Term Paper: Ann Petry's the Street

Pages: 10 (2578 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] By not hearing the advice, she loses her husband, who feels emasculated when he cannot support his family, and so finds his manhood in the arms of another woman.

At every stage, Lutie is made to face the problems caused by her gender, compounded by her race. When she is in the Chandler's employment and away from home, she pay's the price for transgressing her role in society when her husband turns to another woman: "There [Lutie] had been sending practically all her wages, month after month, keeping only a little for herself; skimping on her visits because of the carfare...Month after month that black bitch had been eating the food she bought, sleeping in her bed, making love to Jim." (54)

Lutie experiences racism during her stay at the Chandlers as well. Though it is Mrs. Chandler who is unfaithful to her husband and does not live up to the ideals of motherhood, it is Lutie who is perceived as immoral by the Chandler's friends: "Queer how that was always cropping up. Here she was highly respectable, mother of a small boy..." (45).

In an essay on Petry, Thelma J. Shinn wrote that Petry's "first concern ... is for acceptance and realization of individual possibilities… Her novels protest against the entire society which would contrive to make any individual less than human, or even less than he can be." (Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, 1974)

Inspite of so many hardships and disappointments, Lutie does not give up and goes to New York in the hope of a better life for Bub and herself: "She could do it, too- bring him up so that he would be a fine, strong man."(72)

In New York, Lutie struggles with the living conditions in Harlem; her inability to both work and be at home to provide her son with nurturing care; and the reality of her gender and race being treated as a sexual object by men: "Escaped from the openly appraising looks of the white men whose eyes seemed to go through her clothing to her long brown legs." (57)

Ultimately, Lutie also faces the degradation of attempted rape by Jones, the cellar dweller: "She screamed until she could hear her own voice insanely shrieking up the stairs, pausing on the landings, turning the corners, going down the halls, gaining in volume as it started again to climb the stairs" (236).

Through Lutie's experiences as an attractive, young woman; single parent; and wage earner who is made to repeatedly face the barriers of her race and sex, Ann Petry "chronicles the ways in which people chase after the American dream only to find that it is illusory. Petry's characters typically experience a profound disillusionment in their quests for success and/or peace of mind." (Ann Petry, Twayne 1996)

Petry concludes Lutie's story with her failure to achieve her dream of a better future for her son, Bub. Lutie needs a job because she is a single mother and must support herself and Bub. The irony is that Bub needs more attention in the home, and because she needs to support them, Lutie cannot be there to stop him from falling prey to the machinations of Jones.

In school, Bub is equally a victim of the racism. Petry bluntly presents the point-of-view of the teacher. "...she came to think of the accumulation of scents in her classroom with hate as the colored people's smell, and then finally the smell of Harlem itself-bold, strong, lusty, and frightening" (328). The teacher's disdain for the children leaves no leeway for her passing on any type of knowledge that may have saved Bub from "the street."

Bub's aloneness and innocence finally leads him to commit a crime for Jones that he is not even unaware of, landing him in juvenile hall. It is at this stage that Lutie finally gives in to all her accumulated disappointment and frustration, and erupts with murderous anger that results in her killing of Boots with a "heavy iron candlestick" (429).

Lutie realizes too late that the American Dream traps women like her in a spiral of failure:

Perhaps it was better to take things as they were and not try to change them. But who wouldn't want to live in a better house than this one and who wouldn't struggle to get out of it? ... It was a circle, and she could keep on going around it forever and keep on ending up in the same place, because if you were black and you lived in New York and you could only pay so much rent, why, you had to live in a house like this one. (407).

As she rides away from Bub forever on a train to another city, the circles she traces on the windowpane silently repeat this refrain.

In writing "The Street," Ann Petry more than succeeded in driving home the tragic reality of the sufferings of African-American people in one of the most prosperous capitalist societies of the world. The second tragedy of "The Street" is that it is as valid today as it was in the 1940's and this was exactly the question Garret Condon raised in an interview with Ann Petry:

"Revise it today? That would be easy, Petry says. She can think of two changes she'd have to make. First, everything is more expensive today, so she would have to up the price of survival on 116th Street, where the novel is set. And Lutie's 8-year-old son, Bub, would find a new way to run afoul of the law… 'Bub, the little boy, would have been a courier for some drug dealer…'They use kids, because if they [the kids] get caught, they don't go to prison for life or anything like that.' 'Essentially,' she concludes. "It would remain the same." (Northeast magazine Nov. 8, 1992)

Works Cited

Cate, Shannon. "Mothers and Markets: Ideological Experimentation in Ann Petry's The Street." [Im]positions, Issue # 1, December 1996. URL: D:Ann PetryMothers and Markets.htm

Condon, Garret. "Ann Petry." Northeast magazine. Nov. 8, 1992. URL: D:Ann PetryProfiles in Connecticut Black History.htm

Hakutani, Yoshinobu and Butler, Robert. Introduction. "The City… [END OF PREVIEW]

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