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Dissertation for The Novel Dark Laughter (Dissertation Sample)


dissertation for the novel Dark Laughter.

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Sherwood Anderson is one of the authors who make great subjects for an autobiography. He is the archetypal author who does not want to be understood beyond his literary works (Basset 2006). One would be forgiven to perceive his life as colorless in comparison to the brilliant legacy he has in the literary circles. In reality, he is one of the authors where one has to retrace their footsteps backwards in order to comprehend his life, besides the more visible world of his literary works. Sherwood Anderson is a literary icon and it is perturbing to know that this veteran has no biography five decades after his demise. He altered the genre of short stories, which is no mean feat for an American author who grew up uneducated and as a poor Midwestern boy (Balaikan 1988). It is even more remarkable to know that he grew up without anyone’s support, but still rose to the pinnacles of the American business world, only to quit that glamour life for a literary career that was to catapult him to fame. This expository paper seeks to explore Sherwood Anderson’s life through one of his most popular literary works, ‘Dark Laughter’.
Summary of Dark Laughter
In a critical summary of ‘Dark Laughter’, the reader is introduced to John Stockton, who is posing as Bruce Dudley. He had adopted the new name after growing weary of his old name, John Stockton, which overburdened him as the husband to Bernice and as a reporter for a Chicago publication. His wife perceives him as flighty, something that Dudley admits, when they work together at the same Chicago-based paper where she works on the side as a writer for magazine articles. He misses the good old days of his upbringing in Iniana, especially the river town of Old Harbor where he has most of his childhood memories. In the story, Sherwood describes Dudley as a character who yearns for adventure (Anderson2013). He sets out to do exactly that when he leaves behind the city of Chicago, the boring job at the paper, and his wife, Bernice. As a matter of fact, he gives himself the name Bruce Dudley that he derived from two neon signs in one of the numerous towns in Illinois.
Dudley embarks on a trip down the Mississippi River all the way down to New Orleans, after which he goes to Old Harbor and secures himself a casual job of vanishing the automobile wheels for Fred Grey’s company, Grey Wheel. It is at this job that he works with a thin, wiry colleague of his going by the name of Sponge Martin. Martin led a simple elemental life and he always sported a black mustache. Sherwood’s crave for a simple life is revealed here, where he makes Bruce like Sponge Martin dues to his simplicity. At times, especially when the fish are biting and the nights are a bit fair, Sponge Martin and his wife would pack moonshine whiskey and some sandwiches for a trip down the river. They could do some fishing for some time before dozing off with drunkenness, where Sherwood writes that Martin’s wife always made him feel young and rejuvenated once more. This leaves Bruce Dudley with wishful thoughts, longing to be as carefree and delighted with life as Sponge Martin was.
On his adventurous trip down the Mississippi, Bruce Dudley had pitched tent in an old house for almost five months in New Orleans. It is during this short-stinted stay that he observed African Americans who were engrossed in songs and outbursts of laughter. His perception while taking in this dark laughter was that the African Americans thrived happily with the simplicity of young children. Again, here, Sherwood Anderson reflects himself to the character in the story by interjecting with the element of simplicity.
One evening, the wife of his boss was sitting patiently in car waiting for her husband, when she saw Dudley stepping out of the factory’s entrance. Aline, the boss’s wife, does not know who Bruce is, but she recalls feeling a similar attraction towards him like she felt for another man. It was back in the French city of Paris, where she had seen a man whom she longed for at Rose Frank’s house. Fast forward in her life, she had married Fred Grey, himself undergoing the mend after the war, although he was not the man she had hoped for in her life. On another separate evening, the two of them meet, but none of them utters a word, although they somehowly find each other. She was in need of a garden boy and she hired Dudley who was more than happy to quit his factory job to be with her.
Sherwood Anderson’s Characters in ‘Dark Laughter’
In a true reflection of his private life, Sherwood Anderson makes use of characters who are not pretentious in the story. In addition, most of the characters in ‘Dark Laughter’ live an unbelievably simple life that is in stark contrast with the popularity of this literary masterpiece.
Sherwood Anderson uses the character of Bruce Dudley, formerly known as John Stockton, to rebel against the rational futility that is characteristic of a technologically advance contemporary society. Dudley has what would be considered a good job at the newspaper outlet, but he prefers the not so glamorous but simple life of taking over menial jobs. He sojourns throughout the country, from the city of Chicago to his childhood town of Old Harbor. He prefers being a gardener and an auto worker as opposed to being a city reporter. He gets entangled in a love affair with his boss’s wife, although they are from two completely different social backgrounds that are hard to reconcile. They eventually elope to an unknown destination. Aline Grey, Bruce’s eventual lover, lives an unhappy life with her husband despite all their material possessions. She falls in love with Bruce despite of the rumors in the small town and the possibility of emotionally wrecking her husband.
Sherwood Anderson (2013) also uses Sponge Martin to bring out the aspect of simplicity, as he enjoys the simple things in life like romancing with his carefree wife and fishing as they sip away some moonshine whiskey. Sherwood uses Martin’s marriage to approve the chemistry that was brewing between Aline Grey and Bruce Dudley. Still on the same, the celebrated literary author uses Fred Grey’s character to depict a person devoid of a humane nature and fully devoted to technology. This is clearly illustrated when his wife elopes with Bruce, as he is left is a state of confusion where he even contemplates suicide with his revolver. He comes out as desperate and clueless on what to do in light of his wife’s desertion.
Themes Prevalent in Sherwood Anderson’s ‘Dark Laughter’
The most prevalent theme that the author employs in this novel is that of simplicity. We have the mai...
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