'The Laughter of My Father': A Survival Kit

By Grow, L. M. | MELUS, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

'The Laughter of My Father': A Survival Kit


Grow, L. M., MELUS


Even though, compared to other literary figures of Philippine origin, much as been written about Carlos Bulosan, in general, and The Laughter of My Father (hereafter referred to as LF), in particular, there is no consensus about its genre. Although Arturo Roseburg flatly states that "Regardless of objections, the stories are humorous and should be read as such" (16), I conclude that LF is a handbook for peasant survival, since at best Roseburg does not do justice to the book's tonal and thematic complexities. For instance, the opening two paragraphs of the second LF story, "The Soldiers Came Marching," are:

I was a month old when the first World War was declared, but the sound of distant guns shook my childhood. I grew up quickly and found that my brother Polon was one of the 25,000 volunteers in the Philippine National Guard that fought in Europe. Suddenly the war came and suddenly it ended. Then my childhood was gone forever.

The soldiers were demobilized. Out of the eleven young men that volunteered in our town only three came back to live among us. One was dead in battle; two died of serious infection on the boat; three were injured and stayed in the city. The three who came back were always sitting on the lawn in front of the presidencia. They sat all day and part of the night without talking to anybody. (11)

This is certainly not humorous, and the story sustains a tone that is anything but comic: "They fought among themselves, cutting their faces and breaking their noses" (15), and "Don Rico became insane and hanged himself with a rope" (18). Perhaps we might think that Bulosan's humor is dark rather than hilarious. As E. Aguilar Cruz has put it, "Humorous stories about plausible people and situations, as far removed from O'Henry and Octavus Roy Cohen as the real laughter of our fathers is from Carlos Bulosan, are still being written by such before-the-war fictionists as Consorcio Borje, D. Paulo Dizon and C.V. Pedroche" (12). Similarly, Avelina Gil concludes, "Intended to be serious protest against the economic system of his time, The Laughter of My Father by Carlos Bulosan reveals a wry humor that verges on bitterness. But the hilarious, even grotesque, situations which Bulosan treats almost like vignettes mask the satire on Filipino poverty and ignorance" (61).

"Wry" does describe the sort of antics we get in "My Mother's Boarders": "I just sat in front row watching the bare legs of my teacher. When she saw me she raised her skirt a little higher. I threw my pencil under her table, but when I crept on the floor to reach for it, she got up suddenly and started writing on the blackboard" (LF 22). However, incidents like this are not mere horseplay. The story establishes, through context, the phallic symbolism of the pencil: "When I was five the town council decided to enlarge our school because the soldiers that came home from the war produced children left and right. We used to wonder how they performed the splendid job" (19). He will soon enough find out, since his education has already begun. One of the teachers "grabbed me and started swinging me around in her arms. My feet were several feet off the floor. I put my legs around her waist the way I put them around our carabao. It was not dancing, but I felt good" (23). The sexual implications here serve a serious purpose, as we will see shortly.

It is unsurprising that the stories are serious, even bitter, since Bulosan intended them to be both, as he made clear in his outraged response to critics who construed him as a humorist:

I am mad because when my book "The Laughter of my Father" was published by Harcourt, Brace & Company, the critics called me "the manifestation of the pure Comic Spirit."

I am not a laughing man. I am an angry man. ("I am Not a Laughing Man" 143)

No precise source of the anger is specified; after indicating that "it [LF] started with the war" (143), Bulosan spends the rest of the article recounting his restless drifting from job to job. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'The Laughter of My Father': A Survival Kit
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.