Not Without Laughter concentrates on the childhood and adolescent years of Sandy Rogers, a sensitive and highly intelligent black boy growing up in a small Kansas town. His grandmother, known to the community as Aunt Hager, is the center of his life. She washes clothes for the Reinharts, a white family, and she takes care of him while his mother works for Mrs. J. J. Rice, a snobbish upper-class white woman. Later, Hager becomes Sandy’s sole guardian after his mother, Annjee, leaves to join her husband in Detroit and Harriett, the last daughter to remain at home, runs away with the carnival that visits Stanton.
Sandy’s father, Jimboy, is rarely home and has trouble maintaining steady employment. Sandy adores his father’s lively personality and talent and loves to hear his Aunt Harriett and Jimboy sing the blues. Sandy is a gregarious boy and enjoys the usual pursuits of adolescents, but there is a studiousness in him and a sense of responsibility that his grandmother encourages. Indeed, he is deeply influenced by his grandmother, who praises the virtues of hard work and a religious life.
Hager expects Sandy to be a great man; she hopes that he will not disappoint her, as her daughters have. Harriett has forsaken the family’s Baptist beliefs, first for streetwalking and then for a career as a singer; Annjee has married a lazy man who cannot provide for his family; Tempy has become a middle-class black Episcopalian who is ashamed...
(The entire section is 553 words.)