The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In addition to the principal characters, there are numerous other figures who represent Hughes’s impressive command of a people and a period of time. The self-styled Madam de Carter, active in the Lodge; Brother Logan, who has been courting Hager for twenty years; and ninety-three-year-old Uncle Dan, who claims to have fathered more than forty children, are only three examples of the many interesting personalities in this novel. For the most part, they reveal themselves through dialogue and through what others say about them. As a result, Hughes is able to include an astonishing amount of sociological commentary on the community without ever employing an intrusive narrator.

Hughes generally saves his characters’ longer speeches for later parts of the novel when a certain amount of curiosity about them has been aroused. For example, although it is apparent that Hager’s identity has been formed by her experience of slavery, her own commentary on the past does not appear until the last third of Not Without Laughter, when she is alone with her grandson. She gives him what some might consider to be an apology for slavery, but her main point is that to ignore the positive aspects of the hard and unjust life of the slaves is to deny the humanity of all people, white and black alike.

Hager’s piety, however, cuts her off from other aspects of the world that Sandy must explore. His friends introduce him to the pool hall—one of the few...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

James “Sandy” Rodgers

James “Sandy” Rodgers, the novel’s protagonist, who comes of age in small-town, racially divided Stanton, Kansas, in the years prior to and including World War I. A sensitive, reflective, and intelligent black boy, Sandy is a young child when the novel opens; at the novel’s close, he is sixteen years old and determined to continue his education despite the onset of the war and the economic hardships his family suffers. Sandy is the perceptive observer of black life across race, caste, and class barriers in Stanton and Chicago. He is at first the listener while various members of the black community reflect on their life’s experiences, particularly their encounters with racism; eventually, as he grows up and begins to move within the larger community, he has his own experiences with maturation, sexuality, and family and race relations on which to reflect.

Aunt Hager Williams

Aunt Hager Williams, Sandy’s maternal grandmother and the principal source of strength, wisdom, and inspiration in his life. As a hardworking washerwoman and an old-fashioned Christian devoid of malice and devoted to Christian values, Hager is the mainstay of her family and an important community resource. Blacks and whites in Stanton respect her and call on her services in times of crisis.

Jimboy Rodgers

Jimboy Rodgers, Sandy’s roving, guitar-playing, loving, and hardworking (when he can find work) father. Young and light-skinned, or “high...

(The entire section is 630 words.)