Dark Laughter Themes
by Sherwood Anderson

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Winesburg, Ohio (1919), which Anderson subtitled, "A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life," sketches the story of a large cast of characters; Dark Laughter, in contrast, probes the reflections of three people: Bruce Dudley, his boss Fred Grey, and Fred's wife Aline Grey.

Dudley, a dreamer and a journalist with ambitions to write something serious, feels he is going nowhere with his newspaper job in Chicago. His wife is wrapped up in her own career as a writer. One day he simply decides to reject the present and walks out of his job and marriage to return to the simple, small-town life in Old Harbor, on the Ohio River, where he had lived as a boy. He lands a job in a wheel factory owned by Fred Grey. Here he works with a seasoned hand at wheel painting named Sponge Martin. Sponge was once a master carriage painter and still likes to recall the glory of the past.

The developing relationship between Dudley and Aline forms the core of the story. While waiting in a car for her husband, Aline notices Dudley coming out of the plant and is attracted to him. She manages to persuade Dudley to come to work for her as a gardener, which leads to an affair she encourages, and finally to Aline leaving her impotent husband and going away with Dudley. What change for the good this can possibly harbor for Aline beyond the sexual is not clear, but Anderson's low-key tale makes her choice appear wholly plausible.