Dark Laughter Analysis
by Sherwood Anderson

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Ohio River

*Ohio River. Major tributary of the Mississippi River that rises in western Pennsylvania and flows southwest nearly one thousand miles before joining the Mississippi. On a boat trip on the Ohio with his parents, Bruce Dudley hears the singing, conversation, and laughter of African Americans for the first time. Their daily connection with the river allows their voices to remain in touch with the world. Bruce’s return to the river as an adult spawns a connection with the river and the sense of self he lost while in Chicago.

*Mississippi River

*Mississippi River. Bruce’s trip down the Mississippi awakens his sensibility to the elemental self he lost. He rides the Mississippi to New Orleans, enjoys the shade and sounds of trees on the bank, hears the voices of African Americans, and returns to his childhood home and his place near the Ohio River.

Old Harbor

Old Harbor. Bruce’s childhood home in Indiana, to which he returns after years in Chicago. Old Harbor is a fictional town similar to the more famous Winesburg, Ohio, which Anderson depicted in greater detail in 1919. Bruce is reunited with the Ohio River and rejects newspaper work. He changes his name from John Stockton to Bruce Dudley, indicating his change of self in his old home, and experiences a personal rebirth, working with his hands varnishing automobile wheels.

Grey home

Grey home. Home of automobile wheel factory owner Fred Grey and his wife, Aline. Aline is reunited with her lost sense of self in the garden of the home built on Fred’s family’s acreage. Living with Fred, who is the embodiment of the comfortable bourgeois man, in a home with separate bedrooms, Aline experiences intense restlessness and despair. Hiring Bruce as a gardener, she expresses her forgotten sexual self, which is brought to life in the presence of natural vegetation. Aline and Bruce’s decision to admit that Bruce is the father of her forthcoming child indicates their complete acceptance of themselves as natural creatures, uninhibited by the decorum of artificial, civilized society.

Martin home

Martin home. Home of Sponge Martin, the first natural human Bruce meets on his journey back to his original self. Sponge lives on the river in an old brick home, a former stable on a dirt road that was the main road of town before the factories took the town away from the river. Sponge fishes with his wife and shares a natural intimacy that is crude by societal standards but refreshing and honest to Bruce.


*Chicago. Great midwestern city in which Bruce, as John Stockton, lives with his wife, Bernice, in a studio apartment. Both write for a newspaper, where they enjoy success. However, Bruce feels adrift in the city. A lack of connection to the fundamental elements of life make him listless and bored. Every city dweller appears bored and frightened to him. Artistic men in the city appear feminine to him, and the women are turning masculine. The artificial living environments of Chicago have altered the natural responses of the people. Bruce does not even have to use his hands to work. He can phone the stories to the newspaper.


*Paris. Capital of France where Aline Grey spends time after World War I. She seeks to develop her artistic abilities, studying painting. However, she is already too removed from her original self to become an artist, and suffers the same fate as Bruce, marrying for security and comfortable compatibility instead of passion. She meets Fred in a studio apartment, denying her interest in a working man at the same party, because he is not of her social standing.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Anderson's techniques embroiled the literary world in controversy ever since his first book was published, and Dark Laughter was no exception. Critical response ranged from "astonishingly bad" (Kim Townsend) to "one of the most profound novels of our time" (H. L. Mencken). Simplicity was Anderson's hallmark, and perhaps the reason so many critics distrusted his literary achievement. In some instances in Dark...

(The entire section is 1,248 words.)