Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane explores a theme of naturalism in American literature. Crane uses the third person narrative to tell a story of Johnson family during the startup of industrialization at the end of 19th century. Protagonist Maggy is a small ragged girl, who lives in a grim tenement with her parents, her younger brother Jimmy and a toddler Tommy. She usually looks after Tommy before he dies. “The building quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels” (Crane II). She is usually quiet and vulnerable: “Her features were haggard from weeping, and her eyes gleamed from fear” (Crane III). Her brother Little Jimmy always engages in rivals with the neighboring children from Devil’s Row vicinity. He matures at an early age, despises all Christians, fights and assaults, becomes arrested and believes in nothing. The world for him is full of “despicable creatures who were all trying to take advantage of him” (Crane IV). Nevertheless, he loves and protects his dear sister. Jimmy becomes a truck driver with a respect for a fire engine. Maggie’s father, “a man with sullen eyes” (Crane I), is an ignorant drunkard who takes up random jobs and returns home at nights. Her brutal and chaotic mother spends most of her time in a heavy mist of alcohol, wailing and cursing her unfortunate destiny and children. “When I come nights I can’t git no rest ‘cause yer allus poundin’ a kid” (Crane II). When father dies, Jimmie becomes head of the family.
Main theme throughout the story is Maggy’s attempt to overcome the poverty and misery that strangled her. Eventually, she flees her home and goes to live in the city. By growing up a pretty girl, “none of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins” (Crane V). Maggie leaves her job in a factory to run away of “an exasperating future” (Crane VIII). But the world around her is more selfish and dominated by consumerism than she ever expected. So, Maggie has an air of tragedy around her, because of her inability to escape her fortune that is “composed of hardships and insults” (Crane VI). When Jimmie’s older friend Pete appears, he easily seduces the innocent girl with his tales and the apparent superiority and mannerisms. For her “under the trees of her dream-gardens there had always walked a lover” (Crane V). First, he seemed to Maggie all gracious and attentive. She imagined the city and metropolitan life full of “golden glitter” (Crane VI). Maggie got fascinated by its high-class, theaters, music, and alcohol. However, theatre made her think, whether a girl of low origins like she could acquire all this. Later, however, Pete ruined and left her. Only Jimmy understood that Maggie was different from the rest of tenement. Yet, scorned by her mother, “Yer a disgrace the yer popele” (Crane IX), Maggie could not find her way back to the family. Still believing in the Grace of God, she sought a good-will around her, but no one risked to save a soul. Abandoned and alone, she ends up as a prostitute, crossing avenues and throwing glances and invitations at old, young, laboring and drunken men. Finally, she retreats further into the blackness of gloomy districts and the life dies away with her.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Project Gutenberg, 1996. EBook.