American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: The Story of 8800 American Street Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator explains that there was work in Detroit; the city seemed like the American Dream to Adrian Weiss and his wife, Ruth. They moved into 8800 American Street in 1924 after emigrating from Poland, and they had their first baby when Adrian had been working for Henry Ford for five years. Two days later, Adrian was fired for showing up to work drunk, and he turned to selling gin instead. Ruth began hiding money and sometimes shared it with other women whose husbands lost jobs during the Great Depression. The narrator wonders if it was American Street’s jealous husbands or gang violence that led to Adrian Weiss being shot on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Since then, Death has lingered at that intersection.
The history of 8800 American Street makes it clear that every immigrant resident—no matter their skin color—has come looking for the same thing. They all hope for the economic prosperity that the American Dream promises. But just as Matant Jo turned to sharking and her daughters turned to dealing, Adrian Weiss found that illicit means of making money were more lucrative than legitimate means. Furthermore, the fact that Death apparently lingers at the intersection suggests there’s an actual curse of sorts on the house.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
In 1942, the next owner of the house was hit by a car. In 1947, one of American Street’s first black residents was murdered. Old Detroit families fled the city, and no one sold 8800 American Street as family members from the South moved in. “Death” moved away to other parts of the city until the riot in July 1967, when a Black resident was murdered. During the 1980s and 90s, the house was rented out, and many dealers and junkies died there. Finally, Jean-Phillip François bought the house in 2000. The narrator wonders if it was the hope, dreams, babies, and warm meals that woke Death and caused it to take Phillip. Now, Death sits on the corner of American and Joy. It sings songs and delivers riddles—and it’s been waiting for a girl to “ask to open the gates to the other side.”
The history of Detroit makes the city look like a place that promises its residents a good life but can’t fulfill that promise. In this sense, Detroit itself represents the American Dream—and it suggests the dream doesn’t actually exist. Furthermore, the idea that Death is sitting on the corner, singing and reciting riddles, suggests that Papa Legba—Bad Leg—is an iteration of Death. With this, the narrator suggests that bad things are in store for Fabiola, given the house’s history. It seems too much to ask that Fabiola and her family will get out of this unscathed.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
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