Essays /

Not Without Laughter Study Guide Essay

Essay preview

BookRags Literature Study Guide

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

For the online version of BookRags' Not Without Laughter Literature Study Guide, including complete copyright information, please visit:

Copyright Information

©2000-2012 BookRags, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The following sections of this BookRags Literature Study Guide is offprint from Gale's For Students Series: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Works: Introduction, Author Biography, Plot Summary, Characters, Themes, Style, Historical Context, Critical Overview, Criticism and Critical Essays, Media Adaptations, Topics for Further Study, Compare & Contrast, What Do I Read Next?, For Further Study, and Sources.

(c)1998-2002; (c)2002 by Gale. Gale is an imprint of The Gale Group, Inc., a division of Thomson Learning, Inc. Gale and Design® and Thomson Learning are trademarks used herein under license.

The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: "Social Concerns", "Thematic Overview", "Techniques", "Literary Precedents", "Key Questions", "Related Titles", "Adaptations", "Related Web Sites". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.

The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults: "About the Author", "Overview", "Setting", "Literary Qualities", "Social Sensitivity", "Topics for Discussion", "Ideas for Reports and Papers". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.

All other sections in this Literature Study Guide are owned and copywritten by BookRags, Inc.

No part of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, Web distribution or information storage retrieval systems without the written permission of the publisher.

Plot Summary

In Not without Laughter, Langston Hughes, the great early twentieth century American novelist, poet and playwright, presents the story of Sandy Rogers, a young black boy in the early 1900s growing up in the Midwest. Hughes aims to tell the story of black American life in the mid-west within two generations following slavery. He sets the story in Stanton, Kansas and focuses on the relations between blacks and whites, the tensions between different philosophies of living with oppression, the subtle and not-so-subtle racist social norms of Midwestern white society, poverty, religion and the possibility of a black person improving his or her position within a white society.

Sandy is a young boy when the story begins. He lives with his mother, Annjee, his aunt Harriet and his grandmother Aunt Hager. His father, Jimboy, travels the country working odd jobs and rarely writing home. His other aunt, Tempy, has married into black high-society that attempts to imitate whites to becomes acceptable to white society. In part due to a lack of education and in part due to direct discrimination against blacks, Sandy's family is very poor.

Aunt Hager is the family matriarch. She is a seriously religious Christian who tries to keep the family in church and well-behaved. She remembers being a slave as a little girl, but her general attitude towards white society is that oppressed is to be endured with love for the neighbor and prayer and forgiveness for the oppressor. She is also largely responsible for raising Sandy, particularly after Annjee leaves to be with Jimboy. Sandy's Aunt Harriett leaves home after a conflict with Aunt Hager and becomes a prostitute, while Tempy will hardly give her family the time of day. Aunt Hager is determined to raise Sandy right and keeps him employed and in school. She pushes Sandy to dream big for himself despite the odds against him and wants him to become a "great man".

When Aunt Hager dies, Annjee cannot afford to move Sandy to Detroit, where she and Jimboy live at the time, so Sandy goes to live with his Aunt Tempy. Tempy is embarrassed by her lower-class black past and has removed all of her "dialect" and goes to the Episcopal Church with her husband. She discourages Sandy from getting in trouble and keeps him in high school. The large number of books in her house gives Sandy the opportunity to read, and he quickly acquires a habit of constantly reading. The books he reads expand his mind and lead him to ask big questions about religion, morality and race relations.

Eventually Annjee saves up enough money to send for Sandy; Jimboy has gone to Europe in World War I and Annjee has found Sandy a job as a bell-boy. Sandy saves up money to continue his education, but Annjee wants him to keep his job as a bell-boy and make a living. About that time, Harriett has made her way out of darker places and has utilized her natural beauty and singing talent to become a regional blues singing star. When Sandy and Annjee go to see her in Chicago, Harriett berates Annjee for discouraging Sandy's education and reminds her of Aunt Hager's dreams for him. When Annjee relents, Harriett commits to funding Sandy's education.

Chapters 1-3, Storm, Conversation, Jimboy's Letter Summary and Analysis

"Storm" introduces Aunt Hager and her grandson Sandy preparing for a cyclone that is hitting their neighborhood. At the beginning of the story, Aunt Hager is desperately trying to get Sandy and herself into her cellar and get the door shut. When the storm passes, her house is gone, but she and her neighbor thank God things weren't worse. After meeting with a few more people in town, they hear that two rich white people in the neighborhood, the Gavitts, had been killed. Aunt Hager was a nurse whose services were needed so she tended to their family. Then Sandy's mother, Annjee, turns up to find Sandy and the three of them return home. Annjee's husband, Jimboy, hasn't written in three weeks. Aunt Hager thinks he's worthless, but Annjee and Sandy love him and Annjee prays for him to return.

In broad strokes, Storm concerns the normal reaction of townspeople to a cyclone in a black and white town. The black people immediately tend to the white people who are hysterical; the black people have to fend for themselves.

"Conversation" records a conversation between Aunt Hager and Sister Whiteside. They primarily talk about their children and grandchildren, about their lives and complain about how they never write. While they cover many details, one thing that comes out very clearly is the class structure in the town of Stanton where they live. First, they talk about Sandy and Sandy's friend Buster, who was half-black and probably had a white father. Of Hager's three daughters, Tempy, Annjee and Harriett, only Annjee sees Hager regularly.

Tempy and her husband have done well financially and have stopped hanging around lower-class blacks with darker skin. Instead, they quit the black Baptist church they went to and started going to the white Episcopalian church where "better" people go. In general, it becomes clear that Stanton largely has three social classes, whites, lower class and mostly darker blacks, and then lighter-skinned middle class blacks. Middle class blacks often seek to distinguish themselves from lower-class blacks to gain the approval of whites. They will do a lot for this form of social recognition, even ignoring their family and changing churches.

In "Jimboy's Letter", AnnJee receives a note from Jimboy saying that he'd been laying railroad in Kansas City and had hurt his back so he was coming home. Aunt Hager thought he was lying and thought he never did any work. But Annjee knows that he really was doing work. Jimboy was probably trying to outdo the Greeks in the work gang he was a part of when he hurt his back. In fact, while Jimboy could be irresponsible, he was a handsome man and always entertained so that no one was ever bored or lonely when he was around. He brought in some money, and he would have to do that outside of Stanton anyway.

In Stanton, there was almost no work for black people; immigrants came in and took away their jobs, and so a man could work in Stanton his whole life without saving enough money to retire and leave something behind (Aunt Hager's husband had suffered this fate). Throughout the chapter, it is quite clear that Annjee misses Jimboy but knows that he's a "travellin'" man who doesn't like to stay in one place. She believes he married her because she was a homebody and would take care of a house. She was happy to do so to have him.

Chapters 4-6, Thursday Afternoon, Guitar, Work Summary and Analysis

On Thursday afternoon, Hager's youngest daughter Harriet comes home to visit. She decided to quit her job as a waitress because white men harassed her too much and asked her to sleep with them. Instead, she wanted to get a job as a chambermaid at a hotel making good money. Harriet was pretty and was young enough to still be hostile to Hager, in her teenage years perhaps. The entire chapter consists of a conversation between Harriet and Hager.

Harriet doesn't want to follow Christianity as Hager demands that she do. She thinks that Christianity makes black people stuck up and unable to have fun. She thinks of Jesus as "stiff" and "white" and notes that Tempy spends all her time in church but that this just makes her stuck up and arrogant. Instead, Harriet wants to spend her time dancing and having fun with boys. Hager demands that she start acting like a Christian again, but Harriet ignores her. Hager breaks down when Harriet is about to leave with a bunch of boys and begs for her to be good. Harriet walks out.

In "Guitar", Jimboy has come home and is playing his guitar and singing. Harriet is singing with him, as they have done since she was a little girl when Jimboy would come home. Jimboy sings many songs that he has learned from across the country, including the blues. Annjee is hurt that when Jimboy comes home he starts singing with Harriet and doesn't say a word to her. She makes him food and he doesn't seem interested in eating it, but eventually he puts down the guitar and sets her on his lap and eats. Annjee is happy.

"Work" begins with Jimboy and Sandy fishing. They're clearly glad to spend some time together. Jimboy wouldn't be working that day since he'd been laid off due to the fact that white men refused to work alongside a black man. After fishing, Sandy had to run off and help his mother, who was cooking at the Rice's, a rich white family.

Sandy saw that his mother worked very hard and that Mrs. Rice, the blond, skinny white woman, was constantly telling Sandy what to do and criticizing her and condescending to her when she had the chance. Sandy complains to Sandy that these white people are so particular and babied, pampered as they were by their black servants.

Sandy cries when he sees his mother sweating and Mrs. Rice taking such ruthless advantage of her. When they get home, Annjee was happy to have the evening since black people had to give their day "to white folks".

Chapters 7-9, White Folks, Dance, Carnival Summary and Analysis

"White folks" hones in on the racial struggles of the black people of Stanton. The entire chapter consists of stories about how the main characters suffered under the white men where they lived. Harriet wasn't permitted to sit with her white classmates at school...

Read more


-12 -15 -18 -1967 -2002 -2005 -2012 -21 -24 -27 -3 -30 -44 -6 -9 /studyguide-not-without-laughter/ 1 10 11 12 13 135 143 15 16 165 182 19 1900s 1902 194 1994 1998 2 2000 2002 20th 22 226 23 24 244 246 25 252 26 274 28 280 29 30 314 323 324p 4 419 45 6 68 7 85 abl absolut accept access accommod accomodationist accomplish accost accumul accur accustom achiev acquir across act action activ actual adapt address admir admit adult advanc advantag affect afford afloat african african-american afternoon afterward age ahead aim ain all-night allow almost alon along alongsid alreadi also altern although alway amaz american among analys analysi analyst and/or andersen angri annje anoth antagonist anyon anyth anyway apart appear appreci approach approv apron ardent area aren argu arkin around arrest arriv arrog articl asham ask asleep aspect aspir assimil assimiliationist assist ate attack attempt attent attitud aunt author averag average-s avoid awar away b babi back background bad bag balconi band baptist bar barber barber-shop base basement basic bathroom beacham beat beauti becam becom bed bee beg began begin behav behavior behind belief believ bell bell-boy bell-hop belt berat best better bewar beyond big biographi bit bite black blatant blond bloom blow blue blues-sing bodi book booker bookrag bore born boss bottom bottum bought boy boyfriend brag brain break bring britch broad broader broke broom brought build bunch bundl buri burn busi buster buy c cake call came candi cannot car card care carniv carri case caught caus celebr cellar centuri chambermaid chanc chang chap chapter charact chastis check chicago chide childhood children chile choos christian christma chronolog church circl circumst circus citi civil claim class classmat clatter clean clear close closet cloth club cold collect colleg color come comfort commit common communiti compani compar complain complet compos concept concern condescend confess conflict conform confus congreg congressman connect consequ consist constant contain contest context continu contrast convers cook copyright copywritten correct correl corrupt cost cotton could couldn countri coupon cours cover credit cri critic crowd crowvill cruel cultur cyclon cypress d danc dare dark darker date daughter dawn day de deal decemb decid deep deepli defend degrad deliber demand describ design desper despis despit detail determin detroit devast devour dialect dialogu dick didn die differ difficult difficulti dignifi direct disappear disappoint discourag discrimin discuss dislik disobedi distinct distinguish distribut district divis doctor doesn dollar domin done door douglass downtown dr dream dress dresser drive drop drove drummer drunk drunken duboi due e eager earli earn easi eat echo econom editorialist educ effect effus either elder electron elev em embalm embarrass employ encount encourag encyclopedia end endur enemi energi engag england english enjoy enough entertain entir entrench episcop episcopalian equal equip especi essay etern eulog europ even event eventu ever everyon everywher evict exampl excel except exchang excit exclaim exclud exclus excus exist expand expect experi explicit exploit express extra extrem eye face facil fact fair fairi fake famili familiar famous far fare fashion fate father featur feed feel feet fell femal fend feroci ferri fiction fifth fight figur final financ financi find fine finish fire first fish five flash flout flow flower fo focus folk follow food fool fore forget forgiv forgiven form forward fought found four frederick free freed freeli freshman friend front fruition full fun fun-lov fund funer furious furnitur futur gain gale gang gave gavitt gay general generat get gift gift-card girl girlfriend give given glad glamor glow go god goe gold gone gonna good goodby got gotta grab grade grandchildren grandfath grandma grandmoth grandson graphic great great-uncl greatest greek greet grew grin groov group grow grown growth guess guid guitar gun gun-fight guy gwine habit hadn hager half half-black hall hand handl handsom hang happen happi happili harass hard harlem harper harriet harriett hasn hat hate hatr headstrong hear heard heart heaven held hell help hemorrhag herein hereon hew hey hide high high-church high-class high-societi hill hire histor hit hold home homebodi hone hoof hop hope hors hostil hot hotel hous howev hugh humili hurt husband hyster ice idea ignor illustr imit immedi immigr immor implicit import impoverish impress imprint improv in inc incid includ incred indiffer indirect individualist infect inferior inform initi injustic insid insist instanc instead integr intellectu intellig interest intern introduc introduct involv iron irrespons isn issu j jame jazz jealous jeann jesus jimboy jimmi job john johnson join joinin joke jordan journey joy kansa keep key kill kind knew know known lack laid land lane langston lap larg last late later latin laud laugh laughter laugther laundress laundri law lawd lawrenc lay lead learn least leav led left lemonad length less let letter liar licens lie life light light-skin lighter lighter-skin like listen literari literatur littl live livin ll lock loft logan lone long look lord lose lost lot loud loui love low low-church low-class lowdin lower lower-class lyric m mad made mae magazin mail mailman main maintain major make male man mani march mari marri marriag matern matriarch matter maudel may mayb mean mechan medal media meek meet melt member memphi men mention messag mid mid-chapt mid-west middl midwest midwestern might mile mind mingo minist minor miss mistress mitchel mix mixed-rac mo mobi mode model money monoton moral morn most mother motiv move mr mrs much mump must n nail nake name natur near need negro neighbor neighborhood neither never new news newspap next nice nicer nickel nigger niggerish night non non-black none nonetheless norm normal not-so-subtl note noth nothin notic novel novelist number numer nurs o oberlin obituari objects/places obstacl obvious occas occasion occup odd offer offprint often old older oldest one onlin open opportun oppress oppressor order other otherwis out-brag out-li outdo outrag outsid overarch overhear overview own owner p pack pair pamper pansetta paper parent part part-tim particular pass passag past pastor patterson paul pay peac peopl pepper perceiv perhap period permiss permit person perspect phase philosoph philosophi photocopi pick pieti place plantat plate play playwright pleas pledg plot poem poet point pool poor popular porch posit possess possibl post post-slaveri poverti power pp pray prayer preced precis prefer pregnant prentiss prepar presbyterian present pressur pretti primarili princess print printer privileg probabl proceed progress promin propon prostitut protest proud provid provoc psycholog public publish pull punish pursu push put qualiti question quick quit quot race racial racism racist radic raid railroad rais ran rang rare rather re reach reaction read reader readi realiz realli reason rebel rebellion receiv reckon recogn recognit recommend record recount recov recreat red red-light refer refin reflect refrain refus regard region regret regular reject relat relationship relent reliev religi religion remain rememb remind remov renaiss rent report repres reproduc repudi requir resent reserv resist resolv resourc respect respond respons rest result retir retriev return reviv revolt revolv rice rich right road roger role room run run-in rush rusti ruthless sad said sandi save saw say school schoolwork scientist section see seek seem seen seeth segreg selfless send sens sensat sensit sent separ septemb seri serious servant servic set settl sex shelf shelv shine shirt shock shoe shop short shot shoulder shouldn shout show shut sick signific sile siles similar simpli sin sinc sing singer sister sit site size skin skin-ton skinni slave slaveri sled sleep sleepi small smart soci social societi softmor sold someon someth sometim somewhat son song sophist soul sourc south southern speak specif speech spell spend spent spiritu spittoon split spoil spoke spring st stage stain stand stanton star start state stay step stick stiff still stood stop storag stori storm stove straightforward strategi street street-walk strength strike strive stroke strong structur struggl stuck stuck-up student studi style sub sub-ton subtl subtler succeed success suffer suffrag suffragett summari summer superstructur support suppos sure surround surviv sweat switch system take tale talent talk tape tast teacher tear techniqu teenag telegraph tell tempi ten tend tennesse tension term terribl thank themat theme thick thin thing think thinner third thirti thomson thorough though thought three threw throughout throw thursday thus tie tight time tire titl toe togeth token told toledo tone took topic total touch toward town townspeopl trade trademark tradit tragedi transfer travel travellin treat treatment tri troubl trust turn twentieth two typic ugli ultim unabl uncl uncomfort uncompl understand understood undertak unheard uninterest union uniqu unit unlik unnot unoffici unpack upper upset upstair uptight us use util vagu vari various version victori villain virginia visit volunt voraci vote w wagon wait waitress walk walton want war warn wash washington wasn wast water watermelon way wealth web week well well-behav well-off well-to-do went weren west whatev whenev wherev whether whip white white-domin whitesid whole whorehous whose wide wife wild willi william willie-ma willing winter wire wish withdraw withdrew within without wive woke woman women won wonder word wore work worker world worri wors worst worthless would wouldn wound wreath write writer written wrong wrote yaller year yell yesterday yet young youngest youth