The Street Essay - Critical Essays

Ann Petry


Petry’s stated purpose in writing The Street was “to show how simply and easily the environment can change the course of a person’s life.” The wind symbolically represents the environment in the opening paragraph. It portends the life that awaits Lutie Johnson and her son, Bub. Like the wind that scatters litter and people alike, Lutie’s life will be buffeted by social, economic, and cultural forces that will assault her sense of self and dignity, never allowing her to meet her goals. She is ultimately defeated because she yearns for more than the choices allowed African American women within a tripartite system of oppression: racism, sexism, and classism.

Unlike Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, in Native Son (1940), Lutie neither fears nor hates whites. She is naïve, however, in her opinion of their system: She does not understand that as an African American woman in the 1940’s she is excluded from the American Dream. Lutie believes that she has as much chance for success as a white person or an immigrant because she has accepted the myths of American culture. From her education to her observation of the Chandlers to the machinations of Madison Avenue, she has unthinkingly accepted these myths. She knows from personal observation that money does not equate contentment, but she disregards the unhappiness that permeates the Chandler family. When a suicide committed on Christmas Day in the Chandlers’ home is treated as an...

(The entire section is 533 words.)