Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Stephen Crane
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Suggested Essay Topics

Writing Help Suggested Essay Topics

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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