Tally’s Corner (1967)

Elliott Liebow


Study Guide Three


Chapter 5: Lovers and Exploiters (137-161)


1.      Explain the complicated relationship between a potential mate’s desirability and the perception of potential financial value in street corner courting behaviors.

·         TALLY, waiting for Jesse: "She's not pretty," he said, 'but she's got a beautiful job." (137)

·         LEROY: "She just got herself a government job. She never misses a day's work. She's a real mule." "Hell, who wants to live with a mule?" "Man, that's the best thing to live with. When you got somebody who can pull that wagon, you really got something." (139-40)  (Later he will end the relationship,  Leroy broke off with Louise to return again to Charlene, a woman who needed his support.)

·         SWEETS:  "Man, don't pay rent in no places. My lady friends do that." "She's real nice-- works two jobs."

·         WESLEY:   From now [on], if a girl ain't got money and a car, I'm not talking to her." (138)

·         "A man should take anything he can get when he can get it."

·         "From now [on], if a girl ain't got money and a car, I'm not talking to her."

·         "Tally eagerly proclaimed that his own motto for dealing with women was "Everything New for '62."

2.  Read this exchange between Wesley, Thelma and Richard out loud:

WESLEY:   From now [on], if a girl ain't got money and a car, I'm not talking to her.
THELMA: But you don't find very many of those girls.

WESLEY: My buddy next door, he's got one. She's got a '58 Mercury and I hear she's got a whole lot of money.
THELMA: How old is she?
WESLEY: I don't know how old she is but she sure parks that Mercury in front of that door.
RICHARD : She could be sixty if she give me some of that money, let me drive that new car.
WESLEY: [Agreeing vigorously] What'cha talking about, man!

THELMA: But won't you be embarrassed to be seen with an older woman?
WESLEY: No. I was dumb one time. This lady, she was about forty-five. She got her own home. She got a white Cadillac, '60. She got a restaurant and she tried her best to talk to me. She told my landlady, told my landlady to get me to call and I wouldn't. But now let her come around! I’ll tell the landlady, "Anytime she come around, call Wesley." I was crazy then. All that money! Ooh, I could play a long time! I could cool it. All that money and riding around in a big Cadillac. I'd ride the other women around.
THELMA:  She'll  have you  fixed so you can't ride  the other women around.

WESLEY: Uh-uh. I'm smarter than she is. She's got a daughter about nineteen. I'd have her daugh­ter [too]. I'd be stone livin’!


2.      What accounts for the attractiveness to street corner men of women of mixed race?


·         "Other things being equal, the more closely a woman ap­proached her white counterpart, the more attractive she was considered to be, by both men and women alike. "Good hair" (hair that  is long and soft )  and light skin were the chief criteria."

·         However, with the possible exception of Sea Cat, the men were uniformly afraid of women whose skin color was markedly lighter than one commonly seen on the street. The explanation given was simple and straightforward:  "A light-skinned woman will turn on [against] you."... One day, just as [Sweets] knew she would, she turned on him and called him ''bad names." (That is, "n-word "black [some­ thing]" and othe color slurs.


3.      What evidence does Liebow use to assert that the conception of men and women as ‘cynical, self-serving marauders’ is in reality a fictional pose


"In action, however, the impulse to use women as objects of economic or sexual exploitation is deflected by countervailing impulses and goals, especially the desire to build personal, intimate relationships based on mutual liking or love."  (144) 


a)      Sea Cat



·         Sea Cat says things like: "[men] who spend money on women are "spoiling the women for the rest of us." (143) Sea Cat was generally acknowledged as one of the most successful lovers and managers of man­-woman relationships, yet it is in Sea Cat's relationship with women that the public pose of the cyni­cal user of women gives way most completely to the private realities.


·         Tally can't believe that Sea Cat "was putting out the woman who had been living with him for the past seven months." (142)

·         He discouraged [the advances of] Sally, because she was too voluble and unpredictable; Louella because he was afraid she couldn't sustain a casual relationship  and would "be all over me." (147) 

·         He took in Doris and was very tender with her: He says "I like her and I don't want to  spoil anything." (149) "We talk for a while and then we go to bed," said Sea Cat. He said they slept naked, being care­ful never to touch one another. She had had a bad experience with a man, he explained-- he didn't know what -- and she was afraid of men. She was afraid of him, too, he added, "but she's learn­ing not to be) (148)

b)      Tally



·         Tally says things like: "Where "pussy" is concerned, a man should "take what he can get when he can get it." (143) 

·         "Everything New for '62." (143)

·         Tally, who was fond of assessing women in money terms, claimed not to understand how Sea Cat could put out a woman when she was working every day.


·         Emma Lou had been living with Tally for a few weeks and wanted to go on living with him. Tally wanted her to leave. Emma Lou offered to turn her weekly pay (about forty­ five dollars) over to him in its entirety. Tally re­fused and shortly forced her out, although he had no other regular woman at this time. (147) 


c)      Carol and Lena



·         "You like your boys, all right," said Carol, "but you better start learning to like some of that money, too." Carol turned to me. "Do you know what she did the other day," she said, indicating Lena with a contemptuous toss of her head. "This man wanted to give her twenty dollars for some pussy and she wouldn't give him any."


·         Lena won't go with him because she does not like him.


Thus the men talked of themselves as exploiters and users of women. But talk is cheap. In prac­tice, in their real relationships with real women, the  men frequently gave the lie to their own words. (143)


4.      In streetcorner language, what does being ‘nice’ mean?

·         "Her ethics bespeak a fundamental honesty and decency. She does not say one thing to your face, another behind your back. She is not sexually promiscuous and while she may not necessarily remain wholly faithful to her husband or boyfriend, she "cuts out on him" discreetly, with selected per­sons, and usually only after provocation, such as mistreat­ment or repeated  and public infidelity on his part.  Honesty means simple honesty in the property sense, too. She does not steal. In her social relationships a nice woman displays a gen­erosity of spirit; she is friendly, accessible, tolerant, and open and easy of  manner. Importantly  whatever  her ''ways" or “stvle” she is fun to be with. " (footnote 8 150)

Could Liebow be any more eloquent about the way that streetcorner men really feel about the women wiht whom they live and love?



5.      How are both an ideal and a real mode of behavior at work in these relationships?


"In a world where sex­ual conquest is one of the few ways in which one can prove one's masculinity, the man who does not make capital of his relationship with a woman is that much less a man". (149)

·         In their ideal mode, i.e. on the corner,  men talk of themselves as exploiters and users of women. But talk is cheap. In prac­tice, in their real relationships with real women, the men frequently  gave the lie to their  own words.

·          In the real mode, men can be both exploitive and loving in their relations with women.


6.      How is this attitude reflected in the men’s attitudes towards contraception?


"Sea Cat was changing his clothes  preparatory to going out. I flopped on his bed to wait for him and a package of prophylactics fell out from under the mattress. In replacing it, I discovered a dozen or more similar packages. I asked Sea Cat if he always used them. He said no, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. "It depends on the girl. If she's nice, friendly and all that, the kind I wouldn't mind helping out, then I don't use them. But if she's not nice, I don't take any chances."  (151)


7.      How does Harry legitimize his genuine love interest in Mary in the eyes of the other streetcorner men?


"By claiming  to  exploit-- or actually  exploiting-- Sally and Irene, Harry is free to declare his liking or love for Mary without seriously compromising his own or others' image of him as the tough and cynical realist." (153)



8.      How do Leroy’s declarations of romantic love in his letters to Charlene more truly reflect the streetcorner man’s attitudes about love?


"...declarations of romantic love are inte­gral parts of a great many of the man-woman relationships, especially when the relationship has been strained, as after a quarrel, or during the early stages of its growth while enthusiasm still runs high."  (154)

Stanton on Bernice: "She's coming over to [live with] me and man, I sure do love that woman! I'm going to treat her right, too. When I give her something, it's hers, and I'll never take it back." (155) 



9.      But what is, more often, the reality of the situation he is in? How is Sea Cat’s relationship with Gloria typical?


"most man-woman relationships fall into  the second mode in which both the exploitative and non-ex­ploitative (e.g., "liking") impulses are operative in the same relationships, as they were, in fact, in Leroy's relationships with Louise and Charlene and in Stanton's relationship with Bernice."  (155) 


Gloria: the widow of a man who left her life insurance and interest in two businesses. She owns two cars, one of them a Bonneville convertible, and a house at the beach.

Yet within months Seacat is seen at the Checkerboard Lounge with another woman, and Stanton has heard that Sea Cat had wrecked Gloria's car while riding with another woman. (158) He pleads with Gloria to take him back and when she does, he slaps her fro reasons he cannot explain. 



10.  Identify Liebow’s thesis in this chapter:





Chapter 6: Friends and Networks (161-208)



1.      Why do friendship relationships assume a much greater value in street corner culture than they do in middle class society?


While middle class adults devote their energies in many arenas, to family, career and the community, the streetcorner man devotes all of his energies to his personal relationships. His neighborhood is not a geographic area but web of personal relationships he develps on the corner. The people with whom the streetcorner man lives his life are so important to him that life is not worth living without them.


2.       How are friendship and kinship blended on the corner?


J.R. and Boley, the relatives of Tonk’s live-in girlfriend Pearl, joined Tonk on the corner. Clarence was Preston’s nephew who found work for both of them at a construction job where they worked with Tally, Wee Tom and Buddey: all fast friends. Tally had met Wee Tom before on another job.


“Through Tally, Wee Tom joined them on the walk home, began to hang around the Carry-out and finally moved into the neighborhood as well. Budder had been the last to join the group at the construction site. He had known  Preston and Clarence  all along, but not well. He first knew Tally as a neighbor. They came to be friends through Tally's visits to the girl who lived with Budder, his common-law wife, and his wife's children. When Tally took Budder onto the job with him, Budder became a co-worker and  drinking  buddy, too.  Thus, in Tally's network, Wee Tom began as co-worker, moved up to drinking buddy, neighbor and finally close friend; Budder from neighbor and friend to co-worker. Importantly, and irrespective of the direction in which the relationships developed, the confluence of the co-worker and especially the neighbor relationship with friendship deepened the friend relationship.” (165)



3.       What is meant when two people in the ghetto describe themselves as ‘going for cousins’ or ‘brothers and sisters’?


"going for brothers": the use of kinship as a model for the friend relationship: "Most of the men and women on the streetcorner are unrelated to one another and only a few have kinsmen in the immediate area. Nevertheless, kinship ties are frequently manufactured to explain, account for, or even to validate friend relationships."  (166)

Sea Cat's room was Arthur's home so far as he had one any­where. It was there that he kept his few clothes and other belongings. Sea Cat and Arthur wore one another's clothes and, whenever possible or practical, were in one another's company. Sea Cat worked regularly; Arthur only sporadi­cally or for long periods not at all. His own credit of little value, Arthur sometimes tried to borrow money from the men on the corner, saying that the lender could look to his "brother" for payment.”


“Once, in his room, Sea Cat complained that a can of hair spray cost him more than $1.00, but that, with Arthur around, a can didn't even last a week. Arthur seemed not to have heard. Slowly, he got up from the bed, took a can of hair spray from the dresser, ostentatiously loosened his belt, pulled his pants away from his waist and with great delibera­tion sprayed his genitals, looking at Sea Cat with an air of blank.innocence all the while. Sea Cat shook his head. "See what I mean?" he said, but he couldn't quite suppress his laughter.”


goin for cousins’ : “When Lucille and her teen-age son were look­ing for a place to live, Stoopy told her of a place in the Carry-out area and Lucille moved in. As neighbors as well as co-workers, Stoopy and Lu­cille's friendship deepened and they "went for cousins.It is a way of saying, "This woman [man] and I are good friends but we are not lovers…. [W]hether  Stanton  and  this woman were in fact brother and sister was less important than the fact  that they "called" them­selves.”



4.      How is this ‘pseudo-kinship’ reflected in the relationship between Leroy and Richard?


“Richard and Leroy had been going for brothers for three months or so when Leroy got in a fight with a group of teenagers and young adults.Leroy suf­fered serious internal injuries and was hospitalized for more than a month. One week after the fight, Richard and one of the teenagers who had beaten up Leroy, and with whom both he and Le­roy had been on friendly terms, got into a fight over a private matter having nothing to do with Leroy, and Richard killed the teenager.”

“When Bernice leaves Stanton, Leroy consoles him telling him of how Charlene is always doing this too, but always coming back. Leroy borrows a bottle of milk for the baby from Richard and Shirley. Sara gives Earl three dollars to get his clothes out of the cleaners. Sea Cat and Stoopy find Sweets knocked uncon­scious on the sidewalk, carry him home and put him to bed. Tonk and Richard go down to the po­lice station to put up five dollars toward Tally's collateral. Clarence returns from his father's fu­neral where Tally and Preston hung onto him throughout, restraining him physically where necessary and comforting him in his shock as best they could. Back at Nancy's place, Clarence nurses his grief in silence and nonparticipation. Tally urges him again and again to "Come on, Baby, show me you're a man," but Clarence shakes his head no. Tally keeps trying. Finally, taking the glass of whiskey offered him, Clarence sloughs off his mourner's status by dancing with Nancy. Tally laughs with pleasure at his own handiwork. "O.K. now?" he asks, and Clarence smiles back that yes, everything's O.K. now.”



5.      Why is developing these relationships an essential survival skill on the corner?


“[F]riends are of special importance to one's sense of physical and emo­tional security.”



6.      How do the corner men tend to romanticize these relationships?


“The pursuit of security and self-esteem push him to romanticize his perception of his friends and friendships. He wants to see acquaintances as friends, and not only as friends but as friends with whom he is "up tight," "walking buddies," "best friends," or even brothers. He prefers to see the movement of money, goods, services and emo­tional support between friends as flowing freely out of loyalty and generosity and according to need rather than as a mutual exchange resting securely on a quid pro quo basis.”


7.      How did this communal relationship wind up at Malvina’s House?


“Leroy said all the roomers in the house didn't pay Malvina any fixed amount of rent. Everybody just gave what they could when they could., but each person or couple purchased their own food and kept it under lock and key in one of the four refrigerators in the kitchen[C]areful mental accounts were kept, not only of rent, but of less formal exchanges as well[F]riendship does not often stand  up well to the stress of  crisis or conflict of interest, when demands tend to be heaviest and most insist­ent.  Everyone knows this



8.      How is the reality of this type of relationship? Why?


“One gains a feeling for the fluidity and proces­sual character of personal relations and their networks by looking at one such network over time. [They are] a "fair weather" phenomenon…”


·        “Richard, did not go to Arthur's fu­neral, and never again mentioned avenging his friend's death, even when the subject of Arthur came up.”

9.      How does this pattern play out in the following relationships?


a.            Tally and Richard’s relationship?

b.      Tally and Emma Lou’s relationship?

c.      Tally and Lonny’s relationship?

d.      Tally and Bess, Earl, and Lucille?



10.  What is Liebow’s thesis in this chapter?