Not Without Laughter Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Not Without Laughter

Sandy Rogers comes of age in the small, racially segregated midwestern town of Stanton, Kentucky. Sandy Rogers misses his father. Sandy remembers when his dad -- Jimbo -- worked in town and came home every single night. He remembers when his dad began traveling out of town on occasion, supplying extra labor to local farms in exchange for food or money. Now his dad travels from town to town working on farms, factories, and railroads across the midwest; and no one at home ever hears from him.
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Sandy wishes his father would send him letters. He tires of listening to his Aunt and his mother. Sandy wants to grow up to be wealthy and powerful. He imagines that only his father can teach him all the worldly things he needs to know in order to accomplish this ambitious goal.

Sandy's mother also misses Jimboy. The family lives in Stanton, Kentucy. They dream of moving to Detroit, a place where they can enjoy much greater economic opportunity and quality of life than they can in racially segregated Stanton. One night, Sandy's mother steals away to find Jimboy and reunite with him. She leaves Sandy in the hands of Aunt Hagar, her sister.

Aunt Hagar consoles Sandy, reassuring him that one day he will be reunited with both his mother and his father. As Sandy grows into a young man, Aunt Hagar enforces strict rules concerning religion, diet, and schooling. She makes him attend church nearly every day. She requires him to stay in school well past the age when most young Black men would have dropped out to pursue higher-paying jobs in the city. Aunt Hagar doesn't want Sandy hanging out with the other local boys. She fears they will get him into trouble. Her strict and protective parenting style, combined with her religious fervor, cause Sandy to rebel strongly and frequently against his Aunt. Yet despite their somewhat antagonistic relationship, Sandy and Aunt Hagar share a deep bond of affection and protective loyalty.

Aunt Hagar becomes too ill to take care of Sandy; she's bedridden for months and eventually dies. Sandy moves across town to live with his aristocratic, fair-skinned Aunt Tempy. Aunt Tempy wants to "culture" Sandy. She teaches him the proper ways of dress, dining, and speech. Tempy's perspectives on life are markedly distinct from those of Sandy's mother or Aunt Hagar. He has trouble fitting in to her genteel social environment. Sandy often embarrasses Tempy by displaying mannerisms and habits that she and her friends associate with uneducated, rural Black folks. Meanwhile, Sandy's third aunt -- Aunt Harriet -- has moved to Chicago and made a name for herself as a model.

Sandy's mother sends for him. She has settled in Detroit and wishes her son to join her. Jimboy is serving as an enlisted man in Germany. It's the onset of WWI, and Black people are migrating in record numbers to urban centers such as Detroit and Chicago.

When Sandy arrives in Detroit, he feels a different kind of energy than that of Stanton. These men and women seem filled with hope. They believe that their futures are pregnant with possibilities. Though he's only been in Detroit a few short weeks, he's already acquired a degree hopeful optimism concerning his own future possibilities. Against the mocking derision of his friends and the even disapproval of his mother, Sandy decides to start saving money toward his college education.
Best part of story, including ending: The story is poetic and lyrical. The narrator doesn't describe much of what's happening in Sandy's head, but we still get a clear sense of the young man's internal sufferings and triumphs. The narrative is quite optimistic, ending with an emphatic conviction of hope, and of better days ahead.

Best scene in story: Sandy shares his plans to attend college with his mother and Aunt Harriet. His mother discourages it, noting that the family needs money and that it's his job as a man to support the household. Aunt Harriet intervenes in the conversation. She reminds Sandy's mother that the original reason she wanted the family to move to Detroit was for a higher quality of life for herself and her son. Sandy's mother remains steadfast in her disapproval. Harriet promises to help Sandy pay for college; that he'll get there, no matter what. This alliance between Sandy and Harriet is somewhat surprising. After all, Harriet hasn't been a strong influence in Sandy's life. The scene seems to suggest that Harriet, having moved to Chicago years before Sandy's mom moved to Detroit, is already the beneficiary of a more empowered, cosmopolitan perspective. Thus, she's able to help bring Sandy along, into a more empowered and cosmopolitan world, despite the fact that Sandy's mom isn't quite ready yet.

Opinion about the main character: Sandy is observant and insightful. He notices every detail of the way the adults around him treat and try to mold him. Sandy is precocious and quickly gains insight from these observations. The way he behaves toward his mother and aunts is quite gentle, sensitive, and wise. Even when he rebels, Sandy seeks to protect the (often fragile) egos of the women who support and raise him. He's able to understand and recognize their love for him, and their own internal struggles, even when their modes of expressing these realities fall short.

The review of this Book prepared by Jessica a Level 2 American Robin scholar

Chapter Analysis of Not Without Laughter

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   very sensitive (sigh) Time/era of story    -   1930's-1950's Kids growing up/acting up?    -   Yes Ethnic/Regional/Religion    -   Black people in America/Europe Other aspects:    -   story of a family Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Ethnic/regional/gender life    -   Yes Age group of kid(s) in story:    -   high school Parents/lack of parents problem?    -   orphan story

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   student Age:    -   a teen Ethnicity/Nationality    -   Black (American)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   5 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Midwest Small town?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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