Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ann Lane Petry was the first African American woman writer to record book sales of more than one million copies. She reworked her experiences as a reporter for two Harlem newspapers, The Amsterdam News and The People’s News, into her novel The Street. Organized into eighteen chapters and set in 1944, The Street introduces Lutie Mae Johnson, who has moved to 116th Street in Harlem following the dissolution of her marriage. Lutie was forced into an early marriage because of the security that it would provide, but the marriage failed primarily because of the inability of her husband, Jim, to find work. His continual unemployment caused Lutie to accept work as a live-in domestic for a wealthy white family in Connecticut. While working for the Chandlers, Lutie became imbued with white American cultural values, which emphasize the belief that success (seemingly equated with money) is possible if one works hard enough.

Lutie adopted this work ethic, choosing Benjamin Franklin as her hero. She accepted the American myth that Franklin had arrived in Philadelphia with only two loaves of bread and prospered. Although she learned from the Chandlers’ experiences that the mere possession of money does not bring happiness, she now uncritically pursues the American Dream.

Lutie has been exposed to the American Dream not only through her work for the “filthy rich” Chandlers but also through her education and her...

(The entire section is 599 words.)