Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Failure of the American Dream and Upward Mobility

The Street by Ann Petry


Ann Petry's The Street, in a nutshell, is about Lutie Johnson's ill-fated struggle to get her son and herself out of life on the street, and to achieve some type of upward mobility.  Her surroundings and her background all combine against her, and despite her work and good intentions, it all comes to naught.  The novel serves as an insightful and intelligent commentary on race and gender.  Lutie, while working for a rich white family, learns the value of money and believes that hard work, planning and saving will help her move up in the world, but when she actually tries to live by these values, she finds herself stuck.  Her husband leaves her while she is working to support their family since he can't get a job.  It takes her more than a year to get a license/certificate that certifes her as a proper typist, so that she can get a better job, and even that one barely pays enough for her to support herself, her son and the apartment she was so desperate to get.  The men in the novel all sexually objectify her.  Lutie is stuck because she can barely make it on her own, but she can't afford a divorce from her estranged husband, and she has no interest in becoming involved with a man without marriage.  When she had worked for the white family, all the female visitors would comment how they wouldn't be able to have an attractive black woman working in their house, since they are all so promiscuous.  Lutie was incredibly offended by these assumptions, and as her celibate life after her husband shows, she continues to feel it is extremely important not to be another loose woman - she wants out of the life she has.  Her constant worrying about money begins to affect her son so he is easily manipulated by a man who wants to teach Lutie a lesson.


The entire time Lutie's struggle seems incredibly futile, and even what she begins to view as her one chance out, seems impossible.  Of course, even that is taken away from her, and the novel ends on a very hopeless note.  Once the street has you, there's no escaping.

No comments: