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“The Street” by Ann Petry

A novel “The Street” by Ann Petry displays to the readers a hard life on the streets of Harlem. Petry gives her readers an opportunity to place themselves into the position of the main character, Lutie Johnson. Lutie is an African-American woman and a single mother. The gender and race are the key factors of her position in the book. Lutie attempts to do her best in providing the finest life she could for herself, and her son, despite the fact that she has to face all the difficulties that life tosses on her way. Lutie is introduced into the novel not only in terms of the racism issue; she is also discriminated and is a subject of sexism. In order to provide the life that she wants for herself and Bub, the woman has to make some very significant decisions. The challenges, ups and downs, which are faced by Lutie, are also felt by her son. “The Street” revolves around a critical point and absorbs the reader by the hard work Lutie does and the phases that she has to go through for a better life for herself her son (Petry 30).

Lutie Johnson struggles to see through her walls of oppression in form of forced submission to a white male-dominating society. The home of Lutie and her son, Bub Johnson, shows the contradiction against the image of the public home. The apartment itself together with the walls usually frighten Lutie and her son; consequently making their small home not a residence of shelter, but quite a house of fear. In the novel, the author states that The Street’s readers observe the difficulty that the main character has in setting up and upholding a practical space called “home”. As a result of the fact that in the beginning of 20th century the black women during didn’t have any means of supporting themselves, except if they were eager to sell their bodies. This was one of the main challenges that were witnessed by the black women during this era (Petry 66).

The lack of opportunities is initiated by Lutie’s incapability to keep the house. The walls imposed on Lutie by the dominating white society, frequently present themselves in the form of black people, especially women, not being capable of earning more than enough money. Before her numerous efforts to make her new residing quarters on 116th Street a good  home, Lutie is now oppressed: before she even has a chance to move into the apartment, the walls of oppression are pushing her. Subsequently, she cannot be engaged into the well-paying job due to her race; she only earns insufficient wages in exchange for the hard labor. Because of this fact, she cannot afford buying a good apartment. Therefore, the walls, which separate the hostile black society from the advantaged white society, are already smothering her even before she relocates into her new home. The author refers to the walls in the Lutie’s house in the following way: “Petry’s repeated images of walls closing in on Lutie, tiny rooms, little to no air, and dismal housing conditions set up the obstacles Lutie will have to battle against not only to find and keep suitable housing, but simply to breathe freely” (Petry 38).

Lutie’s visions are trapped within the walls of subjugation. Moreover, she is also stuck physically: with the stressful financial situation and the constant warning of eviction existing in her mind, Lutie’s body must have been taken over by pressures and fears. In the novel, even her ideas are preoccupied with the threats levied on her day after day. After Lutie and Bub transfer into the 116th Street apartment, they find that the walls that make up the rooms are missing in the square footage. The firmness of the building is damaged to such extent that Lutie and Bub can barely breathe, as shown in the passage from the novel: “After she had been in them just a few minutes, the walls seemed to come in toward her, to push against her, perhaps the next thing she out to do was to find one with bigger rooms. But she could not pay any more rent than she was paying now” (Petry 79).

This image of closing perfectly demonstrates the condition of the fighting African-American race, hardly able to have enough money for the unacceptable housing in the slums of Harlem; thus, being locked into their depressed state by walls that detach them from the opportunities. There is no doubt that Lutie’s freedom is restricted; however, in a mental and emotional rather than in a physical way. The author states that “Walls are often used in The Street as metaphors for oppression, forced enclosures, and confined areas informed by race, gender, and class” (Petry 40).

Lutie faces the various forms of these suffocating walls as defined by the author. Apart from the wall of the financial problems and inability to earn money, Lutie is troubled by an anxiety of sexual abuse, an issue that white women did not have to worry about. This is due to the fact that white women had money and liberty to move, if they were manipulated or threatened; finally, they were not bare in front of the apparent risk of sexual predators. Her wish and the necessity to break down the wall of anxiety are not reasonable, even though the creature that she fears the most is the superintendent of her house. The wall of anxiety and the wall of cash, respectively, are the ones which Lutie has to face all over again through the entire novel. Since she is incapable of making a calm and safe home for herself and her son due to the walls that trap her; Lutie is searching for the excuses to cover herself as being black and being a woman (Petry 56).

It is, thus, clear that the walls of gender and race that Lutie cannot push away, exist in order to safeguard her from her vision. Early in the novel, she states that “I cannot see anything ahead of me except these walls that push in against me” (83). Even though Lutie is blinded by her dream when she transfers into the 116th Street room, she can realize and sensate an American Dream on the other side of the wall via a small crack before she goes to Harlem. Lutie’s dream is most vibrant when she is employed by the Chandlers. She sees the differences between her life and theirs, and relates the social discrepancy to a wall. This leads to the eruption of Lutie’s dream: “Her dream bursts as Jones, the Super of the building (70). In the end, Lutie’s dream surely explodes when she can no longer battle against her walls of subjugation. She has to make a stance against her incapability to achieve an American Dream. The author states that Lutie kills Boots, a black man, not because he is going to rape her, or because he serves a white man, but due to the fact that his is the appearance of the system, black and white; he is a fragment of the American way (Petry 70). Boots signifies a black man who has been fruitful, and Lutie’s obstruction with her curse of life-long subjugation explodes in a conclusion of hopelessness and fear. Lutie’s dream aggravates until it explodes; and in the end she runs away.