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Down These Mean Streets (Part II)

I honestly really enjoyed reading this book. It is enlightening, in a way, to be exposed to the harsh realities that many individuals have gone through, and still go through today. My own life has been rather fortunate, and I have not experienced anything close to the poverty and descrimination that Piri experienced in this book. And I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in a bubble of naivety, unaware of the difficult, trying and harsh conditions of many people across the globe or even within the same city you live in (the Downtown East Side, for example). Although this aspect of poverty and drug addiction is foreign to me, I believe the struggle with identity and fitting in is a universal concept and experience. I think the historical context in this novel is not only important (during the Great Depression), but also the time point in Piri’s life; puberty is a confusing and frustrating time for just about anyone. It is a time of critical importance for biological transformations, especially in the brain, as well as understanding who you are, the social constructs and where you fit within that. Thus, it is a book of coming of age and perhaps the events that Piri experiences are dramatized fluctuations that we have all experienced to some extent – a panic of finding who we are, an obsessive need to fit in (for which personal values may be put aside), an internal dialogue that conflicts with what words we spill out into the world, self consciousness and guilt and familial struggles, the list goes on. In this sense, perhaps Piri could be envisioned as an “everyday man”; although, his story is unique. Someone said that this book was sad, but for me, it was inspirational. It takes bravery and ‘heart’ to go through everything Piri went through; to fight his drug addiction, to go through jail, to come out stronger and with more clarity than ever in his life. But it takes even more courage to relive that pain, that suffering, that turmoil, and share it with the entire world. We discussed whether Piri was a hero – perhaps he is not a hero for having had an identity crisis, a drug addiction and jailtime, but he may very well be a hero for sharing his story and trying to touch and inspire millions of lives with the pain and ultimate breakthrough he experienced.


3 thoughts on “Down These Mean Streets (Part II)

  1. Hey Madeson,

    I think it’s really important to understand that everyone comes from a different background, a different world, and that by reading books that tackle foreign concepts like poverty and crime, we can learn that though we live different lives we connect by the idea of wanting to belong. It’s refreshing to see how gritty this book is, I feel as though I’m reliving the life of Piri while reading every page. I agree with you that Piri is a hero. Though it wasn´t as violent or as resistant as the life of Gregorio Cortez, I appreciate how Piri overcame addiction and the negative mindset of not fitting in.

    Well done,
    -Curtis HR


  2. Hey Madeson!
    It is so good that you brought up the Great Depression. While I was reading this book, I didn’t envision him in those circumstances. The general sense of poverty is kind of downplayed. he mentions lack of clothing and the hunger he felt, however what goes on is so much more consuming that I forgot all about his physical and material state. This goes to prove is bravery in all adversity. Of being a “Survivor”. In class we spoke of heros, however I think that in the case of Piri Thomas I would like to prioritize this classification as survivor. Of course in my eyes that term is defined by ending up in having a crimless and somewhat healthy life. However other people can define survival differently… it would be interesting to discuss this further.

    – Maria


  3. Hey Madison,

    Isn’t it interesting that regardless of the reader’s background, they can relate in some way or other with what Thomas writes about? I guess that is one of the reasons I like autobiographical writing more than fiction, there is an element of wisdom within the words, a sense of reality, someone else’s truth…some nugget of worldly information that a writer shares with their readership. And I agree with you, Thomas is a hero for sharing his story and touching the lives of the people with whom he shared it.

    Have a good day!


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