The Window as a way to freedom in The Street

In The Street (1946), Ann Petry eulogizes a black woman’s veneration for her dreams and for her life that she visualizes ahead of time. The Street symbolizes that indomitable and unconquerable spirit of a woman that never seems to take respite from the journey started. The imagery of ‘the window’ is however, another strong signifier that renders ‘hope’, ‘escape’ from the swathe of ill-fate, as ‘refuge’ in a different world, that at a time shows the reality and also provides access to more achievable dreams. The Street is a tale of the American dream seen by a woman, Lutie that eventually seems her biggest illusion, but later changes and provides her some portion of the dream. When she is out there on the street, the dream looks tangible enough to be achieved with a little hard work, determination and perseverance. Also, right there on the street, there is a heavy flux of different conflicting forces making her dream difficult to achieve, but this also contributes to her self-confidence. On the street, Lutie learns the dimensions of possibilities, the rewards of hard work and stout-hearted obstinacy, and the cost she has to pay on the way to achieve it.

Lutie makes the American dream look real and not just an illusion. Through the imagery of the ‘door’ and the ‘window’, she provides clues to the things happening in her life. Whereas the door in the new apartment she moves in makes ‘sucking sound’ which seems like the fear of being sucked into it and never being able to get out, ‘the window’ in the apartment provides respite from that overwhelming feeling of being entrapped. Lutie constantly looks for a window in the apartment she is about to take at Mrs. Hedges place. The first thing she observes is, “The rooms were small. There was no window in the bedroom. […] There wasn’t a window – just an air shaft and a narrow one at that.” (14) However, she soon spots the window in the living room and analyses the ‘possibilities’, – “She looked out into the living room, trying again to see the window, to see just how much air would come through, how much light there would be…” (14), as if trying to pragmatically gauge the ‘possibilities’ to achieve the American dream in a city of dreams. At another instance, on the 116th “New York City street in a poor neighborhood […] The ‘windows’ of the houses were dustier and there were more small stores on it than on streets in other parts of the city.” (63). However, it may be noticed that she was neither interested in “poor neighborhoods”, nor in “dustier windows”. She was interested in bigger things, – much bigger. Lutie seems to be a personification of the window, – standing strong at the face of adversity through bad weathers and unruly winds. In the 1940s, when the cult of domesticity was strong for women, Lutie stands strong, has faith in her capacity to achieve the American dream. With a romanticization of the idea of Benjamin Franklin, she moves on and never looks back.

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