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The Street PowerPoint Presentation

The Street

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The Street

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  1. By Ann Petry The Street

  2. Ann Petry • October 12, 1908 (-1912?)– April 28, 1997 • Born in rural Connecticut & moved to Harlem, NY after marriage • Worked as a reporter and social worker, eventually writing short stories and beginning The Street

  3. The Street • Living in Harlem made a huge impact on Petry – her daughter told the Washington Post that Petry’s way of dealing with her experiences was to write The Street. • Published in 1946 to instant success: • won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship • sold 1.5 million copies • brought Petry to national attention

  4. Realism vs. Romance? • Many fantasies, daydreams, memories intrude into the narrative • But, for the most part, this is a realist novel: • Real place/time • Ordinary characters (of lower class) • Unremarkable experiences of day to day life • Focus on verisimilitude

  5. Petry’s Purpose • In the February 1946 issue of The Crisis, Petry said that with the publication of The Street: “my aim is to show how simply and easily the environment can change the course of a person’s life ... I try to show why the Negro has a high crime rate, a high death rate, and little or no chance of keeping his [sic] family unit intact in large northern cities."

  6. Literary Genre: Naturalism • Petry’s focus on the environment indicates that we may be able to read this novel as a specific type of realism: naturalism. • Naturalist literature is concerned with the way individuals or characters are shaped by: • (1) heredity • (2) the environment • Genre highly influenced by Darwin (movement takes place btw. 1880s and 1940s – during Modernist era)

  7. Naturalism as Literary Experiment • Realism describes the world ’as is’ while Naturalism tries to scientifically understand the underlying influences on character action – ‘why it is.’ • How will different character ‘types’ fare when we place them in different environments? What we have in naturalist novels are literaryexperiments that work through Darwin’s theories.

  8. Naturalism = The Darker Side of Realism • Definition of naturalist worldview: “Each person inherits compulsive instincts – especially hunger, the drive to accumulate possessions, and sexuality – and is then subjected to the social and economic forces in the family, the class, and the milieu into which that person is born.” (M.H. Abrams) • Deals with aspects of the environment such as: sex/prostitution, corruption, poverty, racism/prejudice, disease as both bodily deterioration and as madness, garbage – harsh aspects of the natural world and our existence in it.

  9. Naturalism & Tragic Endings • These novels usually end tragically (but NOT in the heroic way of classical/Elizabethan tragedy). • The protagonist becomes “the pawn of multiple compulsions, usually disintegrates, or is wiped out.” (quote from M.H. Abrams) • Naturalist literature asks us why characters are doomed to fail and, in rare cases, succeed. What interaction of heredity and environment produces downfall or survival?

  10. Naturalism & Displacement • Most of the action takes place in Harlem and on ‘the street’ in this novel – how do we characterize this environment? • Important to consider how characters are placed in this novel (what are our major places?) and how they attempt to navigate the spaces between them. Does being anchored to one spot vs. moving between spots make a difference? • Where are we being ‘displaced’ from in this novel? Does the feeling of displacement differ for characters?

  11. Naturalism and …. • Poverty/Racism/Sexism: Many scholars read this book as a classic analysis of the ‘triple threat’ of class/race/gender for poor black women. Can we? What about the wide array of crucial male characters? What aspects of heredity/environment are they trying to overcome? • Naturalism is about heredity and here we have one of the first A.A. novels primarily about motherhood – what does Lutie pass on to Bub? What is ‘good’ mothering in this environment? • Psychological deterioration: Who ‘loses it’ in this novel and why? Is it heredity, environmental pressure, both?