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While making one’s way through the maze of life, the most important thing is to keep balanced and be prepared for whatever obstacles life may put out. In order to succeed, one must learn from the past, keep in touch with the present, and not lose sight of the future.
Sandy’s community in Not Without Laughter by Langhston Hughes has character from all parts of the generational spectrum, allowing Sandy to do all of the aforementioned. In Sandy’s community, Aunt Hager represents “a knowledge of the past”, Annjee represents “an aesthetic for the present”, and Harriet represents the “vision for the future”; all of the characters teach Sandy valuable lessons about how to maintain balance in his life.
Aunt Hager is the oldest of the important women in Sandy’s life and has gripped the largest amount of history – this gave her a lens of the past through which to view life which Sandy also picked up on.
Aunt Hager is known for her kindness. She tells Sandy, “These young ones what’s comin’ up now they calls us ole fogies, an’ handkerchief heads, an’ white folks’ niggers, ’cause we dob’t get mad an’ rar’ up in arms like they does ’cause things is kinder hard, but, honey, when you gets old, you knows there ain’t no sense in gettin’ mad an’ sourin yo’soul with hatin’ peoples. White folks is white foks an’ colored folks is colored folks an’ neither one of ’em is as bad as t’other make out.
” (37) Aunt Hager has lived long enough to understand how insignificant human life is on the scale of the universe and how significant it is on the scale of individual existence. She has seen revolutions happen and an entire generation be wiped out by a war and decided that it is not worth it to be unkind. Her perspective on the significance of human life has set her priorities.
Annjee, who provides the “aesthetic for the present” does not think much about the repercussions of her actions; her main focus is on what she wants now, which prompts most of her actions throughout the novel. She leaves for Jimboy, leaving Sandy behind, with the words, “I said, I’m going to him, ma, I’ve got to!…I’m going where my heart is. I can’t help it, ma. I love him!”” (92) The repercussions of this decision are questionable at best, but they are not a variable in Annjee’s thought process. She makes her decision solely on what she believes what is best for her at the current moment. This tends to limit her view, since she doesn’t take factors other than her present desires into account, but she teaches Sandy that while you must always look forward and look back, if you are not currently happy, you can’t necessarily consider yourself successful.
Harriet is never satisfied; she always wants more and believes in a better future, teaching Sandy that he should always work to make things better. Harriet is the most dissatisfied and the most rebellious of the influences in Sandy’s life. “She says there ain’t no use in learning books fo’ nothin’ but to work in white folks’ kitchens when she’s graduated,” (22) Aunt Hager says about her. She sees the future that she’s likely to have if she doesn’t take action and decides that she wants to change it. Harriet endures a lot, including poverty and prostitution, to ensure that she will have a foothold in a later time. Indeed, she succeeds, becoming a professional blues singer, which was her goal. She stumbles a lot throughout her narrative, but she always moves forward, no matter what.
Sandy learns that the road to success is different for everyone. People spend so much time trying to create rules for success, but the truth is, they can’t always work. If a person has rules forced on them, they often end up hurt. They think that they’re unsuccessful, but in truth, they’re just playing by the wrong rules. Some people tend not to look back and not to look forward – they’re good at looking under their feet. Other people are good at looking ahead, and if you tell them to live in the now, you don’t help them, you block off their view.
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