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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Stephen Crane

Chapters 10-13

Chapters 4-9

Chapters 14-19

Summary

The night after Mary tells Maggie to "go teh hell," Jimmie hears that the old woman saw Maggie crying and asking Pete if he loved her. Perhaps because he has been a party to this kind of scene before, Jimmie recognizes what it means: going home, he tells Mary that "Maggie's gone teh deh devil," the novel's euphemism for premarital sex. Mary immediately launches into a self-pitying, moralizing rant, asking, in a moment of supreme irony, "who would tink such a bad girl could grow up in our fambly?" Jimmie, for his part, resolves to "wipe up deh street" with Pete.

Accordingly, Jimmie and his friend Billie find Pete at the bar where he works as bartender. After provocative posturing, the three get into a fistfight--fiercely and lyrically depicted--that wrecks the bar and results in the arrests of Pete and Billie; Jimmie abandons his friend and escapes.

There is, presumably, a short passage of time. We are shown Jimmie and Maggie in a fairly disreputable bar--"a hall of irregular shape." After leaving her family, Maggie has become utterly dependent on Pete, who has assumed the character of a hero and a savior in her eyes: "wealth and prosperity was in his clothes. She imagined a future rose-tinted, because of its distance from all that she previously experienced." She does not consider herself disgraced: "she did not feel like a bad woman. To her knowledge she had never seen any better."

In another scene, which we imagine to follow chronologically, at a distance of some unspecified "number of days," Jimmie returns home to find his mother "raving" about what she sees as the utterly unwarranted and unpredictable disgrace visited upon the family by Maggie's actions. Jimmie has faint rumblings of introspection and sympathy--"he wondered if some of the women of his acquaintance had brothers"--but he quickly suppresses his sympathies, and, like his mother, continues to damn his sister publicly.

Maggie and Pete are seated in the lowest in their chain of progressively degraded drinking halls. It is three weeks after Maggie has left home, and she has become utterly dependent on her seducer. But Pete, in turn, is seduced; in the bar, he sees an old acquaintance--and, presumably, paramour--Nellie, who is on a date with a "mere boy." Nellie flirts with Pete and eventually gets him to leave with her. Maggie, shocked at Pete's sudden abandonment, sits stunned, and eventually makes her way home to her family's tenement.

Commentary

The dramatic fulcrum of the novel is an event that never appears in the narrative. The actual scene of Maggie's final seduction is shrouded in the silence between chapters, between the moment when she is told to go to hell at the end of Chapter 9, and Jimmie's declaration, in Chapter 10, that "Maggie's gone teh deh devil." The omission of what one might suppose to be the novel's crucial scene seems somehow appropriate; Maggie's seduction is only the immediate cause, not the ultimate cause, of her death, and it is only an inevitable step in the tragedy that is her life. Indeed, Maggie herself sometimes seems ancillary to this novel. Relatively little of the novel is given over to a discussion of Maggie's thoughts and actions. She is acted upon, but we never see her definitively acting, nor do we have an in-depth psychological portrait of Maggie, as we do of Jimmie. As in the novel's title, Maggie is merely "a girl of the streets," hardly special and unique. She grows out of a set of social conditions, unavoidable consequences of poverty and degradation, and what is left for her is only to choose her own damnation--whether through the "disgrace" of deflowering and prostitution, or the longer, slower decline into damnation that Mary and Jimmie choose. By the end of the novel, in Chapter 17, the character that we take to be Maggie is nameless, "a girl of the painted cohorts of the city."

The novel's omission of the scene that connects Chapters 9 and 10--Maggie's seduction--is typical also of the impressionistic style Crane uses. Maggie is less a developed linear narrative than a number of brief scenes set in chronological order. The timeline of the novel is not particularly well-developed--indeed, we do not know the exact ages of the protagonists, or even who is older, Maggie or Jimmie--and the novel flits between different protagonists. In this section, it tells the story alternately of Jimmie and his mother; Jimmie's fight with Pete; Pete and Maggie in a bar; and a second encounter between Mary and Jimmie. The scenes stand alone, like black-and-white photographs arranged in order, each telling their own story but remaining distinct and isolated. As the novel progresses, the jump-cutting between scenes accelerates, and the characters begin to lose the individuality imparted to them by the narrative of their distinct lives; like Maggie's figure at the novel's end, they are merely urban types, captured for a moment by the novel's lens and then vanishing.

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