Grace Paley’s autobiographical story is a humorous account of events that transpired when she was a New York City grammar school student chosen to narrate the Christmas play because she had the loudest voice of any child in the school. In the story, she fictionalizes herself as Rose Abramovitch, Rose’s immigrant Jewish mother, who is upset at what she thinks is the way the school is indoctrinating the children with Christian traditions. Her father is more tolerant, telling her mother that she is now in America and reminding her that she wanted to emigrate because anywhere else—Palestine, Europe, Argentina—would have been fraught with danger. In humorous understatement, he chides her for fearing Christmas in the United States.
In the second half of the story, the reader realizes that the narrator is cast in the speaking role of Jesus Christ himself. Rose speaks of Christ’s childhood as lonely, utters his famous words of the Garden of Gethsemane (“My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”), and ends by proclaiming to the largely Jewish audience of parents who have arrived to see their children in the school play, “as everyone in this room, in this city—in this world—now knows, I shall have life eternal” (1,155).
Any shock these words might have held for her parents is defused when they return home after the play. When Mr. Abramovitch kids the Jewish neighbor Mrs. Kornbluh, whose daughter played the Virgin Mary, Mrs. Kornbluh refuses to take the bait and asks instead why the Christian children in the school had such small roles. Mrs. Abramovitch understands why: “You think it’s so important they should get in the play? Christmas . . . the whole piece of goods . . . they own it.”
In the final paragraphs of the story, as Rose remembers how she fell asleep happily listening to her parents and remembering her success in the play, the hold of her Jewish traditions certainly has not been shaken; indeed, she prays for “all the lonesome Christians.” She confidently expects the Jewish God to whom she directs her prayers with the traditional Hebrew salutation, “Hear, O Israel,” to hear her. After all, whether speaking Yiddish or English, she knows she has the loudest voice.
Isaacs, Neil David. Grace Paley: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
Paley, Grace. “The Loudest Voice.” In Major Writers of Short Fiction, edited by Ann Charters, 1,151–1,156. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993