In Spoon River Anthology, what does Aner Clute mean by "lead the life"?

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Line 5 of "Aner Clute" from Spoon River Anthology, Aner discusses how no matter where she goes, people ask her how she ended up leading the life (becoming a prostitute). Aner tells her "interrogators" that she was once promised a "silk dress" and marriage, and those false promises led to her occupation. However, Aner then uses an analogy of a boy being accused of stealing to explain that when someone is accused repeatedly of being something, that person ends up living out those expectations (the boy becomes a thief in Aner's analogy; Aner becomes a prostitute seemingly because of others' low view of her). The last two lines of the poem claim that

"It's the way the people regard the theft of the apple / That makes the boy what he is."

Aner, as the speaker of the poem, seems to be directing her comments to people from her hometown, almost as if she is warning them to be careful of how they craft others' reputations.

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