Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
What role does religion play in this novella? How do the various characters use religious language and approach religious themes? How does the narrator seem to feel about organized religion? Be sensitive to analogies, similes, or metaphors using religious vehicles (for example, "shrieking like a monk in an earthquake"), and to everyday language that employs clichés with religious origins.
Obviously, the characters in this novel speak in the dialect of lower Manhattan, and Crane makes an attempt to preserve this dialect. Think about the use of dialect in the novel: How does it make the reader feel about the characters? How is it intended to make the reader feel? Think especially about the relationship between how the characters sound and what they are saying.
Maggie may be the title character of this novel, but it is certainly arguable that the real subject of the novel is the city of New York, and more specifically the Bowery neighborhood. How does the narrator treat New York and the Bowery? What do you think the attitude of the narrator is towards the Bowery? You should make reference to the novel's several extended descriptions of the neighborhood, bearing in mind, in most cases, that these are far longer than the novel's descriptions of actual people.
There are many grim moments in this novel. Overall, it must be acknowledged that the novel tells the story of a tragedy, but the tone of the novel is not always as dark as the subject matter. Indeed, some might argue that much of this novel works well as farce--it is often funny. What types of humor are used here? How does the humor alter the narrator's relationship to the story? How does it impact the narrator's judgment of the characters?
On occasion, Pete takes Maggie to see sentimental plays which feature: "wanderers swooning in snow storms beneath happy-hued church windows. And a choir within singing 'Joy to the World.'" Maggie loves these plays--"to Maggie and the rest of the audience this was transcendental realism. Joy always within, and they, like the actor, inevitably without. Viewing it, they hugged themselves in ecstatic pity of their imagined or real condition" (Chapter 8). What does this passage reveal about Maggie's conception of herself? What does it reveal about the narrator's attitude toward contemporary drama?
Crane's novella Maggie: A Girl of the Street raises important questions about the capacity of people to be responsible for their own deeds. Is Maggie to blame for her descent into prostitution? Is Jimmie to blame for his violence, brutishness, and casual cruelty? Or must we point the finger at the social forces and diseases that brought them to the brink of degradation (poverty, coercive capitalism, lack of education, alcoholism)? How does this book steer a path between the two extremes of absolute personal responsibility and entirely contingent morality? Or does it avoid choosing a compromise position, and instead throw itself behind the position that social circumstance, not personal choice, is to blame for Maggie's tragedy?
Color plays a crucial role in setting the symbolic and emotional overtones in Maggie. Most obviously, there are the repeated references to varying shades of red when describing Mary; it seems that her face is always "crimson" or "fervent red. . . turned almost to purple." What are the symbolic functions of the color red in this novel? Are there any other colors that Crane uses to symbolic or emotional effect? How? Where?
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