Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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Money as a Key to Happiness in The Street

In Ann Petry’s novel The Street, the main character, Lutie Johnson, is constantly worried about money. She worries about how to spend the money she has, how to budget for the future, and how to make more money. While living and working in the Chandler’s house, she learned that money can seemingly solve any problem. While in the car with Boots Lutie says, “Even with cops money makes a difference… Even if you’re colored, it makes a difference — not as much, but enough to make having it important. Money could change suicide into an accident with a gun; it could apparently keep Boots out of the army… Money could make a white cop almost smile when he caught a black man speeding. It was the only thing that could get her and Bub out of that street. And the lack of it would keep them there forever” (166). As Lutie says, not only is money the key to solving her problems, but the lack of it will exacerbate her problems. Her marriage with Jim ended due to monetary concerns and the effect of those concerns, which was Lutie having to leave the house to go work in another family’s house in order to support her own family. Many of her father’s problems were rooted in money; his inability to get a job, the result of which was him illegally making and selling alcohol.

Everyone living on 116th street is living there as a result of their lack of money and their inability to pay to live somewhere better. But the problem with not having money is that without money, it’s hard to get money. How is Lutie supposed to work for enough money to find a better place for herself and Bub to live, when doing so would mean leaving Bub to run wild in the neighborhood that their lack of money situated them in? As Lutie says on page 183, “It [is] like a circle. No matter at what point she start[s], she always end[s] up at the same place.” Lutie’s entire existence is defined by her lack of money and her determination to change that situation. Unfortunately, she is in a Catch-22, a hopeless situation.

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The Street. [Seriously]

The image in the novel that still captures me the most, is the idea of the street. My problem with the street portrayed is that it does not fit most molds of roads in literature (that I have discovered so far). For example, images of roads, paths, and streets normally connect to the idea of a journey, one that might be difficult and hard,  but nonetheless is always moving and evolving. There are twists and turns, some are lonely and long, but to me, streets are not traps, they are moving and stretching on.

Normal image conjured with a road. Major contrast to Petry's street.

Petry’s street is a dead-end world. One in which people are ensnared and lose hope, “because this street and the other streets just like it would, if he stayed in them long enough, do something terrible to him” (Petry 194). Instead of a street that stretches on and offers hope, even in the form of restless wandering, 116th street swallows those who end up there and are not strong enough to fight their way out.


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The street by Ann Petry

In reading this novel a lot of things have been very clear and have given me a greater understanding of why things are the way they are today. Many times we don’t take the time to look back in our past to notice how we have managed to get to our present. But in reading this novel I now see why my great grandmothers, grandmothers, and mother work so hard like they do. Even though black women have suffered a lot they still manage to rise far from the criticism, the threats, and the opinions that are suggested about them. Back when I was younger I never understood why my mother and grandmother would always say that you have to grow up being independent and you have to work hard for what you want. Now it’s all reality and I’m appreciative of the long lecturess that where given to me. In some ways my life was like that of Bud’s; I experienced the lonely nights, being without a father in the same household, parents being split up, and wanting to be a help to my mother. But i soon realized that everything was for a reason and also what want make you will break you. So now i can look back and say that all the suffrage that black women wen through paid off in some aspect of life whether it was in the work force, government, voting, schools, or at home. I’m very appreciative of the book “The Street” because it puts things in perspective and allows everyone to know about the issues of the past, the present, and the future.


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NPR on Petry

While preparing for class today, I came across an insightful piece on NPR about another professor teaching Ann Petry’s The Street in her contemporary African American lit classroom.  I’m posting the story here just in case we don’t have time to get to it this week, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’m especially interested in the continued relevance of the novel, especially at this moment in which there are bold claims about the postracial and the U.S. being “beyond” identity politics.  Do you see Lutie’s plight as still current?

“Twenty years ago, when I was a young professor about to teach a course on African-American fiction, I set about to find a forgotten or undiscovered classic by a female writer.

I wanted a book that would hold its own against urban classics like Invisible Man or Native Son, an older book that would complement the newer works by Toni Morrison and Alice Walker or the recently republished novels of Zora Neale Hurston. What I discovered was Ann Petry’s magnificent 1946 novel, The Street.

[…] The Street is a book that raises passion in readers, and in me. It is as relevant now as when it was written in the 1940s. Particularly now, with the upcoming presidential election, it makes us think about what it was like to be a single mother raising a black son to believe he was worthy of all the best this country can offer. I can’t think of a better place to start a national conversation about the audacity of hope than with this undiscovered classic, as fresh and moving now as the day it was published.”

Visit NPR for audio and the rest of the story on All Things Considered.


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Welcome!

Welcome to the blog for Black Women Writers, a Fall Semester 2011 course in English and Feminist Studies taught by Dr. Carina Evans at Southwestern University.  This semester we’re reading works by Ann Petry, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and Sapphire.  Each week, members of the class will be blogging their reactions to the material.

If you’re in the class, please contribute: 1) a weekly discussion post about your own thoughts; and 2) a response to another classmate’s post.  This writing is informal, but should also be respectful given the fact that our blog is public.  In order to receive credit for the week, you must post before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.