(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Loudest Voice” is the first-person-voice recollection of Shirley Abramowitz, who remembers her childhood as a place where “every window is a mother’s mouth bidding the street shut up” and where her “voice is the loudest.” Shirley is the daughter of Jewish immigrants, a bright and uninhibited child who talks loudly and incessantly and, like her father, fearlessly speaks her mind.

On a cold November morning, Shirley is summoned by the teacher organizing the school’s Christmas play. Knowing that she has a loud and clear voice, he asks her to be his narrator. The Christmas play, and the involvement in it of Jewish children such as Shirley, occasions debate and commentary throughout the Jewish community, where some embrace assimilation into primarily Christian America, while others firmly safeguard the integrity of ethnic and religious identity. In the Abramowitz home, Shirley’s mother disapproves, but her father counters with the argument, “In Palestine the Arabs would be eating you alive. Europe you had pogroms. Argentina is full of Indians. Here you got Christmas.”

Shirley herself is proud of her voice and eager to perform; during the month of rehearsals her excitement focuses her usually dispersed energies, and she becomes the director’s efficient and trusted assistant. The day of the play arrives; Shirley narrates sensitively and admirably, giving an objective and amusing account of her classmates’ earnest...

(The entire section is 537 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Shirley Abramowitz lives in a predominantly Jewish community where everyone slams doors and mothers yell out of windows. Shirley has such a loud voice that the neighborhood grocer accuses her of shouting the labels off his cans. Shirley’s papa defends her. He says that all will be quiet in the grave.

A happy child, Shirley goes to school in an old red-brick building where the children must stand in straight lines. Because her last name begins with an “A,” she is always first in line. One day, the monitor tells her to go quickly upstairs to the sixth-grade room. When she gets there, the teacher, Mr. Hilton, offers her a major part in the Christmas play because she has such a strong voice. He makes her promise that she will work harder than she has ever worked before, and that she will never be tardy or disobedient, because absolutely everything will depend on her.

That afternoon, teachers have the children take down Thanksgiving decorations and put up the Christmas decorations before learning carols. When Shirley’s mother hears this, she complains to Mr. Abramowitz, who reminds her that she wanted to come to the United States. After listing all the things that have happened to Jews in other countries, he tells her that the problem they face here is Christmas. He makes it sound like a joke, but his wife does not see the humor in it. She is afraid that Shirley will lose her Jewish faith.

The neighbors are all proud of the good parts that their children have been given in the play. Only one mother will not let her son participate. The rabbi’s wife thinks that the whole thing is disgusting, but no one pays any attention to her because she herself wears a strawberry-blond wig.

The days of rehearsal are noisy ones, full of new experiences for Shirley. She is so helpful that Mr. Hilton calls her his right-hand man, says that he could not get along without her, and tells her that her parents should get down on their knees and thank God...

(The entire section is 811 words.)