The Street by Ann Petry
Bub - Lutie's 8 yr. old son
Pop - Lutie's father, used to make liquor
Lil - Pop's "raddled woman"
Mrs. Hedges - woman in the window, wears red bandana, runs whorehouse
William Jones - super
Granny - Lutie's grandmother, knew lots of stories
Min - super's woman
Tuesday evening in November
116th St., Harlem, NYC
Chapter opens with an extended description of the wind and its action upon the people still attempting to walk on the street. She sees a sign for a three room apartment and interprets the wording of the sign to form a picture of the shortcomings of the apartment inside. As she goes in a woman sitting in a window (Mrs. Hedges) encourages her to ring to super and check out the apartment. The super makes her feel uncomfortable as she goes up the stairs ahead of him. The apartment is small and close, the stove smells of gas, there is just one small window, and everything is chipped and worn. She insists that the landlord go down the stairs before her, but decides to take the apartment despite its shortcomings and her immediate dislike of Mrs. Hedges and the super. She and Bub are living at Pop's house with his tenants and girlfriend Lil, and Lil is a bad influence on the 8-year old Bub. The rent is $29.50. SHe follows the super into his apartment where she leaves $10 deposit and does not at first notice the woman Min sitting in an overstuffed brown chair. She plans to move in on Friday.
Mrs. Pizzini - grocer, lives in a nice part of Jamaica
Isabel Pizzini - Mrs. Pizzini's daughter, a teacher
Mrs. Chandler - employs Luti as a maid
Mr. (Henry) Chandler - sells paper products (paper towels, tissues, napkins, etc.)
Little Henry Chandler - nice young boy largely ignored by his parents
Jonathan Chandler - Henry's brother, possibly Mrs. Chandler's former lover? shoots himself in front of Luti and the Chandlers at Christmas
8th Avenue Express from 59th St to 125th St.
2 weeks after moving into the 116th St. apartment
Lutie and Bub get onto the 8th Avenue Express from 59th St. to 125th St. Like the other crammed passengers, she blocks out her surroundings to make a space for herself. Seeing an ad with a man and a woman and a beautiful kitchen sink, she remembers her experience working as a maid in Lyme, CT. She had responded to an ad and had Mrs. Pizzini (the grocer) write her a reference letter. Mrs. Pizzini's daughter Isabel, a teacher, had written the letter claiming that Lutie had been working for her for two years. Mrs. Pizzini says something to Luti about how the men and not the women should work when the children are so young. Lutie's husband Jim had been unable to find work, and they'd needed the $75/month to pay the mortgage on their house. She hadn't told Jim about the job until she got it, and his response is sullen. She works as a maid and nanny for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Chandler and their son Little Henry Chandler in their lavish country house. Mr. Chandler sells paper products and the whole family and all their friends are focused on money, a view that rubs off on Lutie. She saves her day off for a month and then two months at a time to save on train fees. Mr. Chandler drinks a great deal, which Mrs. Chandler doesn't seem to notice, and Mrs. Chandler flirts with her friends' husbands. Mrs. Chandler's friends and mother are always commenting in Lutie's hearing about how black women all want to sleep with white men and questioning whether it is wise to have the attractive Lutie in the house. At Christmas her second year there, Mr. Chandler's brother Jonathan comes. He is received coldly by Mrs. Chandler's husband and mother but Mrs. Chandler lights up in his presence. On Christmas day, he shoots himself in front of everyone by the Christmas tree. Mr. and Mrs. Chandler both start drinking more and Mrs. Chandler buys lots of clothes and gives discarded outfits to Lutie, who sends them to Lil. One day Lutie recieves a letter from her father, who says that Jim has taken up with another woman and that she should come back. Jim is unapologetic, and Lutie moves her furniture, her son and herself to Pop's house. Ignoring Mrs. Chandler's letters, she spends 1.5 years learning typing at a night school, a year passing exams and appearing low on the lists, and another year waiting for an appointment and taking more exams. For the whole 4 years, she works days in the steam laundry. When the train arrives to 125th street in Harlem the people who had become so small on the train seem to expand as they move out onto the street.
the butcher - white
shoeshine boys - boys Bub's age on 116th street
tired working women
well-dressed idle men in the street
trip from subway toward apartment
8th Ave butcher
116th Street Apartment
On the way home from the subway, Lutie stops because she has forgotten to shop for dinner. She goes to a butcher shop on 8th Ave. where she remembers Granny having heard that Harlem butchers add embalming fluid to their beef to make it look fresh, but buys it anyway not seeing any good alternatives. As she walks home she thinks about the problem of Bub not having anyone to look after him in the afternoons, and notices the tired working women who return from their jobs, the idle well-dressed men who sit watching, and the shoeshine boys. One of the shoeshine boys follows her and keeps asking, "Shine, Miss?" and when she sees that it is Bub she slaps him. "I'm working to look after you and you out here in the street shining shoes just like the rest of these little niggers" (67). She thinks: "you're afraid that if he's shining shoes at eight he will be washing windows at sixteen and running an elevator at twenty-one, and go on doing that for the rest of his life. And you're afraid that this street will keep him from finishing high school; that it may do worse than that and get him into some kind of trouble that will land him in reform school because you can't be home to look out for him because you have to work" (69). She makes him leave the box, which he has evidently worked hard to make, outside. When they get to the apartment he tells her that he was only trying to make some money since she always said that they had to save and be careful. She tells him that the reason she doesn't want him shining shoes is that the hardest and lowest paying dirtiest work is the only work the whites want blacks to do. He asks her why and she thinks about the whites' fear of the unfamiliar black skin, but tells him that she doesn't know, "But it's for the same reason we can't live anywhere else but in places like this" (72). Entering the apartment, Lutie remembers how the landlord had painted it three different colors instead of the white she requested, and how disappointed he had looked when she exclaimed at their ugliness. Before dinner, he looks at her and says that she's pretty and that the super thinks so too. She remembers Mrs. Hedges asking whether she was married and informing her that most of the women on the block were also separated. "If what Mrs. HEdges said were true, then this street was full of broken homes, and she thought the men must have been like Jim - unable to stand the day after day of drab living with nothing to look forward to but just enough to eat and a shelter overhead. And the women working as she had worked and the men getting fed up and getting other women" (77). That night she gives Bub money to go out and see a movie and is worried to learn that he knows how to get in without an adult at night by having an older lady bring him in. Lutie wants to see this apartment as a step in a movement upward, but she will only just be able to afford the rent here until she can get a higher rating and a better civil service job. She can't marry until she is divorced, and a divorce would cost hundreds of dollars that it would take forever to save. She feels trapped in the apartment, and leaves to get a glass of beer at the Junto on the corner. As she goes, Mrs. Hedges calls to her that if she ever needs some extra money she knows a nice white gentleman - and Lutie hurries away.
captain and lieutenant
white agent who collects the rent
116th St. building - front stairs, boiler room, Lutie's apartment, Jones's apartment
Told from the perspective of Jones the Super, who sees Lutie heading toward Junto. He had once been popular with women but then had had jobs working trapped away on ships where, "He used to plan the detail of his love-making until when the dream became a reality and he was actually ashore, he went half-mad with a frenzied kind of hunger that drove the women away from him" (86). Years of sleeping on mattresses next to furnaces or living in basement apartments had only deepened his loneliness, and lately he could not attract the young women he wanted but only women like Min. Seeing the store Lutie sets in Bub, he befriends the boy and helps him make a shoeshine box, but watching the boy makes him think the father who had had Lutie and angers him. Mrs. Hedges smiles knowingly at him watching Lutie hurry toward the bar and tells him that others are interested and he should not bother. He dislikes Mrs. Hedges, and had tried to report her to the police and get the neighbors to complain against her after she had denied him access to her whorehouse, but a lieutenant had said he had too little evidence to file a complaint when he learned that it was against Mrs. Hedges, and the other tenants all liked Mrs. Hedges for little favors she had done for them. Min, left by her man, had moved in with him after she couldn't pay her rent, and they had gotten along ok until Lutie came but now he sees her as an obstacle to his having Lutie. He had worked hard on the paint job in Lutie's apartment - dark blue in the bathroom, green in the living room, and rose in the bedroom. He goes up to check on Bub, smoking and wanting to go look in the bedroom while Bub goes on about the movie he has seen. He proposes a game of cards and as they are about to play sees Lutie's lipstick sitting out and is bringing it to his lips when Bub snatches it away. He teaches Bub to play blackjack and then sends him out for beer and cigarettes, and goes into Lutie's room where he puts some of her talcum powder on his hands and touches a shirt in her closet. Anxious for Bub to get home before Lutie, he goes into the bathroom where he imagines her showering. He hears Bub tearing up the stairs and switchess off the light to meet him in the living room, where he drinks his beer and then says goodbye, going downstairs to get rid of Min. When he gets downstairs Min is gone, and it's hard to tell by the worn slippers and house dresses still in the closet whether she has left him or not. He is bothered by the idea that she may have left even though he had planned to throw her out, and for the first time he doubts his chances with Lutie. The presence of her claw-foot table in the apartment (a present from one of her madames) assures him that she has not left, and he waits uneasily, angry because he had wanted to think of Lutie and finds himself thinking of Min instead.
David the Prophet
Jones' and Mrs. Hedges' apartments at 116th Street
David the Prophet's shop on 8th Ave. off of 140th St.
Min is happy living with Jones because he isn't after her money like the other men she's been with. Min knows that Jones is attracted to Mrs. Johnson, and earlier the same night when Jones plans to kick her out she takes her money from a secret drawer in her claw-foot table, puts on her best clothes, and goes to see Mrs. Hedges. She tells Mrs. Hedges that she is living rent-free and able to save money and buy things she wants for the first time and that she will not be put out. She asks Mrs. Hedges to refer her to a root doctor and Mrs. Hedges, although saying that she herself does not use root doctors, refers her to David the Prophet. Mrs. Hedges declines an offered bill and advises Min not to let the prophet see her whole role. She takes the bus to the prophet's store and has to wait to see him. She gets nervous while she waits and it occurs to her that this is the first time she has ever been defiant - she has always taken the abuse of her employers and husbands without complaint and has never tried to change her situation herself. She finds it hard to speak with the prophet at first, but he listens to what she says (unlike her employers, Jones, the doctors she sees for her bunions, and even the priest) and gives her a cross, some powder to protect her from Jones' aggression, some drops for his morning coffee, and candles to burn at night, and says that he will make it so that she can stay although he can't make any guarantees about the Johnson girl. Min leaves feeling a new confidence and optimism, and grateful for his listening. She buys a cactus for Mrs. Hedges, and although between this and the $10 she pays the doctor her money is nearly gone, she feels that it has been worthwhile. When she returns home her key is loud in the door. Jones asks where she has been and she replies "out" - he approaches her angrily but catches a glimpse of the cross over the bed and, feeling superstitious, retreats from the bedroom.
Old Man Junto
Boots Smith - has a dance band, seems hard and focused on his own interests alone
Junto Bar and Grill on 116th St
Boots Smith's car
Lutie has two glasses of beer at Junto and thinks about how people have to come to this bright warm place filled with people to get away from their small dark apartments. People on this street move around outside of their apartments in patterns that respond to their positions and gender and to the weather. In warm weather, the street becomes an outdoor bedroom with people sleeping on roves, balconies and fire escapes, and are attracted to Junto for its fans and the illusion of coolness created by the sound of clinking ice cubes. In the winter they gather around Junto for warmth. "The men who didn't work at all - the ones who never had and never would - stood in front of it in the mornings. As the day slid toward afternoon, they were joined by number runners and men who worked nights in factories and warehouses. And at night the sidewalk spilled over with men who ran elevators and cleaned buildings and swept out subways" (142). For men, Junto offers news, a social club and meeting place, and a place to look at women or just be around other people. For old women the bar is an object of anger and for young women it is either a place to seek companionship with men or a place to be near other young people and escape "the creeping silence that could be heard under the blaring radios, under the drunken quarrels in the hall bedrooms" in their close dark apartments. When Darlin' comes on at Junto Lutie adds some lyrics herself and the crowd responds well. She is leaving to avoid buying another beer and about to pay her check when a well-dressed man offers to pay it for her. His name is Boots Smith. He asks if she has ever sung professionally and tells her that he has a dancing band. She leaves with him and as they walk past the shops that sell the worst meat and leftover produce she strengthens her resolve to string things along with this man long enough to launch herself in a singing career. He brings her to his nice car and they go driving by the Hudson, fast, and she thinks that black men have to drive like this to feel equal for that time to other men. When he asks, she tells him that she is separated from her husband. She thinks of how he will respond when he finds out that she won't sleep with him through an extended metaphor about a multi-course meal, and plans to draw out the main course for as long enough to launch a singing career without actually taking a bite. He starts to kiss her in the car but she pulls away and points out that it is 9:30 - he'll be late for his gig that night.
Irene - Pop's former girlfriend
Jim's mother - died soon after their marriage, left the house, a mortgage and $1000 insurance
inspector - state employee who oversees Lutie's care of the State children
State children - foster children Lutie and Jim take on for $5/wk
neighbors - complained about noise of Pops parties
Storm King Highway
135th Street outside the Casino
They drive back over the Storm King Highway at a breakneck speed, and Lutie thinks she's rather be buried alive in her apartment than covered in a rockslide or fallen down into the river and swept out to sea. As they get closer to the city she asks how Boots gets gas (it's rationed) and why he wasn't drafted for the army, and realizes that he knows how and has the money to get past these obstacles. They are pulled over by a cop who stiffens when he sees that they are black but smiles and lets them go when Boots slips him some cash with his license and card. He parks between no-parking signs in front of the Casino and she pays an extra five cents to take the 7th instead of 8th Avenue bus. On the bus she remembers Jim, whose honest face she contrasts with Boots's hard one. She is beginning to understand how their poverty led to the failure of their marriage. When Jim's mother had died they had lived on her $1,000 of insurance but it had run out and Jim had been unable to find a job. They had gone to see Pop and his then-girlfriend Irene, and Pop had suggested that they take in State children and live on the $5/week for each child. They took in six, and Lutie worked hard to make the money stretch to feed them all and pay the rent. The woman inspector praises her work but it is exhausting and she is constantly thinking about how to save money and about cheapness. When her father is evicted and can't get a job, he comes to live with them over Jim's protest. He is quiet, helpful and apologetic at first, but then starts drinking openly and encouraging them to go out at night in Harlem, providing them with some money each time. The neighbors complain about noise and Lutie doesn't want to go out anymore, but Jim assumes that she is ashamed to be seen with him or that she has another boyfriend, and because she is ashamed to say that she doesn't want to leave her father alone she has to go to satisfy him. One day they get back and the police are there with a drunken Pop and his guests, and the kids crying upstairs. The inspector comes the next day to take the children away, and when Jim comes home at 11PM from looking for work smelling of booze, they fight. Jim had blamed her for losing the kids because she had taken in her father, and she knows that he will blame her if they lose the house, but she thinks that it first took Jim and then her Pop's inability to find employment, and she blames the whites. She had been indifferent to news of Jim and made no comment when, a while after their separation, her Pop had said he heard that Jim had left town. Lutie sees the singing job as her chance to escape 116th Street and the cycle of poverty it represents, and hopes she isn't fooling herself about her chances. "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" (184).
man stabbed by a baker
man brought to hospital by the cops
girl with stomach "Cut to ribbons!"
girl with cut face
116th street building - 3rd floor landing, Lutie's apartment
Lenox Street, Roundtree Hospital, 121st Street
The building is quiet when Lutie gets home, and on the third floor landing she stops because she sees a man who turns out to be a sailor and Mary, one of Mrs. Hedges' girls. She asks why they don't go inside and Mary tells her that the man is out of money so Mrs. Hedges won't let him, and it's his last night before he ships out. When she gets home she sees that Bub has fallen asleep in his clothes with the light on, and when she sees he cigarette butts Bud tells her that the Super had been there playing cards with him. She tells him not to let anyone into the apartment when she's gone. That night, she dreams that the Super has the mouth and some features of his dog and that he is chained to his building, and screaming for her to unloose him. Min is also shouting, and Mrs. Hedges advises Lutie, who has the key in her hand, to unloose him. She reaches for the lock and he bites off her arm, and then the people start spewing out of the windows and each is a rat dragging a building and screaming for her to unloose them. She wakes up and, afraid that she might get used to all that he hat and fears about the street, resolves to keep fighting and get away. She thinks of an afternoon the Spring before when she had seen a crowd around a man who had been stabbed by a butcher on Lenox Avenue and had moved closer and seen the worn-through shoes of the man. A girl had come up saying she thought it was her brother, and when the police show the girl the man's face Lutie watches it move rapidly from sorrow or surprise to a hopeless resignation. Later the same Spring she had taken Bub to Roundtree Hospital for a bad cut, and had seen an old man brought in by the cops whose blank stare did not seem to register anything around him. Even when a girl is brought in with a torn and bleeding belly and a woman following who repeats, "Cut to ribbons! Cut to ribbons!" the man is impassive. She had met a procession of people coming down 121st street once following a girl whose face she thought had been "Cut to ribbons!" and the young people had been moving like sleepwalkers, unsurprised. She wants to get herself and Bub out of 116th Street before such would become for them expected. "And then she thought about the other streets. It wasn't just this street that she was afraid of or that was bad. It was any street where people were packed together like sardines in a can. / And it wasn't just this city. It was any city where they set up a line and say black folks stay on this side and white folks on this side, so that the black folks were crammed on top of each other - jammed and packed and forced into the smallest possible space until they were completely cut off from light and air" (206). Lutie wakes up hopeful and feeling anticipation about the audition at the Casino, and reaches for her dressy summer blouse only to find that it is wrinkled and dirty. She blames Bub at first but when he says he hasn't been in her closet she finds out that he had left the landlord in the apartment alone. She washes the blouse immediately and does not wear it that night or for some time after.
The chapter starts narrated from Jones's perspective. Once Min had hung the cross over the bed, Jones started sleeping in the living room, but he didn't even feel comfortable there. He began to see crosses everywhere. On the night Lutie first sings at the Casino, he is on his way down to the basement to sleep by the furnace when he sees her come in. As Lutie recognizes and tries to walk past Jones, the narration shifts to Lutie's perspective. He grabs her and is dragging her down to the basement when his dog jumps on her and she is finally able to scream. Mrs. Hedges comes out and tears her away from Jones. Lutie can't climb the stairs and so sits as Mrs. Hedges reprimands Jones. Mrs. Hedges invites Lutie in for some tea, and while Lutie is inside tells Jones that Junto is the one who's interested in her. She assures Lutie that Jones won't bother her anymore, and says that he's gone crazy from living in basements too long. Lutie has two cups of tea and then as she leaves Mrs. Hedges reminds her about the white man who's ready any time she wants to make some money. Lutie leaves, and the narration stays with Mrs. Hedges. Years ago she had come up from Georgia and had been sleeping in a cot in the hallway of some friends' apartment and rummaging through trash cans for food when she had met Junto collecting bottles and other scraps. He had invited her to join him and they had added additional carts and collectors. He had then gone into real estate and she was janitor and rent collector at his first property. When he bought a second he asked her to move, but she said she wanted to stay and advised him to cut the rooms in two to get more rent. One night there had been a fire and she had had to escape from a basement window much too small for her. She was badly burned and lost her hair. She retained Junto's growing respect but became even more of a monstrosity in the eyes of others than her size had made her before. She moves into the first floor apartment of the 116th Street apartment and engages Mary, who she sees wandering by, to do shopping for her. When Mary is visited by a young man one day, she tells him that he will have to pay for the privilege and in this way becomes a madame. She goes on adding girls to her establishment, picking those who seem desperate and providing for them. She sees the dejection of the young men and women who walk by and it is her who advises Junto to invest in dance halls, bars and whorehouses. He does all three, but remains also involved in real estate. Mrs. Hedges knows the market because she watches the street all day. "She knew so much about this particular block that she came to regard it as slightly different from any other place. When she referred to it as 'the street,' her lips seemed to linger over the words as though her mind paused at the sound to write capital letters and then enclosed the words in quotation marks - thus setting it off and separating it fro many other street in the city, giving it an identity, unmistakable and apart" (252). She had wanted to get rich enough to find a man who would love her, but after the fire she gives up on that and rejects Junto's overtures when he offers her a wig and seems to want to make their relationship more personal.
Jubilee - Boots Smith's girlfriend while he was working on a Pullman car
Junto's Bar and Grill
Boots Smith's old apartment
Junto had arranged for a doctor to do a small operation on Boots's ear to keep him out of the draft, and when Boots is called to see him so suddenly he assumes that someone has found out about it. He had told Junto he didn't want to go to the army because of the segregation and insulting jobs blacks had to put up with even in the armed forces. "I don't figure to go to Europe on my belly with a broom and shovel in each hand" (261). When he speaks with Junto, he finds out that it is about Lutie Johnson. Junto wants him to keep his hands off because he wants Lutie himself. Boots hesitates before answering, and recalls his time working as a Pullman porter and subject to being called and insulted at any moment by the white passengers. He remembers before that being an out of work piano player living on the street. He weighs Lutie against having to return to a job like being a Pullman porter and finds that she is not enough. He remembers a girlfriend, Jubilee, who he had caught having just been with a white man on his return from his Pullman run. He senses an only recently suspended motion when he enters their apartment, and sees the curtains swaying by a fire escape window she habitually refuses to open, and when he looks out he sees a white man hurrying down. He beats her and intends to kill her but she cuts his face, which makes him pause and he realizes that she is not worth going to jail for. He had met Junto when he had several drinks in his bar and then started to play, and Junto had offered him a job playing piano. He agrees to keep his hands off of Junto, and Junto instructs him not to pay her for her singer but to give her presents instead. He gives Boots a handful of bills and makes it clear that he expects Boots to arrange for Lutie to see him.
apartment building on 116th St.
Jones is upset after his failed attempt to take Lutie to the basement the previous night, and thinking about Mrs. Hedges comment that Junto is interested in Lutie he concludes that Lutie is disgusted by him because she only likes white men. He suspects that Mim had let the dog out, and he is angry with her too. Lutie is out of his reach, but it occurs to him that he can at least hurt her through Bub. The next morning as he's drinking his coffee, Jones notices the red liquid that she got from David the prophet. He questions her about it and she says that it is her heart medicine. He wants to hit her, but the sight of the cross on the wall spooks him and he only tells her not to keep it in the kitchen. He goes outside to watch the women walking by, and when Mrs. Hedges comments on a pair of legs that particularly interest him, his pleasure in the procession is ruined. He resolves not to go inside until the postman makes his way to the building so that Mrs. Hedges won't know she's driven him in, and even jokes some with the neighboring Super. Going inside, Jones notices that the postman uses the same key to open all the mailboxes. Later he borrows a mailbox key from the neighboring Super and uses it and his own keys to create the outline of a master key, which he plans to give to Bub and get the boy caught stealing letters. He finds a way to mix Min up in it too by having her take the key to be copied. He is pleasant to Min that night because he's so happy about his plot against her, but when she asks whether he'll sleep in the bedroom he claims that his headache is too bad. The next day Jones tells Bub that some people have been committing crime through the mail and that Jones, who is working with the police, needs Bub to help him collect mail from houses on the block. Jones offers to pay him three or four dollars a week but Bub, sensing something his mother might not approve of, says he had better not. Jones curses and kicks his dog once Bub leaves and Mrs. Hedges, hearing, says, "No doubt about it. Cellar crazy" (301).
blonde receptionist - at Mr Crosse's office
Mr. Crosse - very fat white man who claims to train singers
Crosse School for Singers - 10th floor of a 42nd Street office building
During an intermission at the Casino, Lutie asks Boots outright when and how much she will be paid. He tells her that she's still gaining experience and that the owner Junto had said she wasn't ready to be paid for her singing yet. Boots does give her some rhinestone earrings he says are a present from Junto, and she leaves angrily. She will study for the civil service exam nights, but she's disappointed to lose what had seemed like such an easy way out of her situation. "And time and Boots Smith and Junto had pushed her right back in here, deftly removing that obscuring cloud of dreams, so that now tonight she could see this hall in reality" (312). As she climbs the stairs to her apartment, Lutie hears the radio shows playing in the various apartments and an angry fight on the third floor. "Living here is like living in a structure that has a roof, but no partitions, so that privacy is destroyed, and even the sound of one's breathing becomes a known, familiar thing to each and every tenant" (313). When she gets to her apartment, the light is on again and she knows that Bub is afraid of the dark. She realizes how much work and sacrifice it will take now to get out of this place, but strengthens her resolve not to resign herself to living there. Lutie notices that all that week she talks to Bub about money, and she tries not to but it keeps coming up a she reminds him to turn off lights, to be careful with his socks, not to leave the soap sitting in the water. Coming home from the subway one night she sees an advertisement about high-paying jobs for singers and the next night she goes to audition for a fat white Mr. Crosse. He says she's good and that he can practically guarantee her a job at about $75/week, but she'll need six weeks of training that will cost her $125. When she says it's out of the question he mentions weekly installments and then lessons for free in exchange for "if you and me can get together a coupla nights a week in Harlem" (321). Disgusted, she throws his ink well at him and tells the blonde receptionist on her way out that she won't need an application. She boards the train for Harlem and thinks, "Streets like the one she lived on were no accident. They were the North's lynch mobs, she thought bitterly; the method the big cities used to keep Negroes in their place. Bub is waiting for her at the subway that night, worried by her lateness. He is continually worried that she is bad at him, but she says she is only mad at himself. When the gas stove flares up on lighting and singes her hand, she shouts, "Damn being poor! . . . God damn it!" The next afternoon after school Bub goes to the Super to say that he has changed his mind about the mailbox job.
Miss Rinner - Harlem schoolteacher
Grey Cap - Charlie Moore
Bub's school in Harlem
Miss Rinner hates the odor of the school where she teaches - a mixture of chalk, pine oil, and "that fried smell" of the children themselves (328). She feels she is never completely rid of the odor even at home in her own apartment, and on Monday mornings she colds a cloth over her nose and throw open the classroom windows. She always has to close them later on because the children by the window complain of the cold and wear their coats, which she finds even more disgusting. She has been teaching in Harlem for ten years and cannot wait to be transfered out. When her friends ask where she teaches she is vague. She spends most of her energy just trying to keep the students quiet and occupied, not focusing much on teaching them, and because the school is in Harlem no more is expected. She thinks of both the children and their parents as a threat and hates to walk to the subway through Harlem and to wait for the train there. One day as she is about to have the children put their books away, Bub Johnson raise his hand and says he has to go to the bathroom. She tells him to wait but he squirms. The students have long since sensed that this is her weak spot - she is terrified that one of the kids will pee in the classroom - and she finally lets him go. He races to be the first to the candy store, where he buys gold hoop earrings for his mother. Grey Cap and some of the other older boys see that he has money and they chase him as he leaves the store, but he escapes in the crowd. He takes mail from some houses on a new street and enjoys the challenge. When he returns home, the boys are waiting under Mrs. Hedges window where they surround him and bloody his nose. Mrs. Hedges tells them to leave him alone, calling Grey Cap by his name Charlie Moore. Bub gives the letters to Jones in the basement, and then says he'll go out to do a little more work.
apartment building at 116th Street, Jones's apartment, street outside
Min looks out at the sky in the morning and thinks about how unpleasant it is living with Jones. He has not been nice to her since the day he had the headache and she had made the key for him - the first thing he had ever asked her to do for him. "She glanced at the street. It wasn't somehow a very good place to live, for the women had too much trouble, almost as though the street itself bred the trouble" (355). She asks Mrs. Hedges to keep an eye out for a pushcart man and to have him come by around eleven that morning - she can pack quickly but wants some time to make sure she want to leave. WHen she returns to the apartment, Jones is standing over some envelopes that he is tearing to little bits, and he gets angry with her for spying on him. She has left her protection powder in her other house dress, but crosses herself as he goes for her neck and this stops him. When he leaves to paint upstairs, she wonders what he would have done had she come to lay by him on the couch one of the past few days. She had bought a pink and yellow nightgown before to please him, and when he finally noticed her in it he had only been angry. "Funny how she got to believe that not having to pay rent was so important, and it really wasn't. Having room to breathe in meant much more . . . . He had made the whole apartment grow smaller and darker; living room, bedroom, kitchen - all of them shrinking, their walls tightening about her" (362). As she's packing, Min looks at the half-torn envelopes addressed to other buildings and knows that Jones is up to no good. The doorbell rings when she has finished packing, and the pushcart man agrees to take her things a few blocks for $3. She says goodbye to Mrs. Hedges but not to Jones, and as she and the pushcart man walk she admires his strength and thinks of living with him. "'Say,' she said, and there was a soft insinuation in her voice, 'you know anywhere a single lady could get a room?' Then she added hastily, 'But not on this street.'" (371).
Post Office inspectors
116th Street apartment building
7th Ave. lawyer's office
Jones it tired when he heads downstairs for some air and lunch - he had left a note that he was painting in 41 and tenants had been ringing with little things for him to fix all day. Mrs, Hedges tells him that Min is gone, and when he looks at the room is doesn't seem right - the absence of the big claw foot table changes it. He notices the parts of envelopes and, realizing Min has seen them, plots how he can shift the blame to her should he turn her in to the authorities. He thinks at first that she has left her cross behind to haunt him, but then realizes that it has left a clean spot on the wall. He thinks of moving to another place where the Super's apartment would have a front window. He's outside thinking about joining a group of men talking, and talking to himself. when he is approached by some post-office investigators. He tells them that no mail has been missing from his building but that there is a little boy there who is always running in and out of hallways on the street. They ask him to call the boy over if he sees them, and he does, telling Bub he should go ahead and start work. The investigators catch him in the first building he hits, and bring him away in a car. When Lutie gets home, Mrs. Hedges tells her that some officers are waiting for her upstairs because Bub has been caught stealing mail. She runs up the stairs where she learns that he is at the Children's Shelter and give her a stiff white paper that says he will appear in Children's Court. She thinks that he has stolen the letters because she has worried him about money and has left him alone, and thinks about how she has not had a choice. "And the little Henry Chandlers go to YalePrincetonHarvard and the Bub Johnsons graduate from reform school into DanemoraSingSing" (389). She cries and pounds her fists on the wall, and people walking by know why because they recognize the stiff white papers, and the whole building plays their radios to drown out the sound. That night she goes to see a lawyer on Seventh Avenue who quotes her $200 and wonders to himself why no one has told her she doesn't need a lawyer.
mothers at Children's Shelter - all poor, some black and some white
Children's Shelter in clean neighborhood
Lutie does not no anyone who has $200 - Pop, Lil, the girls where she works. She thinks angrily how none of this would have happened had the Casino job worked out, and then remembers Boots. She looks his name up in a cigar store phone book and calls. He says to come to his apartment on Edgecombe Avenue. When he gets there, he says he doesn't have the money with him but that he can get it for her if she comes back tomorrow around 9PM. She agrees, and then goes home where she thinks about how even if Bub is paroled he will have a police record. His teachers will be prejudiced against him. If she gets another job cooking for a family in the country and they move away, Bub will be expected to be perfectly behaved and quiet all the time and, as Lil had described to her based on the experience of her friend Myrtle, the food Bub ate would be resented, he'd be expected to do little jobs around the house, they would have to sleep in the same room and her pay would be miserable. She remembers that she had never been home alone after school as a child and, there without Bub now, feels the emptiness that he had been so afraid of. The next morning she takes the subway to the Children's Shelter in a clean, well-swept neighborhood. At first she thinks that all of the women waiting to see their children are black, but then notices a few white mothers. "Perhaps, she thought, we're all here because we're all poor. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with color" (409). When she sees Bub,their conversation is so quick that she doesn't get a chance to ask him about the letters or whether he'd been frightened. The silence from the Shelter waiting room follows her home, and she goes to a movie to shake it off. It lingers and she goes to the beauty parlor for a shampoo, but the normally talkative hairdresser is quiet.
train for Chicago
Mrs. Hedges asks after Bub, notices Lutie's hairdoo, and reminds her of the nice white gentleman whose name she reveals is Mr. Junto. In her apartment, Lutie thinks about Junto and begins to see him as the cause of her problems. "Before it had been formless, shapeless, a fluid moving mass - something disembodied that she couldn't see, could only sense. Now, as she stared at the couch, the thing took on form, substance. She could see what it was. / It was Junto. Gray hair, gray skin, short body, thick shoulders. He was sitting on the studio couch" (418). She hesitates about going to Boots's apartment, but finds herself dressing. When she rings the bell, he welcomes her and says he has a friend he wants her to meet. Lutie is unsure at first whether she is seeing Junto in the flesh or the image of him from her studio couch that afternoon. Boots takes Lutie into his bedroom and says that Junto can give her the money and all she has to do is be nice to him. She remembers Boots's words in the Casino when he said that the owner Junto said she wasn't ready yet. Lutie yells at Boots to get Junto out of the apartment. "And all the time she was thinking, Junto has a brick in his hand. Just one brick. The final one needed to complete the wall that had been building up around her for years, and when that one last brick was shoved in place, she would be completely walled in. Boots tells Junto to go and come back, and when Junto warns Boots not to trick him Boots decides that he will sleep with Lutie first. "He thought of the curtains blowing in the wind. Yeah, he can have the leavings. After all, he's white and this time a white man can have a black man's leavings" (423).
Boots comes back offering Lutie a drink and pushing his argument that she should be nice to Junto, "and as she stared at him,she felt she was gazing straight at the street with its rows of old houses, its piles of garbage, its swarms of children" (426). He kisses her and reaches for her breast saying, "Aw, Christ, baby . . . Junto can get his afterward" and she yells at him but he slaps her hard twice. Her vision blurrs and, "Despite this unstable triple vision of him, she was scarcely aware of him as an individual. His name might have been Brown or Smith or Wilson. She might never have seen him before, might have known nothing about him. He happened to be within easy range at themoment he set off the dangerous accumulation of rage that had been building in her for months" (429). She remembers a heavy iron candlestick on the mantle behind her and hits Boots with it repeatedly. "A lifetime of pent-up resentment went into the blows. Even after he lay motionless, she kept striking him, not thinking about him, not even seeing him. First she was venting her rage against the dirty, crowded street. She saw the rows of dilapidated old houses; the small dark rooms; the long steep flights of stairs; the narrow dingy hallways; the little lost girls in Mrs. Hedges' apartment; the smashed homes where the women did drudgery because their men had deserted them. She saw all of these things and struck at them" (430). When Lutie tries to leave the room she realizes that Boots has locked the door and has to go get the key from his pocket. His wallet falls out too, and when she steps on it she looks inside and sees he could easily have spared what she needed for Bub. She thinks she can take this money to the lawyer tonight but then realizes that a child whose mother is a murderer doesn't stand any chance, and thinks that Bub will be better off if she leaves him. She takes half the bills from the wallet, puts them in her purse, leaves the wallet on the sofa, and leaves the apartment. There is blood on her white gloves and she removes them, puts them in her pocket, and takes the stairs. She buys a one-way ticket to Chicago knowing that Bub will never understand why she disappears. The circles she makes on the train window remind her of writing exercises she was never good at and of a teacher who had said, "Really . . . I don't know why they have us bother to teach your people to write" (435).
"The snow fell softly on the street. It muffled sound. It sent people scurrying homeward, so that the street was soon deserted, empty, quiet. And it could have been any street in the city, for the snow laid a delicate film over the sidewalk, over the brick of the tired, old buildings; gently obscuring the grime and the garbage and the ugliness.
Petry, Ann. The Street. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.