Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Laughing Boy has been called an idyll, an adolescent novel, and a love story. It is primarily the story of young love, idealistic though flawed and ill-fated, somewhat resembling the love theme in novels such as W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions (1904) and Robert Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie (1940). The love of Laughing Boy and Slim Girl survives the crisis of infidelity and grows stronger and more secure until Slim Girl’s death. The story leaves a poignant regret for what might have been, for La Farge has successfully created the illusion that love will last. The reader believes that Slim Girl would have adjusted to life on the reservation and, as she hoped, would have remained beautiful, unlike most Navajo women, who grow old too soon.

The love theme, the youthful characters, and the rather exotic setting make the novel appealing to young readers, as does the discreet handling of the sexual love theme. Until he meets Slim Girl, Laughing Boy does not know what a kiss is. La Farge permits his major characters a romantic love drawn from American culture, not from that of the Navajo. In his preface to the 1963 edition of the novel, he expresses satisfaction that the work is widely read by young people.

In the same preface, the author notes that the novel seeks to defend no special position regarding American Indians but to depict their culture and traditions. Yet there can be little doubt that La Farge, a trained and...

(The entire section is 404 words.)