very driven by money—his need for it and her family’s ability to control it. Would Augie have ever entered into such a marriage?
- Heraclitus philosophized that the world is always changing, always in flux. What is the significance of the author opening his novel with a quote from Heraclitus? How does Augie’s life mirror the ideas of Heraclitus?
- Compare Augie to Einhorn’s son Arthur. Is there competition between them? Does Augie hope to emulate Arthur’s academic career or seek to be loved by Einhorn in the same way? Or is he indifferent to Arthur?
- In Chapter 13, Mildred Stark says of Einhorn’s grandson and of children in general, “They grow up. Time does it more than fathers and mothers. The parents take too much credit.” Does this statement about time and growth represent a major theme of the novel? How does this apply to Augie and to other characters?
- How does Augie feel about his work with the unions, which were such an integral part of Chicago working life in the 1930s? Is it just another job to him? Why does the author give this job to Augie, such an easygoing and individual thinker?
- Augie says he has “no grudge-bearing ability to speak of.” Do you think this is true? Why did Bellow choose to tell the story of someone so fair-minded?
- What is Augie’s first reaction to Thea’s reappearance in his life?
- Talk about the appearance of the eagle, Caligula, in the novel. How do Augie’s feelings toward Caligula change with time? Does Caligula represent a version of Augie? Of America?
- Why is Augie so impressed with Trotsky, even though he isn’t sure he agrees with his politics? He is in awe of his “exiled greatness, because the exile was a sign to me of persistence at the highest things.”
- Discuss Augie’s marriage to Stella. Is his marriage to her more of a commitment than his move to Mexico with Thea?
- At the end of the novel, Augie wants to be a teacher. Do you think this is another phase, or is his enthusiasm real, and will it last?
- How do you feel about Augie March at the end of these adventures? Do you like him, understand him or feel that he’s self-involved, particularly against the backdrop of the Depression? Or does he represent a typical American man from this era?