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.