As we noted in class, Petry’s The Street takes place almost entirely in a few blocks in Harlem, but Lutie does make several unsuccessful journeys outside the neighborhood.
She travels to Connecticut’s gold coast to work for the Chandlers. She goes on a very long night drive with Boots. (It’s just over 60 miles on current roads from 116th St. to Poughkeepsie. With the trip over the mid-Hudson bridge and the journey back on the very windy Storm King Highway, Lutie and Boots probably travelled close to 150 miles round trip. A long pleasure drive at night. Why do they do it?)
But the most important location outside of Harlem is probably Jamaica–an interesting location. Currently, Jamaica is a predominantly African-American neighborhood. It’s known now, among other reasons, for being the home of the minister and politician Floyd Flake and the neighborhood where Russell Simmons, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, and Fifty Cent grew up. (Run-D.M.C. were from nearby Hollis.)
During the 40s, Jamaica was a predominantly white neighborhood of descendents of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants. But it also included a small minority of African-American families. During the 50s, it would become increasingly a destination for African-American homebuyers and was considered a rising African-American middle class community. (This article from a 1960 issue of Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP, gives a sense of the way in which it was by civil rights leaders at the time.) During the same years, whites left the neighborhood in large numbers for the new Long Island suburbs.
So, what does it tell us about Lutie that she and her husband briefly lived there?
And what does it tell us that when they go out at night, they visit friends in Harlem. Jamaica is a long way from upper Manhattan. The picture below shows the Manhattan skyline from Jackson Heights, which is much further west, and thus much closer to Harlem, than Jamaica. To get to Harlem, moreover, Lutie and Jim would have taken several trains–likely a long trip. Why do they do it>