Ann Petry Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What did Ann Petry learn about “rigid cultural boundaries” in her childhood, and how does she apply it in her fiction?

What function do Petry’s interior monologues serve?

For Petry, what is the relationship between class and race?

Discuss the theme of racial misidentification in Petry’s fiction.

Are the themes in Petry’s children’s books similar to those in her books for adults?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ann Petry has received her greatest critical recognition for her adult novels: The Street (1946), Country Place (1947), and The Narrows (1953). In 1949 she began a distinguished career as a writer of children’s literature with the publication of The Drugstore Cat, to be followed by the now-classic biographical novels Harriet Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad (1955) and Tituba of Salem Village (1964). She has also published a devotional work, Legends of the Saints (1970), in addition to various articles for small periodicals.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ann Petry’s receipt of a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in 1945 (and an award of twenty-five hundred dollars) enabled her to complete The Street, which went on to become the first novel by an African American woman to sell more than one million copies. In 1977 she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant and in 1983 received a D. Litt. from Boston’s Suffolk University. In 1992 the reissuing of The Street renewed Petry’s reputation as an important American writer and introduced a new generation to her work. Her death in April, 1997, was eulogized publicly by Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd, and the following year MacArthur Fellow Max Roach premiered “Theater Pieces” (December, 1998), an adaptation of Petry’s tale of a jazz love triangle, “Solo on the Drums,” featuring Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis along with Roach.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bell, Bernard. “Ann Petry’s Demythologizing of American Culture and Afro-American Character.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. An argument for moving Petry out of the shadow of male contemporaries like Richard Wright to permit her fiction the proper reevaluation it deserves.

Clark, Keith. “A Distaff Dream Deferred? Ann Petry and the Art of Subversion.” African-American Review 26 (Fall, 1992): 495-505. A study of Petry’s interest in the ways black women respond to the American Dream while subverting it to their own ends.

Ervin, Hazel Arnett, and Hilary Holladay, eds. Ann Petry’s Short Fiction: Critical Essays. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. A collection of essays addressing Petry’s less well studied short stories, including issues of gender, race, and folklore.

Gross, Theodore. “Ann Petry: The Novelist as Social Critic.” In Black Fiction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel Since 1945, edited by A. Robert Lee. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1980. A discussion of Petry’s strong commitment to an aesthetic of social realism that puts art in the service of political, economic, and societal transformation and justice.

Hernton, Calvin. “The Significance of Ann Petry.” In The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers. New York: Doubleday, 1987. An analysis of the relationship between Petry’s fiction and that of contemporary black women writers, particularly in its wedding of social protest and violence.

Washington, Gladys. “A World Made Cunningly: A Closer Look at Ann Petry’s Short Fiction.” College Language Association Journal 30 (September, 1986): 14-29. A critical argument for tracing Petry’s important themes and their evolving nuances through her understudied short stories.

Wilson, Mark. “A MELUS Interview: Ann Petry—The New England Connection.” MELUS 15 (Summer, 1988): 71-84. A discussion with Petry about her early life and the first decades of her writing career.