In Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Angelou uses language both as a poet and as a journalist. She is a very straightforward narrator whose memory is both vivid and chronological, but her commentary on her own life can be profound. The author chooses to emphasize a variety of social issues and institutions: racism, gender roles, interracial marriages, body image problems, religion, divorce (including child care and alimony), wife abuse, violence, and war.
Racism is perhaps the most poignant issue in Angelou’s autobiography and seems to color every event. From the beginning of the narrative, the author describes her problems securing and maintaining employment. She was shocked when a white woman at a record store wanted to hire her, as her previous jobs were oriented toward domestic service. Later, when Angelou was the only African-American woman working in a strip joint, the white women turned on her, accusing her of sleeping with clients when Angelou’s tips were higher than theirs.
Prior to her wedding to Tosh, which went against her mother’s wishes, Angelou was in turmoil about marrying a white man. She tried to persuade herself that she was not betraying her race, as Tosh grew up in a Greek neighborhood and was not a typical white American. Yet when Clyde told her that he wanted to grow up to have straight hair like Tosh, Angelou felt a deep sense of shame in her choice. When her marriage finally dissolved, Clyde was afraid that the relationship which he shared with his mother would dissolve as well. As Angelou writes about...
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Angelou continues to be one of the most popular of all African-American autobiographers and poets in the United States. A strong civil rights activist, Angelou accepted the invitation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to serve as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She has also become a role model and spokesperson for many young adult women. Many adolescents who are anxious about choosing a career will be interested in reading about one woman’s strides in many varied fields. Her accomplishments in theater, film, and television are notable. She produced, directed, and starred in a play called Cabaret for Freedom; wrote the screenplay and musical score for the film Georgia, Georgia (1972); and was a guest interviewer for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) program Assignment America.
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas is one in a series of classic Angelou autobiographies and was followed by The Heart of a Woman (1981) and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Her personal experiences resonate with political, feminist, classist, and race-relation questions. By mythologizing herself, she is able to stand up to—and stand up for—many oppressed groups.