Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser Literary Essay

Topics: Short story, Laughter, Steven Millhauser Pages: 5 (2195 words) Published: December 1, 2013

Life is all about balance. The balance of good, bad, happiness, and sadness all play a part in how well one lives their life. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in Steven Millhauser’s Dangerous Laughter; a surrealistic short story that draws on the idea that everything in life needs to balanced in order to remain healthy. In the story, the author explores a society of bored youth who get consumed into a fad of orgasmic laughter. It eventually revolves around an ordinary teenage girl who succumbs to this fad, engulfing her in brief popularity that culminates in a tragedy that her classmates forget with surprising ease. Millhauser embeds each of his well crafted words with the concept of stepping away from the negative extremes of life, and particularly, youth’s susceptibility to it.

The story begins setting the scene of a group of adolescent youth living in a small town during the summer time. The characters introduced in the opening scene are established as characters longing for the extremes of new adventure and the utmost experiences. “We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. ...We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures.” (Millhauser 75) Restless youth have a tendency for being vulnerable--needing to explore the world and learn the ideas of life for themselves, but along the way making an end number of mistakes because of it. This is something that Millhauser pats down for us during the first few pages of story. In the book, something that began as a “harmless pastime” soon becomes something much more than that. ...”the idea had the simplicity of all inspired things.” (Millhauser 76) It begins with someone slowly saying a word, drawing out its “inner stupidity.” What attracted them to the concept of hilarity was not the actual words themselves, but “the sharp heaves and gasps of laughter itself.” (Millhauser 76) With this, the author indicates how youth have the tendency to take something very small and expand it to fit their needs of imagination and the extreme. It became as if an addiction, hilarity, something that they believed was a special process of penetrating the depths of a person and realizing a continuous “explosive release” of it. It was almost as if these characters were obsessed with the length and power at which one could let out laughter. Their main object was just that, an explosive release of boredom that had been built up inside of them. The author gets across how these really characters though about laughter, as a way of releasing every emotional build up and feeling inside someone. At one point in the story, the unnamed narrator goes to a “laughter session” at midnight and relates the experience. Even though she lasted for almost seven minutes, she later regrets it as an amateur performance. “I regretted my cowardice and longed for a deeper and more terrible laughter. ...from my next descent into the darkness of my body, where laughter lay like lava, waiting for a fissure to form that would release it like liquid fire.” (Millhauser 79) How could one long for a pain so deep as this one? These characters so easily got sucked into a game so foolish because they were so vulnerable.

Millhauser describes the story’s cardinal character, Clara, as a modest, quiet girl. “She never drummed her fingers on the desk. She never pushed her hair back over her ear or crossed and uncrossed her legs--as if, for her, a single motion were a form of disruption.” (Millhauser 80) Here we see how the author illustrates this girl and her traits. She was someone who hated excessive movement; restrictions in every action and displaying a demonstration of shyness at its height. One thing is to be noted here is that the other characters in this story had gotten sucked into a game so dumb because of their vulnerability as youth. Their life and mental mechanisms...
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