Yet with a Steady Beat: Contemporary U.S. Afrocentric Biblical Interpretation

By Randall C. Bailey | Go to book overview

A PRODIGAL SINGS THE BLUES:
THE CHARACTERIZATION OF HARRIETT WILLIAMS
IN LANGSTON HUGHES'S NOT WITHOUT LAUGHTER

Abraham Smith Perkins School of Theology

Read on down to chapter nine,
women must learn to take their time
Read on down to chapter ten,
takin other women men you are doin' a sin
Sing 'em, sing 'em, sing them blues,
let me convert your soul.

Bessie Smith, [Preaching the Blues] (A. Davis: 328)


INTRODUCTION

The princess who sings at the end of Langston Hughes's Not without Laughter is one of four women whose ways are imitated by young Sandy Rodgers, the male character around whom the novel appears to revolve (Hughes 1995b).1 The [princess] is not Sandy's mother, Anjee, a passive

1 Ostensibly, Not ivithout Laughter is about the coming of age of Sandy, the young char-
acter whose life is traced from age five to sixteen. In truth, the novel is about the travails and
joys of a single black family, one led by Aunt Hager, a former slave and an old washer-
woman in the small Kansas town of Stanton. The book traces the lives of this poor family
from its [disintegration] to its [re-creation] (Miller: 369). The opening chapter, a depiction
of a storm and its aftermath, not only reveals the six chief characters of the novel (Aunt
Hager, her grandson [Sandy], her three daughters [Tempy, Anjee, and Harriett], and her
son-in-law [Jimboy]), but it also reveals the indomitable spirit and the race-transcending care
of Aunt Hager as she deals with the material losses caused by the storm on the one hand and
the needs of black and white citizens hurt by the storm on the other. Chapters 2 through 6,
characterization studies, reveal the crushing work experiences of some of the characters:
from Hager's clothes-washing to eke out a living for her family, to Jimboy's day labor
always cut short because of racial prejudice, to Anjee's domestic work for a white family, to
Harriett's country-club work with wages that do not match the level of her intelligence. Each

-145-

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