Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

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Cover of the first trade edition of Maggie

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is an 1893 novella by American author Stephen Crane (1871–1900). The story centers on Maggie, a young girl from the Bowery who is driven to unfortunate circumstances by poverty and solitude. The work was considered risqué by publishers because of its literary realism and strong themes. Crane – who was 22 years old at the time – financed the book's publication himself, although the original 1893 edition was printed under the pseudonym Johnston Smith. After the success of 1895's The Red Badge of Courage, Maggie was reissued in 1896 with considerable changes and re-writing. The story is followed by George's Mother.

Plot summary[edit]

The story opens with Jimmie, at this point a young boy, trying by himself to fight a gang of boys from an opposing neighborhood. He is saved by his friend, Pete, and comes home to his sister Maggie, his toddling brother Tommie, his brutal and drunken father and mother, Mary Johnson. The parents terrify the children until they are shuddering in the corner.

Years pass, the father and Tommie die, and Jimmie hardens into a sneering, aggressive, cynical youth. He gets a job as a teamster, having no regard for anyone but firetrucks who would run him down. Maggie begins to work in a shirt factory, but her attempts to improve her life are undermined by her mother's drunken rages. Maggie begins to date Jimmie's friend Pete, who has a job as a bartender and seems a very fine fellow, convinced that he will help her escape the life she leads. He takes her to the theater and the museum. One night Jimmie and Mary accuse Maggie of "Goin to deh devil", essentially kicking her out of the tenement, throwing her lot in with Pete. Jimmie goes to Pete's bar and picks a fight with him (even though he himself has ruined other boys' sisters). As the neighbors continue to talk about Maggie, Jimmie and Mary decide to join them in badmouthing her instead of defending her.

Later, Nellie, a "woman of brilliance and audacity" convinces Pete to leave Maggie, whom she calls "a little pale thing with no spirit." Thus abandoned, Maggie tries to return home but is rejected by her mother and scorned by the entire tenement. In a later scene, a prostitute, implied to be Maggie, wanders the streets, moving into progressively worse neighborhoods until, reaching the river, she is followed by a grotesque and shabby man. The next scene shows Pete drinking in a saloon with six fashionable women "of brilliance and audacity." He passes out, whereupon one, possibly Nellie, takes his money. In the final chapter, Jimmie tells his mother that Maggie is dead. The mother exclaims, ironically, as the neighbors comfort her, "I'll forgive her!"

Historical context[edit]

Maggie was published during the time of industrialization.[1] The United States, a country shaped by agriculture in 19th century, became an industrialized nation in the late 1800s. Moreover, "an unprecedented influx of immigrants contributed to a boom in population," created bigger cities and a new consumer society. By these developments, progress was linked with poverty, illustrating that the majority of the US population was skeptical about the dependency on the fluctuation of global economy.[2]

Naturalism[edit]

Maggie is "regarded as the first work of unalloyed naturalism in American fiction."[3] According to the naturalistic principles, a character is set into a world where there is no escape from one's biological heredity. Additionally, the circumstances in which a person finds oneself will dominate one's behavior, depriving the individual of responsibility.[4] Although Stephen Crane denied any influence by Émile Zola,[5] the creator of Naturalism, on his work, examples in his texts indicate that this American author was inspired by French naturalism.

Main characters[edit]

  • Jimmie Johnson: A eldest brother of Maggie and Tommie's brother, who first appears in the beginning scene fighting a gang war of some sort with the Rum Alley Children. Serves as a foil to Maggie.
  • Pete: A teenager, in the beginning, who is an acquaintance of Jimmie, and saves Jimmie in the fight. Later, he seduces Maggie and breaks her of her romantic viewpoints.
  • Father: The brutal, drunkard father of Jimmie, Maggie, and Tommie.
  • Maggie Johnson: The Johnson's middle child, protagonist of the story, apparently immune to the after-effects of the negative family. She is seduced by Pete and is seen as effectively ruined. She is implied to have become a prostitute at the end of the novel and dies an early death.
  • Tommie Johnson: The youngest Johnson child who dies an early death.
  • Mary Johnson: The drunkard and brutal mother who drives Maggie out of the house.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Holton, Milne. Cylinder of Fiction. – The Fiction and Journalistic Writing of Stephen Crane. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1972. 37.
  2. ^ Holton, 54
  3. ^ Holton, 37
  4. ^ Columbia Literary History of the United States. Ed. Emorz Elliott. New York: Columbia UP, 1988. 525–45.
  5. ^ Holton 52

External links[edit]