"This Strange Communion": Surveillavce and Spectatorship in Ann Petry's "The Street."

Hicks, Heather
March 2003
African American Review;Spring2003, Vol. 37 Issue 1, p21
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
From the time of its publication in 1946, Ann Petry's "The Street" has inspired comparisons to the work of prominent black male writers, including Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and Ralph Ellison. In the first decades after its publication, especially, "The Street" was routinely classified as a naturalist novel of the “Richard Wright school.” Later waves of critics have resisted thinking of Petry's novel in these terms, however, instead identifying “a more complex structure that expands the boundaries of the traditional naturalistic novel.” These more recent critical accounts have focused on Petry's feminist concerns, as well as specific thematic elements of the text, such as its recurrent allusions to Benjamin Franklin, conjuring, and the blues. This critical work has been vital to producing an understanding of how Petry work stands apart from that of the black male writers by whom she was so long overshadowed.Yet, Petry's distinctive gifts have been acknowledged and her originality of thought and expression has been appropriately credited, I want to suggest that there is good to be gained by once more placing Petry's first novel in relationship to the work of Wright and Ellison.


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