Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Irony provides wry humor in this story. Not only is it ironic that Jewish children are chosen as actors in a Christmas play, but the life of Jesus with its orange crates, prayer shawls, and Arab sheiks is a mockery of the New Testament story. It is ironic that a Jewish girl’s voice is thought best to portray the voice of Jesus. Shirley’s father is being sarcastic when he asks Mrs. Kornbluh, “How is the Virgin?” When he then tells her to have some lemon to sweeten her disposition, he is using ironic statement.

Shirley’s mother talks about the Christian children’s small voices and says that they are blond like angels. She is insulting them while seeming to give them a compliment—an example of satire, the most sophisticated form of humor.

Christians are described as lonesome. That statement and Shirley’s forming of her hands into a church for prayer seem absurd.

Told skillfully through dialogue between the lively, upbeat characters, the story appears to be happening in the present, even though it is a remembered incident from long ago. The dialect of the Bronx has been captured perfectly in short sentences and terse commentary.

First-person point of view puts the reader’s concentration totally on the protagonist and suggests autobiographical truth. There is no hint of insecurity in this child. She is so self-assured and confident that she would seem too good to be true if she did not report on the grocer for telling her to be quiet and on the student teacher calling her a show-off. These negative comments make her more believable.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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