One of the most commonly used devices in literature is personification. Personification refers to a figure of speech where an inanimate object, an idea, or an animal gains human qualities. In this device, the portrayal of non-human objects is in such a way that they appear to possess human like ability. This device is important since it connects the personified object with the reader. Personification has the ability to improve the vividness of description of non-human objects. Another advantage is that it can help the readers to understand non-human characters and to sympathize with, and react emotionally to non-human characters. In the first chapter, it is evident that inanimate objects gain human qualities such as a body and mind as well as an ability to perform human actions like touching.
In the opening chapter, the book describes a “cold November wind” which represents personification because in this description, Petry creates a mind and body for the wind. According to her, the wind has human qualities such as the ability to touch, illustrated when she talks of the wind’s fingers exploring the side of the girl’s head. This gives a body to this wind hence personifying it. Another example arises where she talks of the wind forcing people back to their sanctuaries and discouraging them. This implies that the wind can think for itself, a human quality.
The wind’s actions foreshadow the rest of the book through hinting at the struggles that the book’s characters have to go through in order to fulfill their life goals and ambitions. The wind also becomes a symbol for the obstacles, as well as the challenges that will stand in the way of their goals. An example is Lutie Johnson, who has to encounter obstacles all along her path to achieving her goals. These are similar to the tossing done by the wind. (310 words)
Setting in Literature
In literature, setting refers to the environment where an event or story takes place. The setting may be inclusive of the exact time or place. In other cases, it can be a simple description. Books usually have an overall setting but scenes can occur in various specific settings. Setting can have various aspects such as geographical location and weather, as well as social conditions. The setting gives the action some backdrop and is a crucial part of the story. This book’s third chapter is set in three primary locations and these locations influence the characters’ thinking as well as their lives and behavior.
In the third chapter of the book, the story is set in three main places. These are the trip from the subway heading towards the apartment, the butcher shop on 8th Avenue, and the Apartment on 116th street. This setting is symbolic of the limitation in opportunity that the characters suffer from in their path to a better life. The subway for instance, brings to light the image of a tight space, which is overcrowded and lacks proper freedom of movement. Subways, which are underground constructions, symbolize the burden under which characters’ lives are buried.
The setting has a profound and telling influence on these characters. For instance, the darkness of the tunnels suggests that the characters’ futures are just as bleak. Lutie’s thinking for instance, is an example. Lutie opines that the street will prevent her son from completing his education. She thinks that because she is not at home to look out for her son, he is likely to land into trouble and end up in a reform school. The cramped condition and the poor living standards also influence the breakage of homes like that of Mrs. Hedges. The men run away since they can no longer stand the drab living and absence of a future. The setting also influences Bub, who joins his fellow young boys to become a shoe shiner.
Jones, the Super
Jones is one character in the book. He is a former Navy Officer, who is the superintendent of the apartment building where Lutie stays. In addition to having spent a large proportion of his life on ships, or in boiler rooms and basements, he has also worked as a watchman. Hence, Jones has a warped view of women. He sees women merely as sex objects for fulfilling his desires and fantasies. Jones as a character, is the embodiment of lust as well as vindictiveness and through him, the continued evil occurrences in the book become known.
As a character, one value that Jones strongly represents is lust. This manifests itself in the way Jones lusts after Lutie, a single mother. Jones is so obsessed with Lutie that he feels he has fallen in love with her. This is despite the fact that he hardly knows her, and does not have her consent. Each time he sees Lutie, he lusts after her, and even attempts to force her into relations with him when she rejects his advances. Lust also evidences itself in the description of his behavior in his early days, when he would plan sexual escapades in detail.
Another value that Jones illustrates is vindictiveness. This value exhibits itself in his treatment of Mrs. Hedges. Jones has an intense dislike of Mrs. Hedges. He wants to retaliate on her for her attempt to scupper his efforts at winning Lutie. He attempts to do this by filing a report with the police and inciting the other tenants to complain against her. These plans however prove to be unsuccessful since the other tenants like her. The police also refuse to take any action, citing lack of evidence.
The primary thing revealed by Jones and not the other characters is the continued evil conduct. Throughout the book, Jones engages in multiple evil acts. Whereas the other characters are bad at times, Jones is evil on a regular basis. The other characters see this as being the result of his previous occupation as a night watchman.
In the book, Junto is an aged character, who operates a pub known as “Junto Bar and Grill.” This Bar and Grill is a popular place and it serves as a point of convergence primarily for the poor people of Harlem. Junto is a wealthy white man, and he has a strong romantic interest in Lutie. However, he does not approach her directly, and instead wants to use Mrs. Hedges as an emissary. He is also among the main characters in the book. Junto represents accommodativeness, through his progressive opinions on race, and embodies hard work in his journey from poverty to wealth and he is a unique demonstration of the possibility of harmonization of races.
One of the values primarily espoused by Junto is accommodativeness. This refers to non-discrimination against others regardless of who they are. Junto exhibits this value through his club. At the Junto Bar and Grill, everyone is welcome regardless of who they are. Junto does not discriminate in terms of service. He welcomes everyone to his pub irrespective of his or her age or societal class. Despite the fact that his establishment is located in an economically poor area, Junto does not use this as an excuse to offer poor service. There is equal and fair treatment for all customers, free of bias.
Another value that Junto illustrates is tenacity and hard work. This value becomes demonstrable through Junto’s life history. The book charts the humble beginnings of Junto and charts his path to when he eventually succeeds. Junto starts out collecting cans as well as scrap in order to eke out a living. Through hard work and a tenacious passion and drive to succeed, he manages to improve his lifestyle. Eventually, Junto ends up owning a club as well as various other properties and assets.
The book’s unique revelation through Junto is the possibility of harmonization of races existing. Through Junto, there is a revelation that it is possible for people to live together in harmony regardless of age, gender, or race. Junto does not discriminate against anyone and instead, he treats all people as equal. This is unlike the other characters that have a discriminatory nature.
In “The Street,” Boots is a bandleader, and one of Junto’s employees. Boots band plays at Junto’s bar. Boots also holds a romantic interest in Lutie, and he aims to exploit this by pretending to offer her a chance to launch a music career. When Junto learns about Boots’ interest in Lutie, he makes him promise to drop this interest. He also starts working together with Junto and Mrs. Hedges to help Junto land Lutie. Boots personifies selfishness and opportunism, and it is through him that we learn of the unfairness and exploitation in the book’
One of the values that exhibit itself through Boots is selfishness. Anything Boots does always aims at self-benefit. One instance of this is the offer he makes to help Lutie kickstart her career. Despite appearing to be a sincere and genuine offer, his real aim is to get romantically involved with her. One other situation where this selfishness appears is in the deal he strikes with Junto. Since he owes Junto a favor, he agrees to drop his interest in her and deny her pay for her singing. He also plans a meeting between Junto and Lutie. Boots also wants to take advantage of Lutie’s talent by refusing to employ her formally.
Another value exhibited by Boots is opportunism. This means that he aims to take advantage of other people’s misfortune to profit. An example of this opportunism is his attempt to exploit Letie’s vulnerability to gain sexual favors. On learning of Letie’s single status, he attempts to kiss her in the car.
Through Boots, the revelation of the unfairness and exploitation of the world becomes known. The theme of exploitation is also very central to the book and Boots is the figure through which the revelation of this theme happens. Through his habits of taking advantage of other people’s vulnerable situations, we can identify this theme.
The Chandlers as a dysfunctional family
In the book, the Chandlers are a definite example of a dysfunctional family. The family’s dysfunctionality is evident in the way the various family members behave towards each other. For instance, Mr. Chandler, who sells paper products for a living is an alcoholic. Chronic alcoholism is one of the key signs of a dysfunctional family. Mr. Chandler’s only focus is on money, and he even seems to ignore his son. Both of Henry’s parents exhibit dysfunctional behavior, from open flirting with neighbors to heavy drinking habits and in their treatment of the little child.
Another characteristic of a dysfunctional family is unfaithfulness in the family. This trait is evident in this family. Mrs. Chandler is openly unfaithful to her husband as is evidenced by her open flirting with her neighbors. Mrs. Chandler’s enthusiasm over the arrival at their home of Mr. Chandler’s brother is also suspicious. This is a possible indicator of her infidelity since Jonathan may be her secret lover. The great impact that his suicide has on her is also a sign of her infidelity, and hence of family dysfunction.
The couple’s child, Henry, is another example of the dysfunction in the family. The couple does not seem to care about him, and he appears to be ignored completely. Despite the fact that he is a nice boy, his parents largely ignore him and this is evidence of the dysfunction existing in this family. Mr. and Mrs. Chandler also take to the bottle instead of getting closer to each other when Jonathan commits suicide. This represents dysfunction in the family.
Lutie Johnson and Miss Rinner
In the book, “The Street,” one of the main themes that run central to the book is racism and racial discrimination. Petry manages to bring out this through various characters. Two of the characters used in the book are Lutie Johnson, and Miss Rinner. These characters exemplify the ironies of race and gender in this book. Petry manages to juxtapose these two, to highlight these complex issues. Both of these women are fearful and while they strike a common ground here, their views on racism could not be any further apart, and it is through them that the ironies of race and gender become evident.
Lutie Johnson is the chief protagonist in the book The Street. Lutie is an African American single mother, who is still youthfully supple, and very attractive. She is struggling to raise her young son, named Bub, the product of her failed marriage to Jim. As an American citizen, she views herself as part of the mainstream, but thanks to her skin color, she has to endure obstacles, as well as discrimination and resentment along every path of her life. All Lutie aspires for is to give her son a good life. However, she has to endure a lot of discrimination and deal with racial hatred as well as sexual harassment.
Miss Rinner is one of the book’s minor characters. She is Bub Johnson’s teacher and comes across as a racist woman who is also extremely paranoid. She has internalized racist beliefs, and views African American people as being inferior. To this end, she feels it is unnecessary to teach black children how to read. Miss Rinner exhibits discriminatory behavior towards African American people at several occasions. Miss Rinner is used to bring out the theme of racism in the book.
The two characters possess striking similarities but also have some differences as well. One of the similarities between the two characters is that they are both fearful. Lutie Johnson has fear that her son will fail to complete his education and end up in reform school thanks to the negative influences of the street that they live on. She is afraid that she will not be able to give her son the good life she feels he must have in order for him to develop well. Miss Rinner on the other hand is even more fearful, even paranoid. Her fear is of African American people whom she sees as troublesome and likely to cause harm. Consequently, she has a deep hatred for African Americans and does not even trust her own schoolchildren.
Another similarity between Miss Rinner and Lutie is their gender. Both are single and they are women too. They are also both part of the Harlem community, with its inherent challenges. Harlem is a dangerous place for a woman to live in, with the risk of rape very high. Sexual harassment in various forms is rampant, and hence, women should ideally pull together and support each other. However, it is ironical that despite being a fellow woman with similar challenges, Miss Rinner chooses instead to be discriminatory towards African-Americans. This is highlighted in her disdain when she tells Lutie she wonders why the government even bothers to educate African Americans.
One of the differences between these two characters is their view on racism. Miss Rinner is a white schoolteacher who has a rabid hatred of African Americans. Despite the fact that she teaches African American children in her class, she views them as potential criminals. She feels that African Americans should not even be educated and mistrusts even little children in her classroom such as Bub. This contrasts with Lutie, who despite being African American, and hence withstanding the worst of racial hatred, does not hate white people. Instead, she lives with, and accommodates them, since she realizes that they are an avenue for achievement of her dreams. The two characters’ view on racism is ironical in that whereas the educated schoolteacher should be at the frontline in fighting racism, she is instead entrenching it further. The poorly educated Lutie on the other hand is able to see beyond racism and strive to teach her child a better way. Thus, the irony is that racism, which is a vice that should be associated with poorly educated and unknowledgeable people, is instead being perpetrated by a seemingly educated schoolteacher who ideally, should know better.
Another difference between the two characters is their attitude towards people and life. Lutie comes across as a friendly and hardworking woman who is looking to make the best life for her 8-year-old son. She is an accommodating and nonjudgmental woman who despite the challenge facing her, is optimistic about life. On the other hand, we have Miss Rinner, who is a pessimist. Miss Rinner is filled with vitriol and hate, especially towards African American children. She hates everything around her despite having taught in Harlem for the last ten years. This is evident in her description of the revulsion she feels at the “fried smell’ of the children. She has a pessimistic attitude, believing that nothing good can come of African Americans whom she regards as a threat. Miss Rinner is also lazy in her work, evidenced by the fact that she does not teach a lot, but instead spends most of her time jut keeping the children engaged.
The behavior of Miss Rinner brings out the irony of racism. Whereas on the face of it the children are actually getting an education, the sad reality is that they are learning nothing. Even as Lutie is working hard to ensure that Bub attends and stays in school, it is sadly ironic that this school is not beneficial to him in any way. This is a result of the behavior of the teacher, who entrenches the inequality that results from racism even more by denying the children an education and hence a way to better themselves. The saddest part is that nobody bothers with this since it is Harlem after all and nothing more is expected.
The characterization of Miss Rinner and Lutie brings out the themes of race and gender comprehensively. Through the comparison and contrast between the two characters, we can see the irony of racism in the Harlem society. It is evident how the scourge of racism condemns the African American community to a life of mediocrity and under achievement. The racism is entrenched by the parties who should be at the forefront in fighting it. This represents a sad irony.
Petry, Ann. The Street. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1974.