(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Before the American Civil War, Catfish Row had been the fine mansion of a wealthy white family. By the early twentieth century, it was home for a community of poor African American families, descendants of former slaves. Porgy, a disabled beggar, inhabits a ground-floor room. No one knows his age, and his large, powerful hands are in strange contrast to his frail body. Porgy’s neighbor, Peter, transports him to and from his begging each day in his wagon.

Porgy’s single vice is gambling—throwing dice with friends in the courtyard of Catfish Row. One evening in April, Robbins, the husband of Serena and father of three children, is killed by the traveling stevedore Crown, whom he had accused of cheating at dice. When police investigate, no one offers testimony, so the police take Peter into custody, hoping he will provide information. While Peter is in jail for ten days, the horse and wagon that he had been buying on contract are repossessed, and Porgy loses his only means of transportation.

By May, Porgy is destitute and has to find another means of getting downtown. His new emancipation comes when he builds a “chariot”—a goat-pulled, two-wheeled, toilet-soap crate. He no longer has to remain at one stand all day, but can now roam at will and take in more money. In June, Crown’s lover, Bess, comes to Catfish Row. Maria, who operates a kitchen in the building, gives her food. Bess then goes to live with Porgy and becomes a new woman, giving up drugs and alcohol. Happier than ever, Porgy wins often at gambling, so his friends get suspicious.

One day, a dandy, Sportin’ Life, comes to town and gives Bess cocaine. She is arrested for disorderly conduct. Porgy tries to pay her fine, but when the judge sees the beggar, to whom he had often given dimes, with ten dollars, he becomes enraged, takes the money, and sentences Bess to ten days in a filthy, overcrowded prison, where she gets seriously ill with fever. With the help of Maria and other women in Catfish Row, Porgy nurses Bess back to health.

At the Sons and Daughters of Repent Ye Saith the Lord picnic on Kittiwar Island, Bess is accosted by...

(The entire section is 879 words.)