Term Paper: Stephen Crane's Novella, Maggie

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[. . .] Maggie seeks to escape from the Bowery and doesn't wish to become as her family. After his father dies, it is in Jimmie we see distaste for the upper class society. He despises it out of jealousy and ignorance. The narrator in the novella states that "He [Jimmie] maintained a belligerent attitude toward all well-dressed men."(14) By chapter four, the reader sees that Jimmie has become cynical and tougher ("he became so sharp that he believed in nothing") (14) unlike Maggie who had blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl. None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins." (p 16)

Jimmie chose to find power in aggression and developed a police record due to his brawling as well as seducing and impregnating two different women. He is now the man of the house, drunken and immoral as his father was and his Mother, in a sense, holds up her end of the bargain by continuing her line of deeper descent into alcoholism. Hence, here is where the hypocrisy begins.

Maggie befriends and falls in love with one of her brother's friends, Pete almost at first sight.

Maggie watched him furtively, with half-closed eyes, lit with a vague interest... His mannerisms stamped him as a man who had a correct sense of his personal superiority. There was valor and contempt for circumstances in the glance of his eye. He waved his hands like a man of the world, who dismisses religion and philosophy, and says

Fudge." He had certainly seen everything and with each curl of his lip, he declared that it amounted to nothing. Maggie thought he must be a very elegant and graceful bartender." (17-18)

Pete also takes notice of Maggie quickly, but with different intentions:

Pete took note of Maggie." Say, Mag,

I'm stuck on yer shape. It's outa sight," he said, parenthetically, with an affable grin.(19)

She latches onto Pete as a symbol of maturity and success who can both appreciate her innocence and incorporate her into his experience. Pete is at first attracted by her purity and her emotional well being considering her upbringing. The reader begins to see the double standards her violent mother obliges to. There comes a night when the badly drunk Mary is refused service at a local bar. Taunted by street children, she staggers back to her tenement, where she makes a loud and belligerent scene in the hallway. Jimmie forces her back into the tenement, where they have a violent encounter. Into the wreckage following this combat walks Pete, who has come to take Maggie on a date. Inflamed by beer and excitement, Mary launches into a diatribe against Maggie: "Yer a disgrace the yer people, damn you," Mary glowers, "Go the hell an' good riddance." (34) Maggie indeed does leave with Pete, and when Mary finds out and assumes she has had premarital sex with Pete, she embarks into a self-pitying, moralizing angry outburst, ("May Gawd curse her forever," she shrieked. "May she eat nothin' but stones and deh dirt in deh street. May she sleep in deh gutter an' never see deh sun shine agin. Deh damn -- ") (38) ironically asking "who would tink such a bad girl could grow up in our family?" (38)

Pete eventually abandons Maggie for Nell, a girl who speaks fluently and dresses accordingly:

woman of brilliance and audacity, accompanied by a mere boy, came into the place and took seats near them.

At once Pete sprang to his feet, his face beaming with glad surprise.

By Gawd, there's Nellie," he cried." (52)

Pete convinces himself that he is not the cause of the disbandment, but that Jimmie and Mary were to blame:

Pete did not consider that he had ruined Maggie.

If he had thought that her soul could never smile again, he would have believed the mother and brother, who were pyrotechnic over the affair, to be responsible for it." (82)

Without Pete to lead her out of Bowery life Maggie is lost and, ironically, becomes alienated even by her own family because of her imagined experiences. When she tries to return home she is rejected by Jimmie and Mary whom both have not redeemed themselves for their horrid actions:

Maggie's mother paced to and fro, addressing the doorful of eyes, expounding like a glib showman at a museum. Her voice rang through the building.

Dere she stands," she cried, wheeling suddenly and pointing with dramatic finger. "Dere she stands!

Lookut her! Ain' she a dindy? An' she was so good as to come home the her mudder, she was! Ain' she a beaut'?

Ain' she a dindy? Fer Gawd's sake!" The jeering cries ended in another burst of shrill laughter. The girl seemed to awaken.

Jimmie -- " He drew hastily back from her. "Well, now, yer hell of a t'ing, ain' yeh?" he said, his lips curling in scorn.

Radiant virtue sat upon his brow and his repelling hands expressed horror of contamination. Maggie turned and went. (71)

Maggie actually becomes "experienced" but not in the sense her family thinks. The trauma which is her actual experience is when she is tossed aside by Pete and her family and forced to wander the streets and in a sense she finally does lose her innocence.

Crane does provide some deliverance. Instead of creating retribution for what Pete had done, Maggie lets fate take over. The old adage "What comes around, goes around" holds true for Pete. During the novel's second to last chapter, the reader finds Pete in a saloon with a half-dozen giggling women; one of them is Nellie, whom Pete deserted Maggie for. Pete is badly drunk, and spends the evening buying drinks for the party and slurring nonsense about his own goodness, in an attempt to fend off pangs of conscience. Before collapsing, Pete gives Nellie money, and declares pathetically that he is "stuck on" her. When he loses consciousness, she leaves him, saying, "What a damn fool."

Crane also does not provide the reader with details of Maggie's death but suggests the circumstances around it. In the last chapter of the novella the reader observes a young prostitute walking through the city where she meets a sordid man that embodies the immorality and violence of the lower city. The sounds and lights of the city fade behind them; "at their feet the river appeared a deathly black hue." (92) This line could be inferred that Maggie is murdered by this man, since the next time we hear of her, she is dead. However, because the cause of Maggie's death is never shown, the reader can just as easily deduce that Maggie, disgusted with her life, commits suicide. Her death is masked in vagueness and the novel ultimately suggests that Maggie's early and tragic death was an inevitable consequence of her life and her optimism.

Works Cited

Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. New York: Bantam Classics Reissue edition, 1988.

Gould, E.R.L. "The Housing Problem in Great Cities" New York: August 1899-1900: 378- 393.


Eric. Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Power in a Gilded Age. Connecticut:

Yale University Press, 2002.

Houle, Michelle M. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Flames of Labor Reform (American Disasters). New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Howes, Kelly. Characters in 19th-century Literature. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Otfinos, Steven. Nineteenth-Century Writers. New York: Facts on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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