Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1892) Part One, Chapters 1-10

Lecture One:

  • Freud, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and the zeitgeist of late 19th.c America
  • Hard Determinism vs. Soft Determinism 
  • Describe the situation of children who grow up in the Rum Alley ghetto.
  • What can you predict will be the plot of the story? 
  • Pay attention to Crane's style: what is his perspective of his characters?
    • pitched fisticuffs:
      • "Run, Jimmie, run! Dey'll get yehs," screamed a retreating
        Rum Alley child.
        "Naw," responded Jimmie with a valiant roar, "dese micks can't
        make me run."
        Howls of renewed wrath went up from Devil's Row throats.
        Tattered gamins on the right made a furious assault on the gravel
        heap. On their small, convulsed faces there shone the grins of
        true assassins. As they charged, they threw stones and cursed in
        shrill chorus. (Chapter 1)
    • tenement universe
      • From a window of an apartment house that upreared its form
        from amid squat, ignorant stables, there leaned a curious woman.
        Some laborers, unloading a scow at a dock at the river, paused for
        a moment and regarded the fight. The engineer of a passive tugboat
        hung lazily to a railing and watched. Over on the Island, a worm
        of yellow convicts came from the shadow of a building and crawled
        slowly along the river's bank. (Chapter One)
    • convulsed tenements
      • Eventually they entered into a dark region where, from a
        careening building, a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of
        babies to the street and the gutter. A wind of early autumn raised
        yellow dust from cobbles and swirled it against an hundred windows.
        Long streamers of garments fluttered from fire-escapes. In all
        unhandy places there were buckets, brooms, rags and bottles. In
        the street infants played or fought with other infants or sat
        stupidly in the way of vehicles. Formidable women, with uncombed
        hair and disordered dress, gossiped while leaning on railings, or
        screamed in frantic quarrels. Withered persons, in curious
        postures of submission to something, sat smoking pipes in obscure
        corners. A thousand odors of cooking food came forth to the
        street. The building quivered and creaked from the weight of
        humanity stamping about in its bowels.
    • Maggie eating her dinner
      • …the babe sat with his feet dangling high from a precarious infant chair
        and gorged his small stomach. Jimmie forced, with feverish rapidity,
        the grease-enveloped pieces between his wounded lips.
         Maggie, with side
        glances of fear of interruption, ate like a small pursued tigress.
        The mother
        sat blinking at them. She delivered reproaches, swallowed potatoes and
        drank from a yellow-brown bottle. (Chapter Two)
    • the pail of beer 
      • In front of the gruesome doorway he met a lurching figure.
        It was his father, swaying about on uncertain legs.
        "Give me deh can. See?" said the man, threateningly.
        "Ah, come off! I got dis can fer dat ol' woman an' it 'ud be
        dirt teh swipe it. See?" cried Jimmie.
        The father wrenched the pail from the urchin. He grasped it
        in both hands and lifted it to his mouth. He glued his lips to the
        under edge and tilted his head. His hairy throat swelled until it
        seemed to grow near his chin. There was a tremendous gulping
        movement and the beer was gone.
        The man caught his breath and laughed. He hit his son on the
        head with the empty pail. As it rolled clanging into the street,
        Jimmie began to scream and kicked repeatedly at his father's shins.
        (Chapter 3)
    • Crane’s conclusion
      • The small frame of the ragged girl was quivering. Her features
        were haggard from weeping, and her eyes gleamed from fear.
        She grasped the urchin's arm in her little trembling hands and they
        huddled in a corner. The eyes of both were drawn, by some force,
        to stare at the woman's face, for they thought she need only to
        awake and all fiends would come from below.
        They crouched until the ghost-mists of dawn appeared at the
        window, drawing close to the panes, and looking in at the
        prostrate, heaving body of the mother. (Chapter 3)

  • What are we to make of Crane’s brutal ridicule of the poor? Is his stereotyping justifiable? What does he find most contemptible about Jimmie, Pete and Maggie? Could he be as savage in his depiction of the impoverished today? (Imagine Pete as a black man or as a Hispanic?)
  • Can you pinpoint a moment in Jimmie’s development into adulthood when he could have altered the final shape of his character?
    • Grown up Jimmie
      • The inexperienced fibres of the boy's eyes were hardened at an
        early age. He became a young man of leather. He lived some red
        years without laboring. During that time his sneer became chronic.
        He studied human nature in the gutter, and found it no worse than
        he thought he had reason to believe it. He never conceived a
        respect for the world, because he had begun with no idols that it
        had smashed.
  • You have the same task to accomplish with Maggie. Find the moments in her story in which she should have chosen differently. Otherwise, she will fall victim to the plot of melodrama.
    • What makes Maggie special?
      • 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. (Chapter Five)
    • Why does Maggie fall for Pete? Compare the way she sees Pete with the way that Crane characterizes him: 
      • Maggie’s Description: 

        Maggie observed Pete.
        He sat on a table in the Johnson home and dangled his checked
        legs with an enticing nonchalance. His hair was curled down over
        his forehead in an oiled bang. His rather pugged nose seemed to
        revolt from contact with a bristling moustache of short, wire-like
        hairs. His blue double-breasted coat, edged with black braid,
        buttoned close to a red puff tie, and his patent-leather shoes
        looked like murder-fitted weapons.

        His mannerisms stamped him as a man who had a correct sense of
        his personal superiority. There was valor and contempt for
        circumstances in the glance of his eye. He waved his hands like a
        man of the world, who dismisses religion and philosophy, and says
        "Fudge." He had certainly seen everything and with each curl of
        his lip, he declared that it amounted to nothing. Maggie
        thought he must be a very elegant and graceful bartender.
        (Chapter Five)
      • Pete's macho tale

        He was telling tales to Jimmie.

        Maggie watched him furtively, with half-closed eyes, lit with
        a vague interest.

        "Hully gee! Dey makes me tired," he said. "Mos' e'ry day
        some farmer comes in an' tries teh run deh shop. See? But dey
        gits t'rowed right out! I jolt dem right out in deh street before
        dey knows where dey is! See?"

        "Sure," said Jimmie.

        "Dere was a mug come in deh place deh odder day wid an idear
        he wus goin' teh own deh place! Hully gee, he wus goin' teh own
        deh place! I see he had a still on an' I didn' wanna giv 'im no
        stuff, so I says: 'Git deh hell outa here an' don' make no
        trouble,' I says like dat! See? 'Git deh hell outa here an' don'
        make no trouble'; like dat. 'Git deh hell outa here,' I says. See?"
        (Chapter Five)

§  Pete's move on Maggie

 "Say, Mag, I'm stuck on yer shape. It's outa sight."  (Chapter Six)

He walked to and fro in the small room, which seemed then to
grow even smaller and unfit to hold his dignity, the attribute of
a supreme warrior. That swing of the shoulders that had frozen the
timid when he was but a lad had increased with his growth and
education at the ratio of ten to one. It, combined with the sneer
upon his mouth, told mankind that there was nothing in space which
could appall him. Maggie marvelled at him and surrounded him with
greatness. She vaguely tried to calculate the altitude of the
pinnacle from which he must have looked down upon her.

"I met a chump deh odder day way up in deh city," he said. "I
was goin' teh see a frien' of mine. When I was a-crossin' deh
street deh chump runned plump inteh me, an' den he turns aroun' an'
says, 'Yer insolen' ruffin,' he says, like dat. 'Oh, gee,' I says,
'oh, gee, go teh hell and git off deh eart',' I says, like dat.
See? 'Go teh hell an' git off deh eart',' like dat. Den deh
blokie he got wild. He says I was a contempt'ble scoun'el,
er somet'ing like dat, an' he says I was doom' teh everlastin'
pe'dition an' all like dat. 'Gee,' I says, 'gee! Deh hell I am,'
I says. 'Deh hell I am,' like dat. An' den I slugged 'im. See?" (Chapter Six)

      • Maggie's reaction:

        Her eyes dwelt wonderingly and rather wistfully upon Pete's face. The broken
        furniture, grimey walls, and general disorder and dirt of her home
        of a sudden appeared before her and began to take a potential
        aspect. (Chapter Six)

        Here was a formidable man who disdained the strength of a

        world full of fists. Here was one who had contempt for brass-
        clothed power; one whose knuckles could defiantly ring against the
        granite of law. He was a knight. (Chapter Six)

        She reflected upon the collar and cuff factory. It began to
        appear to her mind as a dreary place of endless grinding. Pete's
        elegant occupation brought him, no doubt, into contact with people
        who had money and manners. It was probable that he had a large
        acquaintance of pretty girls. He must have great sums of money to
        spend. (Chapter Six)
      • Their first date

        Pete aggressively walked up a side aisle and took seats with
        Maggie at a table beneath the balcony.

        "Two beehs!"


        "Say, what deh hell? Bring deh lady a big glass! What deh
        hell use is dat pony?"

        "Don't be fresh, now," said the waiter, with some warmth, as
        he departed.

        "Ah, git off deh eart'," said Pete, after the other's
        retreating form.

        Maggie perceived that Pete brought forth all his elegance and
        all his knowledge of high-class customs for her benefit. Her heart
        warmed as she reflected upon his condescension. (Chapter 7)

Name some of the acts in the show. Describe Maggie's reactions to them:

    • a singer attired in some half dozen skirts, each of which she removes
    • a ventriloquist  ( "Do dose little men talk?")
    • two sisters sing a church duet supplemented by erotic dance.
    • a woman of debatable age sings a negro melody
    • a man sings about Britain being annihilated by America and Ireland bursting her bonds
    • The Star-Spangled Banner!
    • a small fat man roars a song wildly waving a glossy silk hat and throwing leers
  • Look carefully at the moment when Maggie realizes the future which awaits her in the factory.
      • The air in the collar and cuff establishment strangled her.
        She knew she was gradually and surely shrivelling in the hot,
        stuffy room. The begrimed windows rattled incessantly from the
        passing of elevated trains. The place was filled with a whirl of
        noises and odors.

        She wondered as she regarded some of the grizzled women in the
        room, mere mechanical contrivances sewing seams and grinding out,
        with heads bended over their work, tales of imagined or real
        girlhood happiness, past drunks, the baby at home, and unpaid wages.
        She speculated how long her youth would endure. She began to see
        the bloom upon her cheeks as valuable.

        She imagined herself, in an exasperating future, as a scrawny
        woman with an eternal grievance. Too, she thought Pete to be
        a very fastidious person concerning the appearance of women.
        (Chapter Eight)
      • Has she recognized her situation in life?  Is Pete her route out of the ghetto? Does she have any other options?
  • Melodrama and Maggie: Think about what Crane is up to when he describes Maggie's reactions while watching the melodrama show.
      • Evenings during the week he took her to see plays in which the
        brain-clutching heroine was rescued from the palatial home of her
        guardian, who is cruelly after her bonds, by the hero with the
        beautiful sentiments. The latter spent most of his time out at
        soak in pale-green snow storms, busy with a nickel-plated revolver,
        rescuing aged strangers from villains.

        Maggie lost herself in sympathy with the wanderers swooning in
        snow storms beneath happy-hued church windows. And a choir within
        singing "Joy to the World." 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.

        The girl thought the arrogance and granite-heartedness of the
        magnate of the play was very accurately drawn. She echoed the
        maledictions that the occupants of the gallery showered on this
        individual when his lines compelled him to expose his extreme

        Shady persons in the audience revolted from the pictured
        villainy of the drama. With untiring zeal they hissed vice and
        applauded virtue. Unmistakably bad men evinced an apparently

        sincere admiration for virtue.

        The loud gallery was overwhelmingly with the unfortunate and the
        oppressed. They encouraged the struggling hero with cries, and
        jeered the villain, hooting and calling attention to his whiskers.
        When anybody died in the pale-green snow storms, the gallery mourned.
        They sought out the painted misery and hugged it as akin.

        In the hero's erratic march from poverty in the first act, to
        wealth and triumph in the final one, in which he forgives all the
        enemies that he has left, he was assisted by the gallery, which
        applauded his generous and noble sentiments and confounded the
        speeches of his opponents by making irrelevant but very sharp
        remarks. Those actors who were cursed with villainy parts were
        confronted at every turn by the gallery. If one of them rendered
        lines containing the most subtile distinctions between right and
        wrong, the gallery was immediately aware if the actor meant
        wickedness, and denounced him accordingly.

        The last act was a triumph for the hero, poor and of the
        masses, the representative of the audience, over the villain
        and the rich man, his pockets stuffed with bonds, his heart packed
        with tyrannical purposes, imperturbable amid suffering.

        Maggie always departed with raised spirits from the showing
        places of the melodrama. She rejoiced at the way in which the poor
        and virtuous eventually surmounted the wealthy and wicked. 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.
        (Chapter Eight)
    •  Remember that Maggie herself is a character in a melodrama. Is he hinting at a way for her to escape the plot in which she is enmeshed? Should she behave like the character with whom she identifies in the show?
  • Why does Maggie decide to leave home?
      • Maggie, standing in the middle of the room, gazed about her.
        The usual upheaval of the tables and chairs had taken place.
        Crockery was strewn broadcast in fragments. The stove had been
        disturbed on its legs, and now leaned idiotically to one side.
        A pail had been upset and water spread in all directions.

        The door opened and Pete appeared. He shrugged his shoulders.
        "Oh, Gawd," he observed.

        He walked over to Maggie and whispered in her ear. "Ah, what
        deh hell, Mag? Come ahn and we'll have a hell of a time."

        The mother in the corner upreared her head and shook her
        tangled locks.

        "Teh hell wid him and you," she said, glowering at her
        daughter in the gloom. Her eyes seemed to burn balefully. "Yeh've
        gone teh deh devil, Mag Johnson, yehs knows yehs have gone teh deh
        devil. Yer a disgrace teh yer people, damn yeh. An' now, git out
        an' go ahn wid dat doe-faced jude of yours. Go teh hell wid him,
        damn yeh, an' a good riddance. Go teh hell an' see how yeh likes

        Maggie gazed long at her mother.

        "Go teh hell now, an' see how yeh likes it. Git out. I won't
        have sech as yehs in me house! Get out, d'yeh hear! Damn yeh,
        git out!" (Chapter Ten)
  • What are the consequences of her decision in this 1890 Irish slum? 

Overview: What are we to make of Crane’s brutal ridicule of the poor? Is his stereotyping justifiable? What does he find most contemptible about Jimmie, Pete and Maggie? Could he be as savage in his depiction of the impoverished today? (Imagine Pete as a black man or as an Hispanic?)