Lutie Johnson is characterized by independence of spirit. Lutie is greatly enamored of cultural myths of the self-made American—a figure symbolized for her by the suburban Chandlers, for whom she worked as a maid, and by the larger-than-life image of Benjamin Franklin. While preoccupied with notions of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps,” Lutie finds herself prey to the desires of those around her—the sexual fantasies of the apartment superintendent, the practiced eye of the resident madame, the lust of the white slumlord. She survives an attempted rape at the hands of Jones, the superintendent, and by happenstance is presented the opportunity to escape her environment and realize her dreams by singing. Apparent happenstance is revealed as a plot on the part of Junto, slumlord and ubiquitous presence, to sacrifice Lutie to his sexual appetite. Faced at the conclusion of the novel with having to solicit money from Junto’s middleman, Lutie is consumed with rage at those who manipulate her and at the patent falsehood of American cultural myths in relation to herself and those who share her circumstances. Faced with an imminent rape attempt, Lutie, in her rage, murders Boots, Junto’s middleman, and flees Harlem, leaving behind her son—in whose name she had so often fashioned her “American” dreams.
Jones, the superintendent of Lutie Johnson’s apartment building, has spent his life on ships and in basements and boiler rooms. He views women almost exclusively as instruments for fulfilling his sexual fantasies. In his life of confinement in the basement of tenements working for men like Junto, Jones...
(The entire section is 666 words.)