The Loudest Voice by Grace Paley: Summary, Analysis and Review

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The Loudest Voice is a short story by Grace Paley, published as part of her short story collection – Little Disturbances of Man, back in 1959. The story captures the world of a young Jewish girl living and learning about a life of balance between her roots and the world that she currently lives in.

The Loudest Voice: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens at a grocery store where Shirley’s mom and the grocer are having a conversation where the grocer is advising her to not be scared of her child. Her mother laments about her loud husband and daughter.

Shirley goes to school nearby, where she holds a reputation for being a loud and clear speaker.

Shirley, upon being asked by the monitor of her class, speaks with Mr Hilton, who wants to have her narrate the school Christmas play.

Having received high recommendation from her teacher Mrs.Jordan, Mr Hilton gives her the part after making her swear that she will work harder than ever before.

In a backdrop of festivities, a recently concluded Thanksgiving and soon to be up Christmas, Shirley and her family live in a culture very different from their own.

Bright as Shirley is, she performs splendidly in all rehearsals and has the teachers fully impressed with her abilities.

Her mother, on the other hand, finds the Christmas festivities and her Jew neighbors involvement in them unsettling. She has a conversation with Misha (Shirley’s dad) about it. He simply discards this as one of her tantrums pointing to the fact that other places in the world had bigger problems than Christmas for her.

Shirley with her brilliant performances and her booming voice becomes a favorite of teachers.

Despite lack of approval from her mother about her booming voice and her Christmas performance, Misha defends his daughter. He says he knows his daughter is not a fool. He wishes her good luck for her performance.

The day of the performance arrives and Shirley delivers splendidly. A Mrs Kornbluh visits them for tea and they have a conversation about it. Misha finds the play beautiful considering that it introduces them to the belief of a different culture.

Mrs Kornbluh however points that Jews got very limited parts in the play.

Shirley retires to bed, but before falling asleep she prays for everyone hoping to be heard as her voice was the loudest.

Want to read The Loudest Voice?

The Loudest Voice is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories called Little Disturbances of Man. You can use the links given below to check the price of this book:

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The Loudest Voice: Review and My Thoughts

The story is feel good on so many accounts – the amazing father and daughter relationship, a loving family, tolerance on cultural differences, the practice of yelling that the family used to silence each other and the warmth with which Shirley recalls her past. How her father’s tolerant and open minded views impressed upon the mind of a young Shirley.

Some notable quotes from The Loudest Voice

There are a few quotes from the book that brought a smile to my face as I envisioned a simple Jew household that Paley has effortlessly created.

Consider Shirley’s mother’s view when Mrs Kornbluh points to her the meagre parts that Christian children got in the Christmas play.

They got very small voices;after all, why should they holler? The English language they know from the beginning by heart. They are blond like angels. You think it’s so important they should get in the play? Christmas..the whole piece of goods-they own it.

And then her fathers when faced with his wife’s incessant banter about Christians 

You wanted to come here. You would be eaten alive in Palestine. Here you got Christmas, Some joke,ha?

His level headedness and support for his daughter is heartwarming 

What belongs to history belongs to all men. 

Does it hurt Shirley to learn to speak up? It does not. So one day, maybe she will not live between the kitchen and the shop. 

(to which Shirley quickly reminisces) Thank you Papa, it’s true about me to this day, I am foolish but I am not a fool.

A little friendly banter is again a pleasant addition to the mix, when Mrs Kornblun speaks with Shirley’s father after the play.

How’s the virgin? Asked my father with a look of concern.

For a man with a daughter, you got a fresh mouth Abramovitch

Here, have some lemon, my father said kindly. It will sweeten your disposition.

Despite the struggles of an immigrant family, I found the family and community a very closely knit and functional one. A child being brought up by loving parents, a level headed father supporting her and tolerant, rather appreciative, of other cultures.

I could not help but imagine a world with a lot more of such fathers and a lot more Shirleys – one spreading the message of tolerance while the other the message of love.

Grace Paley had a lot of foresight highlighting the importance of differences leading to a wonderful mosaic of life, where differences are at least tolerated if not celebrated.

In the world that we live in right now, the message is as relevant as ever.


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