Personification in The Street by Ann Petry

Personification is a literary technique through which human traits are ascribed to nonhuman entities. Authors utilize personification in literary works to bring out human characters in animals and nonliving things with the ultimate goal of presenting their narratives in an allegorical style (Bloomfield 162). When personified, nonhuman entities typically acquire a human identity or a ‘face’ that is readily recognized by the audience. The value of personification is embedded in its potential to highlight characterization using animated descriptions of abstract and natural phenomenon. More specifically, personification expands the imagination ‘sphere’ through which authors communicate and narrate to their readers. Ann Petry’s novel The Street uses personification to give life to the “cold November wind.” In the first chapter, Petry describes the actions of the wind as if they were outcomes of an actual human being. The wind is portrayed as tossing objects and driving people from the street in the same manner that a self-determined person would (Petry 2). In fact, the author depicts the wind in a way that suggests it has a purpose and intent.

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            The actions of the “cold November wind” are an illustration of the struggles that Lutie Johnson, the protagonist, will encounter in her life and a prediction for the rest of the novel. In particular, the harsh currents of the wind symbolize the challenges and obstacles that will work against her ambitions. One of the most apparent challenges that Lutie undergoes is the struggle to raise a child while trying to save enough money to leave the street. Her quest to financial freedom is anything but smooth. Every attempt she makes to advance towards her vision is continuously frustrated by the street, along with wicked people who want to exploit her. A case in point is Boots Smith who intends to lay with her before referring him to Junto, another man who wants misuse her sexually before extending the financial help she needs.

            The element of personification continues to materialize lucidly through the incongruous relationship between Lutie and the city atmosphere. The city of Harlem is personified and accorded with a human face to help the reader distinguish the significant variation that lies between it and the protagonist. The phrase “cold fingers of the wind” (Petry 38) is repeatedly used throughout the story in an attempt to connect the human quality of touch to an inanimate entity.  This form of personification provides the most direct and personal interaction with which people can relate. The essence of touch also presents the degree to which the city invades into Lucie’s life and renders her helpless. At one point, she is unable to read an apartment sign due to the wind’s stubborn currents.

The characterization of wind as ‘cold’ also hints at the harsh and inhospitable nature of the city atmosphere. What is more, the settings in which the story unfolds epitomize limited opportunities. The subway is especially limiting as it creates a sense of overcrowding, lack of freedom, and congestion. These traits are further compounded by the underground and hiddenness of their lifestyles. That the subway is constructed underground reveals the suppression of the burdens that Lucie and her counterparts endure. Furthermore, the darkness that exists in underground tunnels is a sign of the dark and bleak future that the characters face. Lutie even remarks that the street may get her some in “some kind of trouble that will land him in reform school” (Petry 69). This flashforward tends to foreshadow her fate because, in the end, she kills Boots Smith and flees.

In conclusion, Ann Petry uses personification as a tool for developing the themes and plot of her novel The Street. Her utilization of personification creates a sense of foreshadowing, which hints to the reader what is to come and gives a clear picture of the path through which the account will follow.

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