Brady’s essay takes a look at how an object/idea can be an antagonist for a story. He states that he doesn’t like to write, but I think you can read his talent.
The Street as the True Antagonist
The nasty enemy, the bad guy, the evil adversary. No matter how it’s phased, almost every story has an antagonist. But who is this character in Ann Petry’s The Street? In this case it is not a question of who, but what. In the novel, the true antagonist that works against Lutie is the street itself.
First, let’s look at the definition of an antagonist. The Glossary of Literary Terms at UNCP.edu establishes, “an antagonist is a character in a story or poem who deceives, frustrates, or works against the main character, or protagonist, in some way.” The street fits this definition perfectly. In the beginning, the street deceives Lutie. Throughout the novel, it employs different methods to frustrate and discourage her. In the end, the street succeeds in breaking her will and defeats her. It is able to do this by using people like Mrs. Hedges, Junto, Jones, and Boots as its minions.
At first, the street appears to be an escape, a way out of the situation with her father and his girlfriend. She needs somewhere cheap and the street looks to be the answer. The street uses deception to lure Lutie in. When she first arrives on the street, she sees Mrs. Hedges in the window. She speaks with her in a pleasant welcoming voice. Mrs. Hedges’ pleasantness convinces Lutie to inquire about an apartment. Though some things about the place disturb her, she moves in anyway. She believes that it will only be temporary, assuring herself, “I’m young and strong, there isn’t anything I can’t do”(63). She does not realize she has been coaxed into a trap.
After she moved in, the street began to show its nasty side. It began to use any methods at its disposal to discourage Lutie from success. Lutie also begins to notice the people around her, people that the street has already claimed as victims. Lutie sees a girl whose brother has just been stabbed to death. The girl has a resigned look on her face, and Lutie thinks to herself, “She had lost the ability to protest against anything – even death” (197).
Another example is a girl she sees in the hospital. The girl had been severely stabbed, yet her face showed nothing but acceptance and disconnect from the situation. It was as though she had been expecting something terrible to happen. The street is trying to make her accept failure and defeat as a norm.
The street also uses men like Jones, Junto, and Boots to make her believe that she must give up her body and dignity to succeed. Even Mrs. Hedges, a woman, plays into this stereotype, offering Lutie a job essentially as a prostitute. Lutie realizes with disgust, “If you live on this damn street you’re supposed to want to earn a little extra money sleeping around nights” (86). The street gives her a false sense of hope when she is offered a job singing at the Casino. She then discovers that the real reason she is there is because Boots and Junto have sexual motives. At this point, the street has worn her down, but not conquered her. She is frustrated and angry, but she still holds on to her determination to be successful.
The street is finally able to break her when it targets Bub. Jones sets Bub up to get arrested. When Bub is taken Lutie begins to lose hope. Then, Boots attacks her and attempts to rape her. She is forced into a rage. After she murders Boots, her will is broken. She tells herself, “She was a murderer. And the smartest lawyer in the world couldn’t do anything for Bub, not now, not when his mother had killed a man” (432).
She then purchases the train ticket to Chicago and abandons Bub. While she sat on the train, all she could think about was, “It was that street. It was that god-damned street” (435). It was indeed the street that had been working against her all along. It gave her false hope only to take it away. Now that the street had broken her will, it had claimed another victim.