Langston Hughes’ “Laughing to Keep from Crying”

Social satire in Langston Hughes’ “Laughing to Keep from Crying” is both funny and poignant. The excerpt plays with the idea of race in order to satirize the social convention that says that whites are more educated, better behaved, and just more upper class then Negroes. Upon meeting fellow deceivers, an African-American couple who is “passing for white” to make more money, the African-American narrators drop their “professionally self-conscious Negro manners” and “became natural… kidded around like colored folks do when there are no white folks around.” The narrators feel free to be themselves because they’ve met people who are like them. However the joke is actually on them. The couple gets into the cab and the woman reveals that they’re white, not “really colored at all. We just thought we’d kid you by passing for colored a little while-just as you said Negroes sometimes pass for white.” The surprising ending satirizes the idea, and the absurdity that race is a defining characteristic of an individual. The story is also an interesting approach to the familiar story of a rich person who disguises himself as a poor person or a poor person who pretends that he is rich. Stories that use these disguises all satirize society by poking fun at the idea of character being defined by external characteristics like clothing or color.

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