After winning a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in 1945, Ann Lane Petry completed and published The Street, which quickly became a best seller—a first for a novel by an African American woman. The novel delves into the insidious affects of racism, classism, and sexism while challenging many of the stereotypical images of black women.
Although many early critics deemed The Street a pale imitation of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), later critics analyzed how the two novels differ. They point to her incorporation of humor, popular culture, feminist issues, and gothic elements as well as many other literary conventions. They also demonstrate how her emphasis on Mrs. Hedges and Min undercuts claims that her work is a naturalist account of powerlessness.
The Street takes a hard look at the conditions that exist in urban ghettos and demonstrates how poverty, racism, and sexism come together to thwart the efforts of one black woman to preserve her dignity and protect her family. By centering the novel on a working-class woman who is attempting to attain the American Dream, Petry provides the reader with multiple insights into the obstacles that prevent black women from attaining success. Lutie fails not because she is blind to the realities around her, but because her wariness leads her to isolate herself, leaving her nowhere to turn when she faces the biggest crisis of her life. Nevertheless, Petry seems to applaud Lutie’s...
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