Ann Petry's The Street bears considerable resemblance to Wright's Native Son or Ellison's Invisible Man. All three tell a tale of a young black person and their struggle to achieve more. All three were written in the same era. All three are heartbreaking and haunting. I've loved all three, but each stands out for its own reason. The Street stands apart from the other two because Petry's story is so much more than a story of ethnicity; it's equally a tale about the struggles of women, and more so it's the sad plight of anyone who lives in poverty. Ellison wrote masterful scenes and Wright created a voice impossible to forget, but Petry succeeded writing a story that was immensely universal.
The Street is the story of Lutie Johnson. Lutie worries about money and image, she worries about her young son and dreams about her full potential. Lutie's struggles are ones many of us face, even today. Lutie's very insightful and intelligent, but otherwise she's not much different than your average person struggling to make ends meet. Her tale is tragic not so much because of the complexion of her skin, but because of “the street” and all it entails. Petry had ample opportunity to deride capitalism and make this a political book, but unlike Wright she let the story speak for itself, let the reader decide what is right and wrong with the picture.
Petry wrote wonderfully, and her characters were phenomenal. She expertly developed them, handing out unique voices to each, capturing accurate portrayals regardless of age or gender. Though this is the story of Lutie, Petry rotated through many perspectives, delving into the struggles of others while propelling the primary plot further.
Unfortunately, compared to her contemporaries, Petry is largely unknown today. Both Ellison and Wright are widely taught in high schools and universities, but Petry is not. Her talents did not outweigh her male counterparts, but they certainly rivaled them. And given the more universal message of The Street, I would think it must have more appeal to instructors of young people. I anticipate a Petry renaissance in the coming years; I'd love to read more of her work.