Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas

by Maya Angelou

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651

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 the children of divorce, “There are few barriers more difficult to breach or more pitiable to confront than that of a child’s distrust.” A single parent after the breakup of her marriage to Tosh, Angelou had to make the choice to leave her son to tour with Porgy and Bess. This time, Clyde broke out in rashes so severe that she returned home from her tour earlier than the rest of the cast.

Angelou also discusses the problems of alimony and lack of child care, as they pertain to her own life. Her mother was often the one to care for Clyde when the author was working. Without the help of present alimony laws, Angelou, during the 1950’s, was too proud to ask for help from Tosh, who throughout their marriage had kept her from working and from attending the church that she loved.

Most of the action of Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas takes place after World War II, one of the most popular and romanticized wars. Angelou, however, taught her son specific lessons about war and violence. When she was called to Clyde’s school, her son said, in front of his teachers, “Mom, isn’t it true that just because U.S. Steel wants to sell more steel, I shouldn’t go kill some baby Koreans who never did anything to me?” Such sentiments were considered unpatriotic and even communist in this era.

Angelou’s point of view is indeed global. When she traveled in Europe, she marveled at how African Americans were more liked and accepted than white Americans. She felt a kinship with the people of Israel; for a time before she began to travel, she read about the Jewish faith and even visited a rabbi to ask him questions.

Because of the extraordinary events in Angelou’s life, certain passages of this autobiography read like a novel. Angelou is a reliable witness to her times, recording her interactions with her friends as well as those who would go on to make history. She heard poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco; met actors and comedians Alice Ghostly, Paul Lynde, and Phyllis Diller at the Purple Onion; and rubbed elbows with writer Truman Capote and actress and singer Eartha Kitt.

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