Study Guide

Not Without Laughter

by Langston Hughes

Not Without Laughter Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Not Without Laughter Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dace, Letitia, and Tish Dace, eds. “Langston Hughes: The Contemporary Reviews.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Features chronological, critical essays on reviews by a wide range of scholars, including one on Not Without Laughter. An excellent source for putting Hughes’s works in context.

Shields, John P. “ Never Cross the Divide’: Reconstructing Langston Hughes’s Not Without Laughter.” African American Review 28 (Winter, 1994): 601-613. Shields offers a reconstruction of Hughes’s novel, focusing on the influence of patron Charlotte Mason and the early stages of the book’s development. Shields explores the degree to which Mason’s literary censorship forced Hughes to mute his left-wing political notions, as well as his use of graphic imagery.

Sundquist, Eric J. “Who Was Langston Hughes?” Commentary 102 (December, 1996): 55-59. Initially Hughes became well known for his role in the Harlem literary renaissance because of his ability to mix popular culture and politics with poetry. However, Sundquist shows that during the post-World War II era, Hughes was less overtly occupied with politics and more concerned with art.

Thomas, H. Nigel. “Patronage and the Writing of Langston Hughes’s Not Without Laughter: A Paradoxical Case.” CLA Journal 42 (September, 1998): 48-49. Traces the professional relationship between Hughes and his wealthy patroness Charlotte Mason. Thomas argues that their relationship ended because Mrs. Mason, despite her liberal leanings, was really part of the established intellectual superstructure which determined the worth of books by new authors.

Trotman, C. James, ed. Langston Hughes: The Man, His Art, and His Continuing Influence. New York: Garland, 1995. Presents a brief biography of Hughes, as well as critical articles by a variety of scholars. Offers a solid overview of his work. Includes a helpful index.