The Street

The Male Box: Shrinking Feminine Space in The Street

Viewed as a Naturalist novel, with its realistic prose, indifferent environment, and an aesthetic network built around motifs, the narrative of Ann Petry's The Street reads like a mid-century black version of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie: a woman (Carrie is single; Lutie Johnson is saddled by a child) and her relationships with a series of men (using them in Sister Carrie; being used by them in The Street) either propels her up the social ladder (Dreiser) or knocks the rungs out below her (Petry). Petry's blatant protest against societal restrictions placed on women, especially black women, is underscored by a subtler portrayal of the omnipresent claustrophobia that physically confines Lutie. The various cramped spaces she occupiesher unsuitable apartment, crowded buses, massed sidewalks, the packed Juntodefine her social immobility and bodily objectification. She seeks a spacious apartment that never arrives, so throughout the novel she settles for finding alternate ways to expand her spatial presence. However, the constant threat of masculine sexual assault and power, aided by the use of objects, reduces these expansions and imprisons Lutie, who is unwilling to capitalize on her only object of valueher own...

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