Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

José Antonio Villarreal calls “The Laughter of My Father” a sketch. A sketch captures a moment; it may lack the unified, finished look of a less spontaneous portrait. The story has many themes, including family life, discovery of adult ways, and the powers and limits of reasoning. These themes are all part of the narrative sketch of one weekend in a Mexican American boy’s life. The story’s themes may, however, be unified under two categories: survival and “the other.”

Richard, the boy, is at first concerned that el Brujo may threaten the survival of his soul. Next, more serious threats to his survival are implied in the revelation that the family is in difficult financial straits (his father works six or seven days a week to put food on the table), and in the discovery of the man who has starved to death (ironically, in the midst of food). El Brujo, in turn, is looking for a woman; he is entirely alone, an effete, Europeanized Chilean among Mexicans and English-speaking Anglos. Without a wife and children, his kind (he being the only one of his kind) will die out. Being alone is clearly dangerous; it is difficult to survive even with the help of others.

Not to be alone, however, means to deal with the other. Richard, despite his keen intelligence, is overcome by fear of el Brujo. He is aware, despite his familiarity with his parents, of their otherness. There are things they know that he does not; they think and act according to rules he does not fully understand. The dead man and the sheriff also represent the other; they belong to the Anglo world in which Richard feels uneasy.