“The Street” by Ann Petry

“TheStreet” by Ann Petry

Theanalysis of characters in any literary work is bound to enhance thecomprehension of the message that the creator of the work aimed atsending to the readers. Of course, it is well acknowledged thatliterary works aim at creating a picture in the minds of the readersabout the way of life in the times of the creators, as well as thesociety within which they lived. More often than not, literary worksare primarily aimed at bringing out the ills that plagued the societyin both the political and social arenas. More often than not, themessage is always in the thoughts and actions of the charactersincorporated in the literary works. This is the case for LutieJohnson, the protagonist in the Ann Petry’s book “The Street”. While there are variations in opinions, it is evident that Johnson’srole is that of a viewpoint character.

“TheStreet” explores the life of Lutie Johnson as she strives tonavigate the private, as well as public lives in spite of theobstacles that the society has put in place with regard to space,gender, class and race. It is noteworthy that Lutie Johnson isstriving to come up with or create a safe future both for her and herson. Unfortunately, this is not easy for her as she often has tograpple with the boundaries and hindrances, both invisible andvisible, as a result of the stigma that comes with being an AfricanAmerican woman. All the domains that Lutie Johnson is supposed to gothrough are characterized by some element of invasiveness in the formof being monitored constantly, sexualized and trivialized.Nevertheless, Johnson keeps up her determination in attaining heridea pertaining to the “American Dream” particularly with regardto the creation of a safe environment and monetary security for herand her son. Her freedoms to navigate the private and public spheresof her life are restricted on the basis of gender, class and race.Lutie is considerably enamored with the cultural myths pertaining tothe cultural myths of self-made Americans, a symbol that she derivesfrom suburban Chandlers who she would work for as a maid, as BenjaminFranklin. As Lutie concentrates herself with getting out of thepoverty, she becomes prey to the desires of the individuals with whomshe lives as shown by the lust from the white slumlord, themonitoring eye given by the resident madame, as well the sexualfantasies pertaining to the apartment superintendent.

Apartfrom taking the role of a protagonist in the story, Johnson operatesas the viewpoint character in a large part of the novel. In essence,readers come to have proper knowledge of her largely as a result ofher perceptions, actions, as well as reactions on the basis of herown voice. It goes without saying that the readers tend to see thenature of the apartments, hallway and streets via her eyes, while thedissatisfaction and anger of the reader pertaining to the things thatshe has to encounter are a significant reflection of the person thatshe is (Greenbie 672). As much as Lutie Johnson is determined to takethe struggle to the end and not surrender to the street, the readersare able to sense her anxiety, as well as her proximity to despair.

Onthe same note, it a large number of characters who later on take upthe role of viewpoint characters for an extended period of time areinitially seen through Johnson’s view of them, after which they canbe seen via the manner in which they perceive the world in generalthat also includes Johnson (Wesling 48).A case in point would be the perception of Lutie Johnson regardingJones, who is the building superintended. Lutie states that Jones isextremely frightening especially with regard to how openly he lustedto Lutie Johnson (Rosado 47). It is well noted that her initial fearshave a basis and are well grounded considering that he actually goesahead to attempt to rape her. Nevertheless, the readers are providedwith an opportunity to see something with regard to manner in whichJones perceives the world or at least how the world appears to him,as well as the forces that are responsible for the predicament orstation that he is in as far as life is concerned (Greenbie 673).This is not aimed at making Jones look like a like a sympatheticcharacter, rather it creates the impression that the reader would bemaking a mistake if he perceives in Jones only the villain that isapt at being melodramatic (Wesling 56).

Onthe same note, it is through her role as the viewpoint character thatthe readers comprehend the manner in which African Americans viewedtheir white counterparts or the environment that they were living in,as well as the immediacy of their problems (Greenbie 674). Indeed,the novel placed the readers in the resigned despair pertaining tothe surroundings especially considering the immediacy of theprotagonist’s situation. There is, for instance, the case whereLutie had gone to buy a humbugger from butchery. Upon receiving thehumbugger and giving out the money, she was reluctant to receive thechange as she did not want to touch the roughened hands of the whiteman. She indeed states that forcing the butcher to place the changeon the counter rather than hand it over to her gave her some feelingof power over the individual (Petry 62). This is undoubtedly aimed atcreating images pertaining to the frustrations through whichminorities or African Americans underwent particularly when they werewomen. It is only in instances where the protagonist can give out hisor her views and perspectives that the readers would have thecapacity to comprehend the basis for her actions and have a vividimage pertaining to the situation as at the time when the book waswritten (Rosado 56).

Inconclusion, literary works are primarily aimed at creating ideaspertaining to the situations in the society and times when thecreators of the works lived. While they are primarily aimed atentertaining and educating the readers or even chronicling history,they also aim at inspiring ideas pertaining to change and the mannerin which individuals in the society can rise beyond their currentsituations and change the society. This is accomplished through thethoughts and actions of the characters in the literary works. This isthe case for “The Street”, whose main protagonist, Jutie Johnsoncreates an image pertaining to the society at that time, as well asthe tribulations of the African American women in the society at thattime.


Greenbie,Barrie B. “Home Space: Fences and Neighbors.”&nbspSignsof Life in the U.S.A.&nbsp5th&nbsped.Sponia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.672-674. Print

Petry,Ann. &nbspTheStreet.&nbspBoston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1946. Print

Rosado,Tréza, &quotThe Street: An Adaptation of the Novel by AnnPetry&quot.AntonianScholars Honors Program.&nbspPaper3, 2011. Print

Wesling,Meg. “The Opacity of Everyday Life: Segregation and the Iconicityof Uplift in The Street.”&nbspAmericanLiterature&nbsp78.1(Mar. 2006) print