Use of Personification, Naturalism, and Setting in The Street by Ann Petry

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The Deceitful Street

The term blackness is a term that has been extremely prominent throughout the history of black individuals not only in the United States but from all corners of the earth. The meaning of the term has changed multiple times from when it was first originally coined, but to highlight its original meaning, it can be described as the despicable mistreatment of black people as it relates to their overall lifestyles, mainly on one of the shameful slave plantations seen throughout the United States of America.

It was the time period following the Civil War in which the term essentially meant to reduce the status of lower-class blacks who were having trouble adjusting to a new way of operating throughout life as it relates to their freedom and overall governing laws. The meaning then shifted in the 1940s, during which time the famed novel The Street was composed. Later, the term went on to mean the revitalization of not only self-evaluation for black individuals but black culture as a whole. This meaning went on to encompass everything we saw not only during the Harlem Renaissance but in modern society as we know it today. In today’s political climate, we see different elements of blackness creeping in to increase the relevancy of black males and females in a controversial modern world. The concept of blackness is a lot easier to understand when discussing personification, naturalism, and setting as it relates to African American women’s writing in the 1940s and beyond.

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It is at the very beginning of the novel in which we see Ann Petry use the imagery of the wind to express not only the negative energy roaming the streets of the town but the violence and sinister actions that are so prominent on a day to day basis. The clearest example in which we see the use of wind in the text is when the text states “There was a cold November wind blowing through 116th Street. It rattled the tops of garbage cans, sucked window shades out through the top of opened windows and set them flapping against the windows.” (Petry 1). From what I can gather, Ann is using the actions of the wind to reflect the actions of the humans roaming the streets, and if there is one literary element that I can associate with the wind’s actions, it would be that of foreshadowing for the entirety of the actions that are going to take place throughout the entire novel. It basically acts as a reflection of all the trials and tribulations each and every character in the novel will have to go through as it relates to their freedom and future success throughout life.

From my observation, if there is one character in particular who faces an overwhelming amount of struggle throughout the novel, it would be of Lutie. Lutie from the very beginning of the novel faces struggles that no woman should have to go through at any point throughout their life. Whether this is having to have sex with random men or doing whatever else it takes in order to obtain the money to keep her place on the sin-ridden streets.

Up until this point, everything in the novel has come together to punish Lutie in every sense of the word when it comes to the despicable circumstances and disgusting mistreatment for which nobody should have to encounter at any point throughout their lives. What is particularly interesting is that at the end of the novel we see Lutie flee to Chicago, Illinois to avoid arrest. The events that take place during this period of Luties life give the talented Ann Petry the opportunity to take the character of Lutie in a completely different direction.

Lutie was able to surpass these obstacles and successfully fight against the number of inequalities she faced, and this led to her being able to pursue her own life path and obtain some form of peace that is often associated with it.

In literature, naturalism is essentially an extension of realism. To expand on this, most well-educated writers use naturalism in their stories to decide and govern the actions of the main character. In this case, it is Lutie. Ann Petry does a wonderful job at expressing this to the reader. She uses the environment of the dreadful streets, which are violent, sinful, and sexually insensitive. She expresses to us that Lutie is at the lowest point of this societal structure in the United States. Now, I am not saying that most if not all black women were not at this low point in society but as it relates to Lutie being put in a specific place. We can associate the relationship this has to the term blackness as it is an overwhelmingly prominent theme that is prevalent throughout the entire novel in relation to the idea of naturalism.

When it comes to Lutie and her overall growth, the idea of naturalism as it relates to the overall environment of the street is what constructs her view of the life of African American women on the streets. Lutie experiences the feeling of absence throughout a number of different experiences in her life, whether it is her encounters that take place in the household or the encounters she experiences in the clubs she works in at night. This is what I would call a reflection of the use of naturalism and a black females life, this use of reflection gives us the opportunity to reject and fight back against the many injustices African American women in particular encounter in a sexist, racist, and despicable American society during this time period.

Now finally, when it comes to discussing the setting, and the role it plays throughout the novel, the first thing I would like to highlight is the fact that the novel takes place in Harlem, New York in the 1940s. Being a black woman in Harlem during this decade essentially could not get any worse. These women were mistreated, looked down on, and taken advantage of in every aspect of life and in every sense of the word. The misrepresentation of blacks, but in particular black women is very easy to see in this setting. The setting of Harlem is the overall bubble we see throughout the novel but we cannot ignore the other lesser settings seen throughout The Street, The Casino, Junto’s Bar, and Grill, and The White Blouse is just some of the settings in which we see an extension to where black women are mistreated. These settings essentially act as a hub for where black women are completely degraded and in most cases, are not even seen as human beings to a majority of the men on this setting, but more so seen as objects just there to have sex with and use in every way that could be degrading to black women who are already going through a lot in their lives.

Overall, The Street is one of the best novels I have read for some time. Ann Petry’s use of personification, naturalism, and setting is what makes this novel so different from similar novels I have read in recent years. Using the wind to express the hardships of African American women in American society, and using the setting to express the fact that where you live and the places you tend to find you self in during everyday situations can absolutely have an impact on the direction for which your life is going to go. All of this comes together to prove that the concept of blackness is extremely important to the style and content of Ann Petry’s The Street but not just this novel, but African American literature as a whole.

Works Cited

  1. Petry, Ann. The Street. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. (ISBN 978-0-395-90149- 6]
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Use of Personification, Naturalism, and Setting in The Street by Ann Petry. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
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