The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Laughing Boy, ceremonially named “Sings Before Spears,” represents the young, talented, and exuberant Navajo from the reservation—a “blanket Indian” who speaks no English. Skilled in jewelry-making and at home on horseback, he finds fulfillment in creating beautiful works and in tending his animals. Yet he is competitive as well, even aggressive at times. He enjoys contests, gambling, and occasional unfriendly encounters with traditional Navajo enemies, the Ute and the Hopi. For the most part, he follows the Navajo way, the trail of beauty; he takes part in traditional dances, rituals, and ceremonies, finding significance in the Navajo religion.

Slim Girl, “Came With War,” the heroine, enables the author to overcome the taciturnity and reserve of the Indian character and bridge the two conflicting cultures. A Navajo whose grandmother was an Apache, she attended an Indian school where she learned English and adopted the values of American culture.

Her life with a missionary family ended abruptly and unhappily, however, when she became pregnant by a cowboy who refused to marry her. Cared for by local prostitutes, she became one of them after bearing a stillborn child. She disliked her existence and American ways and longed to return to the reservation, to follow the Navajo way, of which she knew little. Her interest in Laughing Boy, originating because she sees him as affording her a way back, grows into love. From him she learns...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Laughing Boy

Laughing Boy, also called Sings Before Spears, a youthful, talented Navajo Indian from a Southwestern reservation. Because he has not been exposed to white society and schooling, he is known as a “blanket Indian.” His primary interests are crafting jewelry, raising sheep, and racing horses. An outdoor type, he is a man of action rather than of words. In contests with friends and foes, he is cheerful, highly competitive, and usually successful. He knows and respects tribal culture and mores and has the capacity for deep romantic love.

Slim Girl

Slim Girl, also called Came with War, a young, beautiful, and energetic Indian woman of mixed Navajo and Apache descent. She is somewhat extroverted, highly intelligent, bold, wily, and cheerful. Having been sent to a white school as a child, she is divided between cultures in conflict. First loving and then marrying Laughing Boy, she perceives him as a means of fulfilling her dream of returning to the reservation. Having experienced unhappiness and misfortune in white culture, she learns all that she can about her Indian heritage from Laughing Boy.

Jesting Squaw’s son

Jesting Squaw’s son, a young Navajo friend of Laughing Boy who shares his exuberance, high spirits, and competitive activities. Like Laughing Boy, he is a reservation or blanket Indian. His profound sense of guilt over breaking a tribal taboo reflects the degree...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Beyond celebrating the Navajo ideal of hozojl the novel depicts a cultural conflict that takes a heavy toll on the Native Americans....

(The entire section is 672 words.)