Narratives of Education and Future Generations

Discusses themes of education, migration, and the next generation in the African-American communities of “Youngblood” (Killens), “The Street” (Petry) and “The Piano Lesson” (Wilson).

Education of the next generation forms a central theme in many of the greatest works of literature, particularly those of the African-American tradition where the next generation holds such promise for those oppressed by the historical weight of the present. This paper shows, however, that in the narrative framework of “Youngblood” by John Oliver Killens, Ann Petry?s “The Street”, as well the play, ?The Piano Lesson,? it is not only the youth of tomorrow who receives an education from their wiser elders. The paper shows that, although the older individuals in the play educate the younger members of the family, ultimately, the education in all fictional contexts is holistic, rather than an unbalanced relationship of the old teaching morality to the young.
“Ann Petry’s novel The Street, also chronicles a tale in which the central protagonist, one Lutie Johnson, is engaged in a war for her young child’s soul and takes, in her case, a highly matriarchal view of the world and child rearing. Through the medium of fighting to create a better life for her daughter, Lutie gains a sense of independence as a woman. Thus Lutie’s efforts do not merely educate her young son. Like Joe Youngblood, she learns from the process of parenting as well, of being a strong Black parent in a White society. As impressive as her accomplishments are, she also gains a stronger sense of herself and her ability to engage in upward mobility in the Black community as she proceeds through the novel.”