This article takes up the centrality of jokes in Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go and analyzes them in ways that push on the limits of social protest fiction, a genre understood as anything but comedic. Tracing a relationship between interiority, what I call “the frictions of social laughter,” and deferment in Himes’s novel shows how pockets of life are made possible within inhospitable environments produced by racist power structures. Ultimately, by exploring the challenges of laughing together, this article shows that the role that laughter and joking plays in the novel’s expanded vision for Black life is larger than previously understood, going beyond the merely instrumental.
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Issue Section:SPECIAL ISSUE: BLACK LAUGHS MATTER: AFRICAN AMERICAN HUMOR