Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Laughing Boy is both a love story and a narrative of cultural and individual conflict. Set in 1915 on the Navajo Reservation of the Southwest before the first automobile arrived, the novel depicts an unspoiled way of life. An omniscient narrator recounts the action in a straightforward, linear manner, though considerable foreshadowing of events occurs.
Attending a ceremonial dance at Tsé Lani, a Navajo village on the southern edge of the reservation, Laughing Boy meets and falls in love with Slim Girl, a beautiful young Navajo who has been reared in Anglo society near the reservation. From Red Man, one of her admirers, he wins a wrestling match but acquires an enemy at the same time. Against the advice of his uncle and others who have heard of her past, he marries Slim Girl, and they move into her adobe hut outside Los Palos, a town near the reservation. While Slim Girl learns weaving and Navajo customs, Laughing Boy continues his life much as it had been on the reservation, tending his horses and sheep and crafting fine jewelry.
Slim Girl goes into town periodically, explaining to Laughing Boy that she is working for a missionary’s wife. In reality, she is meeting an American rancher whose mistress she has been for some time. She does this in order to save the money he gives her for eventual resettlement on the reservation, her major objective in life. When she and Laughing Boy travel far into the reservation to attend a...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Laughing Boy Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Oliver La Farge’s Laughing Boy is a moving novel about Navajo culture in the early twentieth century. An anthropologist, La Farge gathered much of his Navajo material during an expedition to the Southwest. Consequently, Laughing Boy is more factually accurate than many works on Indians that preceded it. Its plot resembles a traditional romantic tragedy, but the novel evidences the concern of a white writer for embattled native cultures that American society tended to overlook and to overwhelm.
The novel tells of the love affair between Laughing Boy (a Navajo raised on the reservation with little influence from the outside world) and Slim Girl (a beautiful Navajo woman reared in white society near the reservation). Despite familial objections Laughing Boy marries Slim Girl, and the couple moves into her hut near Los Palos, a town. There Laughing Boy continues his traditional way of life, tending animals and making jewelry, while Slim Girl devotes herself to learning Navajo culture so that she and her husband can eventually move back onto the reservation.
Their plans are disrupted when Laughing Boy learns of his wife’s affair with an American rancher. He shoots several arrows at the adulterous couple, wounding them. Later, Slim Girl explains that she stayed with the rancher only to make enough money to allow herself and her husband to move back onto the reservation. Laughing Boy accepts this explanation—especially after...
(The entire section is 392 words.)
Laughing Boy is an idyllic account of the love and marriage of two Navajo Native Americans, Laughing Boy and Slim Girl. It is one of many novels depicting a romantic love that overcomes numerous obstacles, only to end with the heroine's early death. The novel is a memorable account of an ill-fated, but deep and poignant, romantic love.
In a larger sense, the book chronicles the cultural conflict of whites and Native Americans found in the areas where Native Americans remain a significant percentage of the population. It was perhaps the first novel to treat Native Americans not as villainous savages or idealized noble primitives, but as a people with their own mores, culture, and religion that can be appreciated even by outsiders. La Farge sought to celebrate a way of life that was passing out of existence, the life of Native Americans living on a reservation relatively unaffected by the dominant American culture. His novel reveals much about Navajo life and tradition, as La Farge portrays Native American culture on its own terms, without measuring it against his own.
The Navajo taboos, chants, dances, and religious rites portrayed in the novel have a dignity and power of their own. At its best, the ideal of Navajo life is described as the "beautiful path," an aesthetic concept that links humans with forces of nature. The social system enables individuals to live and develop their personalities in harmony with themselves and with...
(The entire section is 242 words.)