An Analysis of "The Street" by Ann Petry

Term Paper, 2006

10 Pages, Grade: 1,5



1. Introduction

2. An Analysis of the Novel’s End and Lutie’s Moving to Chicago
2.1. The Second Part of the Novel: Lutie’s Disillusionment
2.2 Implications of the Novel’s End

3. Conclusion

4. Literature

1. Introduction

Ann Petry, a female Afro-American novelist, published her novel The Street in 1946. The setting of this novel is Harlem in the 1940s. The story deals with the life and trials of the Mulatto woman Lutie Johnson and her struggle to find a place in this environment for herself and her son. Hence, The Street is also concerned with different aspects of urban life.

Thus, one might also claim that Petry’s novel is about portraying the difficulties a single coloured woman and mother had in Harlem, living on 116th Street in New York City. Apart from being an urban novel, Petry also captured the symbolic character of Harlem in The Street, namely that it is a “(…) symbol of the Negro’s perpetual alienation in the land of his birth”.1 Hence, this novel also touches upon the topic of disillusionment in city life.

In the following analysis, we will primarily deal with the last chapters of the novel and in particular with the end of the novel, which shows Lutie Johnson leaving Harlem and moving to Chicago. On the one hand, we will be concerned with the reasons and motifs why Lutie is disillusioned and finally leaves Harlem. On the other hand, we will deal with the implications and possibilities that Lutie’s movement to Chicago brings with it.

2. An Analysis of the Novel’s End and Lutie’s Moving to Chicago

2.1. The Second Part of the Novel: Lutie’s Disillusionment

The novel The Street can generally be divided into two parts.2 Whereas the first part (chapter 1-9) is about Lutie’s endeavour to maintain and to stabilize her autonomy in the ghetto, the second part (chapter 10-18) deals with Lutie’s continual disillusionment and ends with her moving away from Harlem to Chicago, leaving her son behind.

Hence, one might be justified in arguing that the first part of the novel shows Lutie’s ambivalent feelings between self-doubt and self-confidence connected with her intention to become successful in society, a success that she actually achieves (chapter 9). However, chapters 12-17 deal with her disappointment that she had been used (chapter 8). Thus, she becomes enraged and even feels homicidal hatred against her environment:

She leaned further against the wall, seemed almost sink into it, and started to cry. The hall was full of the sound. The thin walls echoed and re-echoed with it two, three floors below and one floor above.3

As Lutie loses her self-confidence and her faith, she begins to feel a fierce hatred and a hard resentment as far as the White people and her Black environment are concerned. This harbours many dangers because Lutie seems to become like so many other women in the ghetto who finally resign and become disillusioned: “And the street reached out and sucked them up” (chapter 16, p. 390). Nevertheless, Lutie “(…) would never permit herself to become resigned to living here” (chapter 13, p. 324).

Lutie still seems to carry hope but one must take the fact into account that she is helpless and needs money to ransom her son Bub. In this way, Lutie’s vicious circle closes between her strives for autonomy and her feelings of guilt. Hence, in fact she becomes an image of the situation of the impoverished Black people living in the ghetto:

(…) 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. (chapter 17, p. 407)

It must be noted that Lutie and her son Bub share the same set of values and this is also the reason why they get into a vicious circle. Hence, it is characteristic of Bub’s attitude that he wants to help his mother financially: “(…) and Mom ought to be pleased by that” (chapter 14, p. 341). For this reason, he is willing to take risks, make trouble for himself and this is typical of life in the ghetto.4 Hence, Bub also imitates his mother’s attitude to life.5

Nonetheless, as Bub carries out Jones plan (chapter 12), he inadvertently stabs his mother in the back. Thereby, he resumes Lutie’s own dilemma. After Jones turns Bub into the police, Lutie is desperate and realizes that Jones “(…) helped push him because [he] talked to him about money (…). And [he] wanted it because you wanted to move from this street” (chapter 16, p. 389, 17, p. 407).

Thus, the vicious circle closes and it seems to be important that Lutie shifts her feelings of guilt on to the Chandlers’ set of values (chapter 17). By doing so, she shifts the blame onto them but at the same time she is also self-critical and refers it back to herself: “(…) in the beginning it was because you heard the rich white Chandlers talk about (money) (…). Only you forgot. You forgot you were black and you underestimated the street outside here” (chapter 16, p. 389).


1 Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act. New York, 1972, pp. 295-96 quoted in Manuela Matas Llorente, “The Other City: Harlem in Ann Petry’s “The Street”. In: Revista des Estudios Norteamericanos, n. 4 (1996), pp. 107-112, here p. 107.

2 Cf. Hans-Christoph Ramm, Modell für eine literarische Amerikakunde. Zugänge zum modernen schwarzamerikanischen Roman am Beispiel von Ann Petrys „The Street“, James Baldwins „Go Tell It On The Mountain“ und Ralph Ellisons „Invisible Man“, Dissertation, Frankfurt am Main, 1987, Chapter I. Selbstverwirklichung als Selbstverlust. Erfahrungen schwazamerikanisch-weiblicher Identität in Ann Petrys Roman The Street (1946), pp. 33-125.

3 Ann Petry, The Street (1946), Boston/New York, 1974, chapter 16, p. 390. In the following, it will be quoted from this edition.

4 Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto. Dilemmas of Social Power, New York, 1965, pp. 47-62.

5 Ramm, p. 105.

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An Analysis of "The Street" by Ann Petry
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Ann Petry, Afro-American, Chicago, Harlem, urban novel
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Dr. Sirinya Pakditawan (Author), 2006, An Analysis of "The Street" by Ann Petry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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