The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Ann Petry, The Street, 1946

  1. What implications are conveyed by the novel's title? What seem symbolic elements of the opening scene?
  2. What is the narrative stance of the novel? What kind of language is used? How does the language presented differ from that in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God?
  3. What are some traits of Petry's style? Is it effective in conveying stream-of-consciousness and interiority?
  4. Does the novel use humor? What kind of mental states are best conveyed?
  5. Where is "the street"? What are some of the first things we learn about its environment? Whom does Lutie Johnson first meet in her prospective new apartment? Are her reservations and fears about the characters she first meets confirmed?
  6. What are some especially unpleasant features of the apartment and street environment? (no privacy, smell)
  7. What do we learn about Lutie's upbringing? Her past and marriage? What had caused her husband to become unfaithful?
  8. What are her reactions to her job at the Chandlers? To their lifestyle? To their values and family life? How do they treat Little Henry?
  9. What aspects of their values does Lutie believe have influenced her?
  10. What aspects of their lives are revealed in the scene in which Mr. Chandler's brother commits suicide?
  11. What does Lutie believe is the nature of the wall between herself and her employers? (41, white distaste)
  12. What forms of employment seem available to her? What seems the fate of most of the men on "the street"? What has been her father's past?
  13. What are some of the other problems Lutie confronts? How does she strive to protect her son? Is she a good parent?
  14. What are Lutie's goals? (57) Do you think, within the context of the novel, that she is likely to be successful?
  15. Do you think her relationship with her son Bub is portrayed realistically? What seem his traits of character?
  16. What purpose is served in the novel by the presence of Mrs. Hedges? Of Mr. Jones? Of Min?
  17. What does knowing that Ann Petry grew up in Old Saybrook, Connecticut and worked as a reporter in New York City suggest about the origins of some of the book's scenes?
  18. What do we learn of the relationship between Mr. Jones and Min? What have been the circumstances of Min's past life? What motivates her to visit "the prophet"?
  19. What are some important features of the representation of the "prophet"'s storefront and response to his clients? Why is he able draw credulous clients? What effects do his "prescriptions" have on Min's situation?
  20. What drives Lutie to frequent Junto's bar? What are her first impressions of Mr. Boots Smith? Does the narrative suggest that her efforts to seek employment from him without engaging in sex will be successful? Are there danger signs that this relationship will cause trouble?
  21. What had caused the state to remove foster children from the care of Jim and Lutie? What circumstances and events led to the breakup of their family?
  22. How has unemployment affected their lives? The presence of Lutie's father?
  23. What are some bitter contrasts between past and present? (182, her husband's affectionateness) What does Lutie expect may happen to her in the next five years?

    "She wondered uneasily if she was fooling herself in believing that she could sing her way out of the street. Suppose it didn't work and she had to stay there. What would the street do to her? She thought of Mrs. Hedges, the Super, Min, Mrs. Hedges' little girls. Which one would she be like, say five years from now? What would Bub be like? She shivered as she headed toward home" (183-84).
  24. What is the significance of Lutie's nightmare? (194, feeling of dread) Her dream that Mr. Jones is a dog, carrying an apartment building on his back? (191-92) How may her dream be prophetic?
  25. What is Lutie's reaction to the incident of the murder of a young black man? (198) To the scenes in the hospital? (202-204)
  26. How does this novel compare or contrast in tone with Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God? With Our Nig?
  27. What is Lutie's analysis of what is wrong with "the street," and what prompts her to this view? (206)
  28. Are Bub's fears in his mother's absence realistically portrayed? (211) What is the long-term effect of Lutie's absences?
  29. What prospect gives Lutie a false sense of hope? (222, 230)
  30. How does Jones react to Min's placing of a cross above their bed? (230, 232) What illusions does he harbor about Lutie's cool response to him? (232, 233)
  31. What happens when Jones grabs Lutie as she returns home? (235-36) What new details are revealed about Mrs. Hedges? (237)
  32. With what does Mrs. Hedges threaten Jones? (238) Does Lutie know of Mr. Junto's interest in her? (238)
  33. What is Lutie's reaction to Mrs. Hedges and her invitations? (237, 239)
  34. What traumatic memories does Lutie's presence evoke in Mrs. Hedges? (241) What do we learn about the latter's past? (241-42) What had been her relationship with Mr. Junto? (243, 253)
  35. How had Mrs. Hedges escaped from the fire? (244)
  36. What great loss did this accident bring her? (246) What change does it cause in her attitudes and habits? How does she begin her occupation as a madam? (249)
  37. What do we learn about Boots Smith's past? What reason did he give to Junto for not wanting to serve as a soldier in the second world war? What occupations has he held in the past? How did he feel about them, and about life in general?
  38. What ruptured relationship does he associate with his stint as a Pullman porter? (Jubilee, 267-69)
  39. What happened when he found that his partner has commited adultery with a white man? What reasons does he give to himself for not killing her?
  40. What has been his past relationship with Mr. Junto? Why does he decide to cede his potential relationship with Lutie to Mr. Junto? (263) How sympathetic is the reader expected to be to his plight?
  41. What are Boots' opinions about Lutie's character? In view of later events, are these ironic? What is his view of Mr. Junto's feelings for Mrs. Hedges? (276)
  42. In the end, what set of incidents defeats Lutie's plan to become a singer? Are the several incidents and causes of her defeat ironically related?
  43. What attitudes does Bub Johnson face during his schoolday? How is the mindset of his teacher represented?
  44. What other dangers face Bub Johnson during an average day?
  45. Why does Min decide to leave Mr. Jones' apartment? What events occur when she does so? What thwarts Mr. Jones' desire to strike her?
  46. Are there any similarieties between Min's and Lutie's emotions? (362) What does Min learn as she prepares to leave? (365)
  47. How does Mr. Jones treat his dog? (363)
  48. Is there a kind of limited victory in Min's departure? How does Mr. Jones react to her defection? What tentative plans does he make, and why are these aborted?
  49. What information leads to Bub's arrest? (384)
  50. How do the neighbors react to the sight of Bub's arrest? (384)
  51. How does Lutie react to the court summons? Is she well served by her lawyer?
  52. What prompts her to turn to Boots Smith for money? What danger signs suggest that this is a mistake?
  53. What effect does Lutie believe Bub's arrest will have on his future life? (402) Do her predictions seem accurate?
  54. What occupation does Lutie decide to pursue for Bud's sake? What disadvantages will this have for him?
  55. Does Lutie understand Bub's motives in stealing? Whom does she blame for his arrest?
  56. What does Lutie notice about the other relatives in the waiting room at Juvenile Court?
  57. Why is she unable to take comfort from retreat to a movie theater? (412)
  58. In what state of mind does she visit Boots' apartment? (422, 429) Why are we given so much detail about her preoccupations and thoughts at this juncture?
  59. Are there signs that Lutie is losing her hold on reality? (422) What immediate frustration prompts her to an act of violence? (428-29)
  60. Does she believe her act was intentional? (434) Does her murder of Boots Smith--rather than Jones or Junto--make sense within the context of the novel?
  61. How does the fact that she doesn't murder in self-defense change the meaning of her action?
  62. What are some graphic elements of the portrayal of the murder?
  63. Can you think of other novels in which the protagonist commits a murder? A female protagonist?
  64. Is the reader encouraged to understand/be sympathetic to Lutie's deed?
  65. Why does Lutie abandon her child? Does her action make sense?
  66. How is the theme of anger and violence central to the novel? What are similarities and differences in the forms violence takes in different characters? Are any of the characters immune from rage?
  67. Is the ending of this novel unexpected? Does it leave room for hope?
  68. What form of closure is provided by the novel's final paragraphs? Are they consistent with its beginning?
  69. Would you describe the plot of The Street as a tragedy? If so, why?
  70. Do the events of the conclusion change our view of what has gone before? How does the conclusion differ from the ending of other narratives we have read this semester?
  71. Is this a well-written book? What are its best qualities?
  72. What reflections does the novel prompt?

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