In Ann Petry’s, The Street, Lutie Johnson struggles to live the American Dream with her son Bub - The Street introduction. Lutie see the American Dream as owning her own home, having a good job and keeping her son Bub out of trouble. It is not easy for Lutie to achieve this dream during the 1940’s because she is single African American mother. When moving to 116th Street Lutie noticed how the people who live on this street are trapped and they do not have a choice weather to leave or not because they are being controlled by Junto. Through the novel the street traps Lutie sexually, financially and because of her race. The Street is both a fantasy and a danger to Lutie and Bub.
Lutie was a beautiful African American Woman who was trying to live her life like everyone else. She had a husband, Jim, and an eight year old son, Bub, who lived together while Lutie was out working in Connecticut, to make money for her family. After finding out her husband was cheating on her while she was out working supporting her family she decide to take her son and move out. She had a lot of emotions about where to raise her son and what kind of atmosphere will be best for him to learn and grow in. Lutie does not want to move in with her father and his girlfriend, Lil, because she is scared that Bud will become Lil’s personal slave. As Lutie searches for a place, for her and her son to live, she takes mental notes about the apartment and the people who live there. Lutie first notice the older lady who hangs out of her window and watches everything that goes on on the street. Next she notices the creepy super who shows her the apartment. Can Lutie live on this street and still live a normal life with her son?
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As Lutie walked slowly down 116th Street she notices a lot about how her and son life could be better or worse when living on this particular street. “She wasn’t afraid of its influence, for she would fight against it” (Perty Page 56). When Lutie first moved to her new apartment she was not scared to live on the street and face everything that came along with it. Lutie knew she could beat the odds and end up in a better place than the rest of the people living on 116th Street. What Lutie didn’t know was how hard it was going to be to survive on the street and protect her son while doing it. “Mrs. Hedges who sat in the street- floor window turn to running a fairly well-kept whorehosue” (Petry page 57). Lutie first notices Mrs. Hedges when she visits the apartment for the first time. Mrs. Hedges knows everything that happens on the street because she is always sitting outside of her window. In Lutie’s head she believes the street had pushed Mrs. Hedges to running a whorehouse. “The superintendent of the building- well, the street had pushed him into the basement away from light and air until he was eaten up by horrible obsessions” (Perty Page 57). Even though Lutie see the superintendent as a creep, she believes he is this way because the street has pushed him to become this way. Even though she does not like the super, because of his lust for her, she deals with him because she cannot afford to live anywhere else. Min, the lady that lived with the super, was just as run down as the rest of them who lived on that street. She would go to work come home and do as the super asked. Min’s fun life of going out and partying was slowly fading because of the street. The street had changed everyone who lived there but Lutie was not worried about Mrs. Hedges, the super or Min, Lutie was worried about Bub.
“She didn’t know which was worse- his being alone in those dreary little rooms or his playing in the street where the least of the danger confronting him came from the stream of traffic which roared through 116th Street” (Perty, page 60). Lutie hated that she had to leave her son alone after he got out of school. She felt bad making him stay in the small apartment all day with very little light, but she didn’t want him hanging out on the street either. Lutie was scared for Bub safety and what could happen to him if he hangs out on the street. Bub was young and would not able to dodge traffic or say no to gangs that try to force him to becoming one of them. Lutie struggled with these images in her head, she knows the street is full of traffic and corruption, but she had to work in order to keep a roof over Bub’s head and food on the table.
When Lutie see the young boys on the street shining shoes, she is upset by it. She feels that if these young boys are out on the street now they are just being set up to be on the streets forever. They will end up mopping floors and sweating stairwells and she knows she wants a better life for her son. As Lutie walks up to the apartment door, she hears a little voice ask if she would like her shoes shined. At first she didn’t notice who it was, she had to take a double look, it was her son. “She slapped him sharply across the face” (Petry, page 66). Lutie was so taken back that it was her son she slapped him and commanded him to get into the apartment. When Lutie sees Bub shining shoes, she is upset because he is turning into her ex-husband Jim, and Lutie wants better for him. Bub tells Lutie he was just trying to help out with money. Lutie tells Bub she does not need his money and gives him money to go to see a movie.
As the novel continues Lutie Johnson gets a job as a singer in a night lounge owned by a white man named Junto. Junto is s very powerful character through the remainder of the novel. Junto pays Lutie and treats her alright because he finds her attractive. Junto takes a liking to Lutie and would do anything to get his way with her. Boots and Jubilee, thugs, also want to get with Lutie and try their best to get their way with her. “He pulled her toward him and slapped her. Then threw her back against the wall. Again and again.” (Petry, page 269). Because these three men are anything but, gentlemen they abuse and hurt Lutie. She cannot escape the abuse because she remains to live to 116th Street. “He could have killed her easy and no one would ever have rapped on the door, and he wondered what went on inside these other apartments to make their occupants so incurious” (Perty, Page 270). Everyone who lived on in Harlem were used to hearing screams and shouts, so no one ever knocked on another door to see what was happening. They would just mind their own business because they didn’t want to get killed as themselves. But Lutie wasn’t the only on getting herself in trouble in the streets. Bub had gotten caught by two white men. “The boy was crying trying to pull away from them” (Petry, page 383). Bud had gotten caught taking letters out of mailboxes for super Jones. Now he was going to have to go to court and Lutie was going to have to get lawyer. Two hundred dollars for a lawyer, Lutie could not afforded that. Bub would also have to go to reform school before being about to live with his mother again. The street had gotten the best of Bub and Lutie could not longer protect her son, because she was unable to protect herself.
“Yes, a one way ticket, she though. I’ve had one since the day I was born” (Petry page 434). Lutie was leaving 116th Street alone. Even though her son was a young boy she knew she could not save him. He was in the system now and would enter into reform school. “It’s was a series of circles that flowed into each other” (Petry, Page 435). Even though Lutie fought hard against the influences of the street, they still crept into her and Bub’s lives. It was cycle and not matter how hard Lutie tried to protect her son it would have never been good enough because the street would have taken him sooner or later.
The street influenced Lutie and Bub the moment they moved in to the apartment on 116th Street. Being a single, beautiful African American woman and raising a eight year old son on your own is never an easy task and ever worry Lutie ever had came true. She knew it was not going to be easy to live the American dream but what she didn’t know was how hard it was going to be to live on 116th Street. Just like she knew she should have been there for Bub when he got home, she knew she shouldn’t of let him hang out with the with super Jonas on the nights she wasn’t home. The street had taken over the Johnson’s lives. Lutie I had left the street and left her son behind to be part cycle that never ends on the street.