Tally’s Corner (1967)
Elliott Liebow


Write a paragraph about Chapter Two: "Men and Jobs”:

Main Idea: Why is getting and keeping a job a low priority on the corner scale of real values? What conclusion is Liebow leading us towards? Is his evidence convincing?

Study Guide 3,4

Chapter III Fathers Without Children (71-102)

Ghetto Related Behavior: the dead-beat dad

Main Idea: How can we inform our judgment of "deadbeat dads" by considering the influence of environment and culture?

  1. Describe the spectrum of father/child relationships that Liebow discovered in his study of this neighborhood. (Give examples.)

Low End: Casual, Short Term or No Contact

Acknowledgement of Paternity but no subsequent contact

Separation with Contact: TYPICAL

Daily Contact: legitimate two parent family

 Father does not know child

 Richard: "child back home"

emergency financial help... infrequent visits: Sea Cat, Tonk and Tally

 Day to day support; continuous contact

2.   What is the typical father-child relationship like for streetcorner men? 

  • "The model father-child relationship  for  these  streetcorner men seems to be one in which the father is sepa­rated from the child, acknowledges his paternity, admits to financial responsibility but provides financial support irregularly, if at all, and  then only on demand or request. His contacts with the child are infrequent, irregular, and of short (min­utes or hours) duration"  (77)
  1. Explain this paradox: why do separated fathers in this neighborhood express more affection for their children than those fathers who actually live with their biological children? 
  • "The men who do not live with their own children seem to express more affection for their children and treat them more tenderly than those who do live with them. Moreover, the men are frequently more affectionate toward other men's children than toward their own." (77)
  1. Why do adoptive fathers in this neighborhood express more affection for the children in their care than the biological fathers express for their own children? 
  • "... one of the most striking things about the relationship between the street­ corner men and children is that the closest of all relationships are those where the men do live with the children, where they have accepted day-to-day responsibility for the children, but where they have done so on a voluntary basis, that is, where the children are not their own." (83)
  1. Have you agreed with Liebow’s thesis in this chapter? How has he asked us to reassess our moral judgment of ‘dead-beat dads’ by considering the influence of environment and culture?
  • "... differences in father­ child relationships do not depend so much on whether the man is in continuous as against in­termittent or occasional contact with the child but on whether the man voluntarily assumes the role of father or has it thrust upon him."  (85)
  1. When the child lives with his or her mother, how well does the father get along with the child?
  • "... for separated fathers, who are in the majority on the streetcorner, it seems as if their relationships with their children depend to a striking degree on the father's relationships with the adult who is taking care of the child. Thus...  fathers ... whose children are living with the father's mother or other members of his family seem to be closer to their children than those  whose children are living with the mother or members of her family
  1. When forced into a role as provider, how do fathers start to regard their children?
  • "Fathers and non-fathers alike also see children as liabilities. The principal liability is the financial one. On the one hand, everyone agrees that a man ought to support his children; on the other hand, money is chronically in short supply. To the men, including those who do not, in fact, contribute to their children's support, children are real, imag­ined, or pretended economic liabilities. Having to buy food, shoes, clothes or medicine for a child, or having to make a support payment, serve equally well as reason or excuse for asking to borrow money or refusing to lend any. Everywhere one turns, the consensus is that "Children, they’ll snatch a lot of biscuits off the table [children are expensive]." (91) So and so had a baby? [Same answer] So and so is shacking up with a woman with three kids? [Same answer]
  1. What is the attitude that fathers wind up taking towards discipline?
  • "Men see physical punishment as a necessary and proper part of child rearing. 'A child, he needs it hard else he ain't going to learn' or 'It's important [to hit children] to help them know right from wrong'.  These are sentiments that all men subscribe to. But everyone agrees, too, that punishment ought to be meted out at the appro­priate time. "You can't let them keep on doing bad things and then whip them for things they did a long time ago. You got to whip them when they done it, so they'll know what it's for." Society is seen as positively sanctioning physical punish­ment by specifying the way in which it is to be meted out. “You can hurt a child  hitting  him with a stick or in the eyes or his head... you're supposed to hit him on his thighs or something like that." (96)
  • However, violence is also used as a tool of control: "Women are especially resentful of men's in­strumental use of children, their use of children as tools for punishment or control in the man­-woman relationship." (95)
  1. How did these men get along with their own fathers
  • "Just as Tally, or Stoopy, or any of the others do now, their own fathers prob­ably  spoke warmly  of  their  children  to  their friends, admitted that they should be doing more for their children, and considered that, under the circumstances, they were 'doing what I can.'  But from the child's point of  view-- and he sees even more from the vantage point of adulthood-- the father is the man who ran out on his mother, his brothers and sisters and himself, who had, perhaps, to be taken to court to force him to pay a few dollars toward the support of his wife and children; and who, even when he was home, is perhaps best remembered with a switch or belt in his hand." (98)
  1. Consider whether Liebow’s anecdotes provide convincing evidence to support his arguments? How would his ideological opponents counter his claims?
  2. What would the following people say?






Paragraph: How can we inform our judgment of "deadbeat dads" by considering the influence of environment and culture?


Chapter IV Husbands and Wives (103-135)

 Main Idea: What impact does economic insecurity have on the relationships between man and woman in the corner culture?

  1. How do streetcorner men distinguish between marriage and consensual unions? 
  • "Men and women are careful to distinguish between marriage on the one hand and "common law," "shacking up," 'living with" and other consensual unions on the other. There is, of course,
    a large overlap. The rights and duties which at­tach to consensual unions are patterned after those which attach to marriage and, in practice, some consensual unions are publicly indistin­guishable from marriage. There are two principal differences. First, the rights and duties of con­sensual unions generally have less public force behind them. The result is that an act which vio­lates both the marital and consensual union in­vokes a stronger sanction in the case of marriage. A second difference is that, in consensual unions, rights and duties are less clearly defined, especially at the edges. The result is that while every­ one would agree that a given act stands in viola­tion of the marital relationship, there could be--  and frequently is-- widespread disagreement as to whether the same act stands in violation of a consensual union."  (103)

  1. How do streetcorner men value marriage?
  • "...marriage, as compared with consensual union, is clearly the superior, relationship. Marriage has higher status than consensual union and greater respectability. Not only are its rights and duties better defined and supported with greater public force but only through marriage can  a man and woman lay legitimate claim to being husband and wife."  (107)
  1. Why, then, does the fiction of coercion exercise such a powerful influence in corner culture?
  • "Thus, the presumption of coercion in marriage is, in part at least, a public fiction. Beneath the pose of the put-upon male, and obscured by it, is a generalized readiness to get married, a readiness based principally on the recognition of marriage as a rite through which one passes into man's estate. For the young, never-married male, to get married is to become a man."  (113)
  1. How does Liebow account for the discrepancy between public complaints about coercion and private desires to get married?
  • "The discrepancy between the private readiness to marry and the public presumption of coercion points up the discrepancy between what marriage is supposed to be and what it is, in fact. In theory, marriage is "a big thing''; it is the way to manhood with all its attendant responsibilities, duties, and obligations which, when discharged, bring one status and respectability. In fact, marriage is an occasion of failure in the critical area of manhood, and therefore leads to a diminished status and loss of respectability."  (114)
  1. How do streetcorner men compensate psychologically for their failures at marriage? 
  • The Theory of Manly Flaws: "As the men look back on their broken marriages, they tend to ex­plain the failure in terms of their personal in­ ability or unwillingness to adjust to the built-in demands of the marriage relationship... "  (116)  "One of the most widespread and strongly supported views the men have of them­selves and others is that men are, by nature, not monogamous; that no man can be satisfied with only one woman at a time.10 This view holds that, quite apart from his desire to exploit women, the man seeks them out because it is his nature to do so. This "nature" that shapes his sex life, how­ ever, is not human nature but rather an animal­ity which the human overlay cannot quite cover, The man who has a wife or other woman con­tinues to seek out others because he has too much "dog" in him."  (120)
  1. What, according to Liebow, is the primary reason for the failure of marriage among streetcorner men?
  • "As the men look back on their broken marriages, they tend to ex­plain the failure in terms of their personal in­ ability or unwillingness to adjust to the built-in demands of the marriage relationship." (117) In gen­eral, those who do  not blame themselves for the failure of their marriage blame their wives, rather than family, friends, marriage itself , or the world at large. (126)
  1. What value do the men associate with caring for their families? 
  • "By itself, the plain fact  of  supporting  one's wife and children defines the principal obligation of a husband. But the expressive value carried by the providing of this support elevates the husband to manliness. He who provides for his wife and children has gone a long way toward meeting his obligations to his family as he sees them."
  1. What do the women expect of their men? 
  • "...the wife-- who seldom gets even this much-- wants more, much more. She wants him to be a man in her terms,  a husband  and father  according to her lights. It is not enough that he simply give money for her and the children's support, then step away until the next time he shares his pay day with them. She wants him to join them as a full-time member of the family, to participate in their affairs, to take an active interest in her and the children, in their activities, in their development as individuals. She wants his ultimate loyalty to be to her and the children, and she wants this loyalty to be public knowledge. She wants the family to present a united front to the outside world.


    Most important of all, perhaps, she wants him to be head of the family, not only to take an in­terest and demonstrate concern but to take re­sponsibility and to make decisions.  She wants him to take charge, to "wear the pants," to lay down the rules of their day-to-day life and enforce them. She wants him to take over, to be someone she can lean on. Alas, she ends up standing alone or, even worse perhaps, having to hold him up as well." (131)

  1. Does Liebow support his arguments with convincing anecdotes?
  2. What would the following people say:






Paragraph: What impact does economic insecurity have on the relationships between man and woman in the corner culture?