The novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane, takes place in the slums of New York City during the 1890’s.
It is about a girl, Maggie Johnson, who is forced to grow up in a tenement house. She had a brother, Jimmie, an abusive mother, Mary, and a father who died when Maggie was young. When Maggie grew up, she met her boyfriend, Pete. In Maggie’s eyes, Pete was a sophisticated young man who impressed Maggie because he treated her better than she had been treated to all of her life. Once Maggie’s mother and brother found out that Maggie was sleeping with this man, Mary threw Maggie out into the streets, condemning her to a life of evil.
Eventually, Pete decided he no longer wished to see Maggie. Therefore, Maggie had no other place to go. She was driven into prostitution and eventually suicide. The theme of this novel is that the environment in which one lives in will affect the way in which the person will become when they are older. This is proven by the characterization of Jimmie and Mary, the setting of this novel, and the characterization of Maggie Johnson.
Jimmie Johnson went after whatever he wanted. The only thing that would stand in his way was a person of greater power. He often dreamed of wealth and fortune. ‘When he had a dollar in his pocket his satisfaction was with existence was the greatest thing in the world.’; Also, there were two different women in different parts of the city who had had children by him. Jimmie did not care about those children.
However, when Jimmie found out that Maggie had been sleeping with Pete, he denounced his sister’s actions. But when Jimmie slept with various women, this seemed permissible in his mind. He suffered from a sense of self-delusion that he was unshaken against a world that was constantly trying to take advantage of. ‘To him;#8230;the rest of the world was composed, for the most part, of despicable creatures who were all taking to take advantage of him;#8230;’; Mary Johnson also suffered from a sense of self-delusion. She believed that she was a good mother and an honorable member of society.
However, this act was interrupted by her numerous brawls and drunken rages. There is also evidence that suggests that Mary too was a prostitute because of a mention of a thirty day cycle. ‘;#8230;and his mother’s years were divided up into periods of thirty days.’; In spite of all of her sinful actions, Mary still immediately condemned her daughter for her actions. Yet, Mary did not see anything wrong with her own actions. The most powerful construction device used throughout the novel is the setting.
The tenement houses in the 1890s were crowded, lacking in good sanitation, and filled with disease. Also, the people who lived in the tenement houses would often fight with each other. The houses were most often located in an alley with other dangerous sorts of people. The tenement house that the Johnson family inhabited was located in Rum Alley.
Crane went into great detail in describing the tenement houses. ‘Eventually they entered a dark region where, from a careening building, a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter. …In all the unhandy places there were buckets, brooms, rags, and bottles. …The building quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels.’; The people who inhabited these types of houses were relatively uneducated, which is shown through the dialect which the author used. ‘Den d’ mug he squared off an’ he said he was fine as silk wid his dukes-see? An’ he wanned a drink-quick. Dat’s what he said.
See?’; The Johnson family is no acceptation to this. Both the parents were drunkards and frequently in fights. Therefore, this would be a terrible environment for a child to grow up in. With parents who do not accept responsibility and a brother who is more concerned with getting what he wants than his home life, one would often suspect that the other child in this household would not grow up to be a normal and well-adjusted.
The character of Maggie Johnson is a girl who is determined but has no control over what she is or what she does because of her environment. ‘The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl.’; This shows the surprise of every neighbor in Rum Alley because many of the girls who grew up in the tenement houses turned out to be homely. She was also given to silly illusions. She wished to become wealthier and higher in status than a girl from the tenement houses. ‘The theatre made her think.
She wondered if the culture and refinement she had seen imitated, perhaps grotesquely, by the heroine on the stage, could be acquired by a girl who lived in a tenement house and worked in a shirt factory.’; She also believed that Pete, a man who was older and wiser than her, was her one true love. ‘Maggie perceived that here was the ideal man. Her dim thoughts were often searching for far away lands where the little hills sing together in the morning. Under the trees of her dream-gardens there had always walked a lover.’; Therefore, she was subject to self-delusion, as her mother and brother were.
Maggie also seemed to find herself in a world that was hostile to her ideals. She strived to close the breach between the harsh realities and her impossible illusions. She eventually found herself in such a mess that the only choice left for Maggie was to commit suicide. This is not only a story about how the streets corrupted a young girl, but the theme can be applied to mankind. The theme is that man’s future is decided through his heredity and environment and is utterly hopeless to change those things and is powerless to the contribution to the development of his own character. But this story was not just about that.
If you look at Maggie’s dreams and hopes, you will find she is nothing more than a little girl with the same ambitions of any other girl. If she had been anyone else’s child, and grown up somewhere else, she could have had a chance to achieve anything she wanted, perhaps even wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. She just grew up with the wrong family, in the wrong place.