I wanted to showcase some of my students’ work over the next couple of weeks. The first is Brooke, an American Literature student. She is usually quiet in class, but she has a tremendous talent with the written word. Here is her essay over the book The Street. If you get the chance, please leave her some feed back on her essay. Thank you.
Money: The Downfall of Mankind
Throughout life we are constantly moving. Shoving our way through crowds stomping on dreams already left shattered on the pavement. Regressing, sliding backwards until we stumble over sidewalk cracks or other people passing. No matter which direction we move in we experience those moments that completely turn everything around. Moments of impact where we finally collide with all that we are and what we will become when it’s all over. These collisions shape us. They are the moments when everything falls together and the lesson to be learned is directly in front of us. Some learn to appreciate these moments while others flee from them. On the streets of Harlem people are always avoiding these moments of impact for fear that any realization will send the walls they’ve built crumbling around them. None of them have the strength left to pick through the rubble to rebuild. They’ve already suffered too much. The source of their suffering: a fragile paper dollar.
This fragile piece of paper distorts reality, lifts and slays hope, and defeats the downtrodden. Lutie Johnson and her son Bub are subject to the supremacy of the dollar along with everyone they cross paths with. Every aspect of their life relies on whether or not they can afford to live. Lutie’s first trial began with her husband Jim. Employment is difficult for black men to find and the only work offered is demeaning. They find themselves drifting along surrounded by their own inferiority. Strong, courageous men shrink in the face of money, for it taunts them constantly reminding them of their inadequacies. Jim had said, “Don’t they know if I knew how I’d change the color of my skin?” (Petry 30). As Jim sat back, his pride crushed, Lutie found a job far from home in America. Ignoring the warnings of Mrs. Pizzini who believed, “It’s best that the man work when the babies are young. And when the man is young. Not good for the women to work when she’s young. Not good for the man” (Petry 33). Unfortunately money made the decision for this family before they had any clue what they were heading for. Money is a necessity in this life, aware of its own authority it curls around the fate of families who can’t make ends meet.
In the Chandler household Lutie becomes aware of the American Dream. The Chandlers have paper stacked in every item in their home. It struts around in their clothes, furniture, and conversation. Revealing its crucial importance and persuading all that it’s truly invincible. Conversation in the Chandler home revolved around, “Richest damn country in the world—Always be new markets. If not here in South America, Africa, India—Everywhere and anywhere—Hell make it while you’re young. Anyone can do it—Outsmart the next guy. Think up something before anyone else does. Retire at forty” (Petry 43). The reality of this is not everyone can make money, and this is made obvious in the statement that follows. It’s extremely contradictory to say that anyone can make money, but outsmarting others is necessary to do so. White people made sure colored people were easy to outsmart by allowing them absolutely nothing. Paper constructs this complex competition where only the strong can survive and unfortunately the definition of strong is white men who oppress others to quench their own thirst.
The result of this dream sparkles in the minds of rich white folk, but for all left out of that category it barricades desires leaving only a minute, dull lifestyle. A lifestyle that caused Mrs. Hedges to transform her home into a whore house after being burned and spat out by the world she was circumstantially born into converting her into the piercing, snake lady; a lifestyle that turned Mr. Jones, the super, into a tall, solemn, devilish creature; one that turned Pop into a lonely alcoholic; turned Min into a shapeless, meek woman; Junto into a greasy, squat man; Boots Smith into a numb, angry, womanizing cat man filled with stealthy manipulative tendencies; and all the other faceless creatures of the street into dark shadows sliding along with resigned expressions. Money has kept all these people fearful and imprisoned. Lutie had said, “I don’t like mountains, I get the feeling they’re closing in on me” (Petry 160). The environment Lutie inhabits is always pressing in on her shoving out any sunlight, making her feel small, incompetent. She cannot escape this prison money has locked her in. All she can ever hope for is limited space and consuming darkness. This consuming darkness forces Bub to sleep with the light on in the lonely apartment, and grown men to stand outside Juntos bar staring into the light that warms the building leaving it secure and full of life. They stand staring into the lives they wish they could have, into the dreams they’ll never have the chance to fulfill. The kinds of jobs colored people receive cannot pay, or even come close to paying for anything more than the rent of a broken, dim apartment and measly quantities of food and clothing. All these people are merely just dark, shadowy figures “silhouetted against the light” (Petry 186).
People who weren’t worth anything to the rest of the world were shoved into crowded streets with decomposing buildings, and darkness creeping around the corners seeping into lonely apartments. No one living in these horrid environments could stand a chance against them; eventually the walls would press in to crush what’s left of their hopes. Money forced them to work petty, self-loathing jobs with long hours in order to scrape in just enough cash to pay rent. It kept them from building relationships or self-confidence. Everyone on the street is fighting for themselves alone in hopes of escape; the only relationships that exist are social contracts. The only goal is survival and these people will stoop to any level to make it out with their lives. Money turned Lutie Johnson, a caring mother and confident strong woman, into a wicked murder who deserted her son and ran from the law. It turned a young, happy Bub Johnson into an insecure, greedy, and dishonest boy. How can anyone possibly escape the street, when all it does is pull you back to remind you it is exactly where you belong?
Throughout life we are constantly moving. No matter which direction we move in we experience those moments of impact where we finally collide with all that we are and what we will become. They are the moments when everything falls together and the lesson to be learned is directly in front of us. Some learn to appreciate these moments while others flee from them. On the streets of Harlem people are always avoiding these moments, for none of them have the strength left to pick through the rubble. They’ve already suffered too much. The source: a fragile paper dollar. Money produces two kinds of people those who have it and those who don’t. The ones who have it become greedy and unappreciative stealing what they can by repressing the weak; those who don’t have it cannot afford to live period. If our lives are weighing heavy on a fragile paper dollar, what happens when the paper tears?