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Published: 02-12-2019

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Dogs In Cages: The Dangers of City Living in Ann Petry’s The Street

In Ann Petry’s novel The Street, even the most easy, every day objects take on fiendish personalities and shifting, threatening aspects. From the cruel wind in the story’s opening chapter to the tough, bitter street itself, glaring situational cruelty and injustice brings vivid color to the narrative. Even the walls, as Petry describes, “were reaching out for her – bending and swaying towards her in an effort to envelop her.” (The Street 12) This haunted lady, the protagonist, Lutie Johnson, stands as a perfect instance. Facing much far more than just the challenges of an economically disadvantaged single mother, wide-spread discrimination locations Lutie at a serious societal disadvantage, even though an atmosphere of unapologetic chauvinism subjects her to repeated exploitation and disrespect. The elements of race and gender, though they are only made obstacles due to tragically backward social norms and systemic inequality, turn out to be further and further internalized over the course of the novel. As her personal perceptions and actions towards the outside globe start to pervert and twist, Lutie’s race and gender function as each inner and outer demons, providing volatile context for her life as a lady, a provider, and a mother.

The perceptions of Lutie as an adult woman, each sexually and socially, variety from the inappropriate to the predatory. These prejudices manifest themselves at instances in puzzling, however deeply cutting misconceptions, as Petry bitterly muses, “Apparently it was an automatic reaction of white men and women – if a girl was colored and fairly young, why, it stood to reason she had to be a prostitute” (The Street 44). Even though it might look a resentful overstatement, the behavior of the guys, white or otherwise, about her provides the impression of a a lot more literal translation. From Mr. Crosse, who sees Lutie’s audition for his singing school as an chance to extort sexual favors in exchange for free of charge signing lessons, to William Jones, the Super of her apartment building, who violently attempts to rape her on her way home from function, guys in Lutie’s life view her as tiny much more than a sex object, to be attained by whatever means necessary or obtainable. It is this pattern which has Lutie surviving in continuous worry and thinly repressed anger, robbing her of her safety at property and chance all through her life. Unable to locate companionship based on terms of mutual respect and affection, she has small choice but to isolate herself emotionally soon after the collapse of her marriage. This alienation, coupled with an escalating culture of violence, eventually plays a vital part in pushing Lutie towards her most life-altering decision of the novel: the brutal murder of Boots Smith.

One more aspect of continuous frustration all through the path of Lutie Johnson’s life is the economic disadvantage imposed upon African-Americans by discrimination endemic throughout the job industry. Significantly of her ill-fortune starts after her husband is unable to locate function, no matter how tough he searches. The reason for this curious lack of employment is summed up ruefully by Petry, “It all added up to the very same factor, she decided – white people” (The Street 206). In occasions of financial hardship, white males were given obvious preferential remedy in the good quality of operate, as nicely as availability. Even when African-Americans had been tenacious, and fortunate, adequate to discover function, the perform was degrading, humiliating. In the case of Boots Smith, he could not even pursue a profession as a pianist without having to be continually wary of violent abuse at the hands of a white police force. In a nation run on the backs of dollar bills, to intentionally hold back an whole race of individuals is not only indicative of a truly disgusting sense of superiority and entitlement, but is also incredibly dangerous to society over the extended term. As we see Lutie struggle from 1 low-paying, demeaning job to the next, we see her own faith and individual character be beaten down bit by bit. It is in this way that widespread discrimination becomes so truly poisonous to a folks by denying the means to succeed or excel, a pattern of entropy is created a pattern in which a mother’s child truly has tiny hope of anything a lot more than a lifetime of steadily escalating desperation and violence.

It is the tragedy of young Bub Johnson, and the alternatives his mother was mercilessly driven to make, that is actually the most poignant condemnation of racial and gender inequality inside the novel. Forced to perform for such low spend that she should perform late into the evening, merely to afford a tiny apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood, Lutie struggles to raise her son away from corrupting influences. However, the anger and aggravation she continuously carries with her surfaces in ways which are confusing and frightening for her son. Following obtaining Bub running a makeshift shoeshine stand, she lashes out, as Petry particulars, “She slapped him sharply across the face. His look of utter astonishment produced her strike him once more – this time far more violently, and she hated herself for doing it, even as she lifted her hand for an additional blow” (The Street 66). In becoming a constant witness to his family’s abject poverty, Bub is left facing a problem he neither understands, nor has any capacity to resolve. To raise a child based on the values of adore, difficult function, and understanding, is virtually not possible inside the environment Lutie has been entrapped inside. Due not as well any aspect of her own private race or gender, but as an alternative as a outcome of society’s flawed, hateful beliefs towards those aspects, Lutie’s most sacred and intimate of tasks becomes irrevocably tainted. As she reflects on her decision to abandon her son at the close of the novel, Lutie realizes that to leave is actually the very best she could for him. In a planet which turns caring mothers into panicked, suffocating denizens of poverty, the lady that the street had turned Lutie into was worse than no mother at all.

Any remotely human sense of justice would regard the life of Lutie Johnson as an undeniable failure of the American social system. A victim of what some could deem as straightforward negative luck, a closer inspection into how her race and gender affected the behavior of those around her, and in turn her reactions to those around her, reveals a stark pattern of discrimination and exploitation. More than time, these outside influences begin to colour Lutie’s own thought-processes and beliefs about herself, producing a volatile frame of thoughts verging on psychosis, driving her to beat her son, lash out at strangers, and ultimately commit murder. To cage a human being as if they had been an animal is crime adequate but the consequence of a human becoming that has been created to think they actually are one particular is even darker, and impossible to actually measure, count, or comprehend.

Works Cited

Petry, Ann. The Street. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1946. Print.
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