Last updated on 12.07.2020
The following essay is representing my thoughts on some of the major themes and motifs that we can find in the book “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” by Stephen Crane. There are motifs and themes about poverty, alcohol, violence, religion, hypocrisy, society and social class, dreams, hopes, etc.
I will try to cover some of them by analyzing them in-depth and by trying to make depict in words was represented in the book in that specific days. Before I get to debate the topics mentioned above, I would like to share with you some details about the author and to make a brief summary of the plot.
About Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane had a short life, he was born on 1 November 1871 and he died at 5 June, 1900, he was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Although he didn’t live that much “, he had notable works in the Realist tradition area and he was recognized by modern critics as an innovative writer of his generation, maybe one of the most innovative.
His novella, “Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets” was published in 1893 and throughout the book, we find out the story of a young girl called Maggie, who is facing difficulties and is driven to unfortunate circumstances due to poverty, solitude, external violence and other factors.
Vivid images that are presented in the novel
The novella is depicting a dark world, where violence, poverty and alcoholism are part of a daily routine and at the end of the story, we see that no one can escape it. The source of inspiration for Stephen Crane was actually his own experience due to living in the Bowery slum of New York and he witnessed what poverty means and what can do to people.
Violence is one of the most important themes in the story, basically, the story is maintained and built upon the violence between the characters. The book opens with a fight, where Maggie’s brother, Jimmie is fighting another teenager from another neighborhood. The reader is introduced into the universe of the book by a fight, thing which will only sustain the main idea of “story built upon the violence between characters”.
The story starts violent and also ends in the same way, perhaps the ending is more brutal, violence is everywhere and it comes in all shapes and sizes, it looks like an inevitable part of life that involves all characters, including the innocent ones.
Talking about the ending being more brutal, the main character, Maggie is found dead and there is no clue of how did she really die or who killed her, we only know that her dead body was found by Jimmie on the streets, she probably commited suicide or was murdered. She was in the streets because she ended up being a prostitute after breaking up with Pete and being accused by her mother for being a prostutite even though at that time she wasn’t.
In that period of time when Stephen Crane wrote the book prostitution was seen as something really bad, it was considered the work of the devil and for a women to be in such a position it wasn’t legit at all.
“The oldest profession”
But before Maggie became a prostitute, she has been through a lot, she was innocent and she was trying to overcome her social status and not fall under the same habits that her family had. She found Pete, she felt in love with him but Jimmie disagreed. Jimmie thought that Pete was taking advantage of his sister and then they got into a fight. Jimmie’s behavior at that point is hypocritical since he himself has two illegitimate children with two different women.
Maggie was full of hope but the story is teaching us that if you live in such a dark world, you can’t rise and you can’t overcome your status. You either get compromised by it or you either die. Jimmie’s violent behavior was the result of how he was treated by his father and his mother who was nothing but a drunkard who didn’t had any affection over him or any of her children. His parents were like a role model but both had an incredibly violent and abusive relationship and this is why Jimmie settles down all his problems through violence.
Cruelty in the story
Such a violent behavior in Stephen Crane story can mean also that whoever owns such a behavior, can have power and can be dominant. Besides violence, poverty and alcoholism are inescapable in the story as well and they go hand in hand, assuring that Maggie’s family will never rise above their station in life. Besides taking its’ father authority and violent behavior, Jimmie also takes his addiction and habit to alcohol and there’s no other option since his role model was the father itself.
Hypocrisy takes places in the novel as well, Maggie is facing hypocritical judgments by her family because she has different standards for her than they do for themselves. Furthermore, she is being accused that she was driven by her mother into the arms of Pete. Obviously, Maggie tried to overcome her social class and to tear apart from the habits that her family had.
From the chapter IV, we can see that the story focuses on Maggie, while she is being described as a sweet girl and who did not follow her family habits, she was banished from her home by her mother and called her “the devil” under the assumption that Maggie is a prostitute. Another event of hypocrisy is when Jimmy started fighting with Pete, saying that he is “ruining his sister”, which is a little hypocritical since he himself has two illegitimate children with two different women.
Despite being considered a prostitute by everyone at the time Maggie she wasn’t one, after few months she became one and started to walk upon the streets, and eventually she was found dead by her brother Jimmie and her death has no explanation. When Jimmie brings up the news, there is the only scene when Maggie’s mother breaks emotionally, shows emotion and forties, Maggie, for her “sinful ways”.
This scene also is facing Maggie’s mother griefing loudly at the death of Maggie, yet after causing Maggie a lot of pain and damage, being the drunkard and brutal mother. At the same scene, Mary is holding her baby shoes sentimentally, contradicting her aggression towards Maggie while alive.