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Home » The Street (1956)” Summary: A Critical Analysis by Octavio Paz

The Street (1956)” Summary: A Critical Analysis by Octavio Paz

In his critical analysis of the film “The Street” (1956), Octavio Paz examines the themes of poverty, violence, and social inequality portrayed in the movie. He delves into the characters’ struggles and the societal factors that contribute to their situations, providing a thought-provoking commentary on the film’s message and its relevance to contemporary issues.

Background Information

The Street (1956) is a novel written by Ann Petry, an African-American author who was born in Connecticut in 1908. Petry was one of the first African-American women to achieve literary success in the United States, and her work often dealt with the experiences of black people living in urban areas. The Street is set in Harlem in the 1940s and tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and keep her son safe in a dangerous and oppressive environment. The novel is a powerful critique of racism, poverty, and sexism, and it remains a significant work of African-American literature to this day.

Plot Summary

The Street (1956) is a novel written by Ann Petry that explores the struggles of African Americans living in Harlem during the 1940s. The story follows the life of Lutie Johnson, a single mother who moves to Harlem with her young son Bub. Lutie is determined to provide a better life for her family, but she soon discovers that the streets of Harlem are filled with poverty, crime, and racism. As she tries to make ends meet, Lutie is faced with a series of challenges that threaten to destroy her dreams. She is harassed by her landlord, who wants to take advantage of her vulnerability, and she is also pursued by a wealthy white man who offers her a way out of poverty but at a high cost. Despite these obstacles, Lutie remains resilient and determined to succeed. However, her efforts are ultimately thwarted by the harsh realities of life on the street. The novel ends with Lutie realizing that the American dream is not attainable for everyone, especially for those who are marginalized and oppressed.

Character Analysis

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz presents a vivid portrayal of the characters that inhabit the bustling cityscape of Mexico City. The protagonist, a nameless man, serves as a symbol for the disenchanted and disillusioned masses who are struggling to survive in a world that is rapidly changing. Through his interactions with the other characters, we see the various ways in which people cope with the challenges of urban life. From the street vendors who eke out a living selling their wares to the prostitutes who ply their trade on the corners, each character represents a different facet of the city’s complex social fabric. Despite their differences, however, they are all united by a common sense of desperation and a desire for something more. As we delve deeper into the lives of these characters, we begin to see the ways in which their individual struggles are intertwined with the larger social and political forces that shape their world. Through his nuanced characterizations, Paz offers a powerful critique of the modern city and the ways in which it can both empower and oppress its inhabitants.

Setting Analysis

The setting of “The Street” by Octavio Paz plays a crucial role in the story’s overall theme and message. The story takes place in a bustling city, where the protagonist wanders through the streets, observing the people and their daily routines. The city is described as chaotic and overwhelming, with the noise and commotion of the streets serving as a constant backdrop to the protagonist’s thoughts and observations.

Paz uses the setting to highlight the theme of isolation and alienation in modern society. The protagonist is surrounded by people, yet he feels disconnected from them and unable to form meaningful connections. The city’s fast-paced lifestyle and constant movement serve as a metaphor for the frenzied pace of modern life, where people are too busy to stop and connect with one another.

Additionally, the setting serves as a commentary on the social and economic inequalities present in the city. The protagonist observes the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor, with the latter living in squalor and struggling to survive. The city’s architecture and infrastructure also reflect these inequalities, with the wealthy living in luxurious high-rise buildings while the poor are relegated to cramped and dilapidated tenements.

Overall, the setting of “The Street” is a powerful tool that Paz uses to convey his message about the isolation and inequality present in modern society. Through his vivid descriptions of the city and its inhabitants, he paints a picture of a world where people are disconnected from one another and struggling to survive in an unequal and unforgiving environment.

Symbolism and Imagery

Symbolism and imagery play a significant role in “The Street” by Octavio Paz. The street itself is a symbol of the city and the people who inhabit it. It is a place where different cultures and social classes intersect, and where the characters’ lives are intertwined. The street is also a metaphor for the human condition, where people are constantly moving and searching for meaning in their lives.

The imagery in the story is vivid and powerful, creating a sense of the city’s chaos and beauty. The descriptions of the street, the buildings, and the people are rich and evocative, painting a picture of a vibrant and complex world. The use of color is particularly striking, with the bright hues of the buildings and the colorful clothing of the characters contrasting with the dark and oppressive atmosphere of the city.

One of the most powerful symbols in the story is the image of the blind man. He represents the marginalized and forgotten members of society, who are often invisible to those around them. His blindness also serves as a metaphor for the blindness of society to the suffering of others.

Overall, the symbolism and imagery in “The Street” add depth and complexity to the story, highlighting the themes of identity, alienation, and social inequality. Through these literary devices, Paz creates a powerful and thought-provoking portrait of urban life.


One of the central themes in “The Street” by Octavio Paz is the idea of urbanization and its impact on society. The story takes place in Mexico City, a rapidly growing metropolis that is undergoing significant changes. The narrator describes the city as a place of constant movement and noise, where people are always rushing to get somewhere and the streets are filled with cars and buses. This sense of chaos and disorientation is reflected in the characters’ lives, as they struggle to find their place in this new world.

Another important theme in the story is the idea of social inequality. The narrator describes the different classes of people who live in the city, from the wealthy businessmen to the poor street vendors. He observes how these different groups interact with each other, and how their lives are shaped by their social status. The story also touches on issues of race and ethnicity, as the narrator describes the various ethnic groups that make up the city’s population.

Overall, “The Street” is a powerful commentary on the modern urban experience. It explores the ways in which the city shapes our lives and identities, and the challenges we face in navigating its complex social and cultural landscape. Through its vivid descriptions and insightful observations, the story offers a compelling portrait of a city in transition, and the people who call it home.

Tone and Style

Octavio Paz’s critical analysis of “The Street” (1956) is characterized by a serious and analytical tone. Throughout the article, Paz employs a scholarly style, using complex vocabulary and sentence structures to convey his ideas. He approaches the text with a critical eye, examining the themes and motifs present in the story and analyzing their significance. Despite the seriousness of his tone, Paz’s writing is engaging and thought-provoking, encouraging readers to consider the deeper meanings behind the story. Overall, Paz’s tone and style in his analysis of “The Street” reflect his commitment to intellectual rigor and his passion for literature.

Narrative Techniques

One of the most striking narrative techniques used in “The Street” is the use of stream of consciousness. The novel follows the thoughts and experiences of the protagonist, Cayetano, as he navigates the chaotic and often violent streets of Mexico City. Through this technique, the reader is able to gain a deep understanding of Cayetano’s inner world and the complex emotions he experiences as he confronts poverty, corruption, and social injustice. Additionally, the use of stream of consciousness allows the novel to explore themes of identity and self-discovery, as Cayetano grapples with his own sense of belonging in a rapidly changing world. Overall, the use of this narrative technique adds depth and complexity to the novel, making it a powerful exploration of the human experience in an urban environment.

Historical and Cultural Context

The Street (1956) by Octavio Paz is a novel that explores the complexities of Mexican society during the mid-twentieth century. Set in Mexico City, the novel follows the lives of several characters who inhabit a single street, each with their own struggles and desires. To fully understand the themes and messages of the novel, it is important to consider the historical and cultural context in which it was written.

During the 1950s, Mexico was undergoing significant political and social changes. The country had recently emerged from a period of revolution and was attempting to establish a stable government and economy. However, corruption and inequality were still rampant, and many Mexicans struggled to make ends meet. The Street reflects these struggles, as the characters are often shown grappling with poverty, crime, and social injustice.

Additionally, the novel is deeply rooted in Mexican culture and history. Paz was a prominent figure in the Mexican literary scene, and his work often explored themes of identity and national pride. The Street is no exception, as it delves into the complexities of Mexican identity and the tensions between tradition and modernity. The characters in the novel are often torn between their desire to embrace modernity and their loyalty to traditional values and customs.

Overall, The Street is a powerful reflection of Mexican society during a time of great change and upheaval. By examining the historical and cultural context in which it was written, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the novel’s themes and messages.

Reception and Criticism

The reception and criticism of “The Street” by Octavio Paz has been mixed since its publication in 1956. While some critics praise the novel for its vivid portrayal of Mexico City’s urban landscape and its exploration of the city’s social and political issues, others have criticized it for its lack of character development and its overly pessimistic tone. Some have also accused Paz of perpetuating negative stereotypes about Mexico and its people. Despite these criticisms, “The Street” remains a significant work in Mexican literature and a powerful commentary on the complexities of urban life.

Comparisons to Other Works

In comparison to other works of the same era, “The Street” by Ann Petry stands out for its unflinching portrayal of the harsh realities of urban life for African Americans. While other works of the time, such as Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” also tackled issues of race and poverty, Petry’s novel delves deeper into the psychological and emotional toll of living in a society that systematically oppresses and marginalizes certain groups. Additionally, Petry’s use of vivid imagery and sensory details creates a visceral reading experience that immerses the reader in the world of the novel. Overall, “The Street” is a powerful and important work that continues to resonate with readers today.

Impact on Literature and Society

The Street (1956) by Ann Petry is a novel that has had a significant impact on literature and society. The novel is a powerful portrayal of the struggles faced by African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. It is a story of poverty, racism, and the fight for survival in a world that is hostile to black people. The novel has been praised for its vivid descriptions of life in the inner city and its realistic portrayal of the challenges faced by African Americans.

The Street has been an important work in the development of African American literature. It is one of the first novels to focus on the experiences of black women in the inner city. The novel has been influential in inspiring other writers to explore similar themes and to write about the experiences of African Americans in a more realistic and honest way.

The Street has also had an impact on society. The novel was published during a time of great social change in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, and the novel helped to raise awareness of the struggles faced by African Americans. The novel was widely read and discussed, and it helped to spark important conversations about race and inequality in America.

In conclusion, The Street is a powerful novel that has had a significant impact on literature and society. It is a work that has helped to shape the development of African American literature and has contributed to important conversations about race and inequality in America. The novel is a testament to the power of literature to inspire change and to bring about a better understanding of the world around us.

Author’s Biography

Octavio Paz was a Mexican poet, essayist, and diplomat who was born in 1914 and died in 1998. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990 for his extensive body of work that explored the complexities of Mexican culture and identity. Paz was a prolific writer, publishing over 20 books of poetry and numerous essays and works of literary criticism. He was also a political activist and served as Mexico’s ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968. Throughout his life, Paz was known for his intellectual curiosity and his commitment to exploring the intersections of art, politics, and culture. His work continues to be widely read and studied today, and he remains one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century.

Writing Style

Octavio Paz’s writing style in “The Street (1956)” is characterized by its poetic and philosophical nature. Throughout the essay, Paz uses vivid imagery and metaphors to convey his ideas about the city and its inhabitants. He also employs a stream-of-consciousness style, allowing his thoughts to flow freely and often jumping from one idea to another without warning. This style can be challenging for some readers, but it also adds to the essay’s overall impact and depth. Additionally, Paz’s use of language is precise and deliberate, with each word carefully chosen to convey his intended meaning. Overall, Paz’s writing style in “The Street (1956)” is both beautiful and thought-provoking, making it a compelling read for anyone interested in urban life and its complexities.

Language and Translation

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz explores the complexities of language and translation. The poem is written in Spanish, but has been translated into English for readers who may not be fluent in the original language. However, Paz acknowledges that translation is not a perfect process and that some nuances and meanings may be lost in the process. He writes, “The words are not the same in Spanish and English / The same street is not the same / For the English and the Spanish.” This highlights the importance of understanding the cultural and linguistic context in which a work is written. Paz also plays with language within the poem itself, using repetition and wordplay to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. Overall, “The Street” serves as a reminder of the power and limitations of language and the importance of considering translation as a complex and nuanced process.

Gender Roles and Relationships

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz explores the complex gender roles and relationships that exist within Mexican society. The novel portrays women as being confined to traditional roles as wives and mothers, while men are expected to be the breadwinners and protectors of their families. This rigid division of labor creates a power dynamic that often leaves women vulnerable and dependent on their male counterparts.

However, Paz also highlights the ways in which women subvert these gender roles and assert their own agency. For example, the character of Esperanza refuses to conform to societal expectations and instead pursues her own desires, even if it means defying her husband. This challenges the notion that women are passive and submissive, and instead portrays them as active agents in their own lives.

Overall, “The Street (1956)” offers a nuanced exploration of gender roles and relationships in Mexican society, highlighting both the limitations and possibilities for women within this context.

Racism and Discrimination

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz explores the themes of racism and discrimination through the lens of the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles. The protagonist, Juanito, faces constant discrimination and prejudice from both white Americans and his own community. He is caught between two worlds, struggling to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him.

Paz’s portrayal of racism and discrimination in “The Street” is both nuanced and powerful. He shows how racism is not just a matter of individual prejudice, but is deeply ingrained in the structures and institutions of society. The police, for example, are shown to be complicit in the oppression of Mexican-Americans, using their power to harass and intimidate them.

At the same time, Paz also highlights the ways in which Mexican-Americans themselves perpetuate discrimination within their own community. Juanito is ostracized by his peers for his lighter skin and his desire to assimilate into American culture. This internalized racism is a reminder that discrimination is not just a problem of the dominant culture, but is something that can exist within marginalized communities as well.

Overall, “The Street” is a powerful critique of racism and discrimination in American society. It shows how these issues are not just a matter of individual attitudes, but are deeply embedded in the structures and institutions of society. By highlighting the experiences of Mexican-Americans, Paz challenges readers to confront their own prejudices and work towards a more just and equitable society.

Violence and Power

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz explores the relationship between violence and power in Mexican society. The street, as a symbol of public space, becomes a site of conflict where different forms of power clash. Paz argues that violence is not only physical but also symbolic, and it is used to maintain social hierarchies and reinforce dominant ideologies. The street is a space where the powerless are marginalized and excluded, while the powerful assert their dominance through acts of aggression and intimidation. Through his analysis, Paz exposes the underlying structures of power that shape Mexican society and highlights the need for social change.

Religion and Spirituality

In “The Street (1956),” Octavio Paz explores the themes of religion and spirituality through the lens of Mexican culture. The protagonist, Artemio Cruz, grapples with his own mortality and the role of religion in his life as he lies on his deathbed. Paz delves into the complexities of Mexican Catholicism, examining the ways in which it is intertwined with indigenous beliefs and practices. He also critiques the Church’s role in perpetuating social inequality and political oppression. Through Cruz’s reflections on his own spiritual journey, Paz offers a nuanced exploration of the intersection of religion, culture, and power in Mexico.