Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

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Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

Momentarily, Jimmie was sullen with thoughts of a hopeless altitude where grew fruit. His companion said that if he should ever meet God he would ask for a million dollars and a bottle of beer. (4.9)

Notice the use of "momentary" here. Jimmie is not one to reflect very often on hope, and when he does, he quickly squashes his dreams.

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. (8.6)

Maggie cannot help but compare herself to the other women working in the collar and cuff factory. Now that she has met Pete, work there seems all the more dismal, and she quickly recognizes that her youth and beauty are her only hope.

She imagined herself, in an exasperating future, as a scrawny woman with an eternal grievance. (8.7)

Maggie experiences deep anxiety that when she loses the bloom of youth and becomes a hag—like her mother and neighbor—she will begin having an irreversible resentment for life.

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. (8.21)

This is one of the novel's only moments of positive religious reflection. Maggie constantly struggles with managing reality and the life she imagines she could someday obtain.

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. (8.25)

The music hall plays fuel fantasies, and sometimes, false hopes, for the audience members. The stock narrative of the hero prevailing, the masses finally getting their due, and the villain being punished is exactly what the audience wants and needs to see. It gives them hope, even if it is false.

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. (8.26)

The melodramas provide Maggie with an image of what life can be—they stimulate her imagination and fuel her hope.

Too, the blue ribbons had been restored to the curtains, and the lambrequin, with its immense sheaves of yellow wheat and red roses of equal size, had been returned, in a worn and sorry state, to its position at the mantel. (10.6)

Maggie alternates between fantasies of a future that could be and the realities of life in the here and now. Her efforts to make the house beautiful for Pete have clearly been undone—nothing beautiful can make it inside that tenement.

He suddenly broke out again. "I'll go t'ump hell outa deh mug what did her deh harm. I'll kill 'im! He t'inks he kin scrap, but when he gits me a-chasin' 'im he'll fin' out where he's wrong, deh damned duffer. I'll wipe up deh street wid 'im." (10.28)

Being the solution-oriented guy that he is, Jimmie is determined to "fix" the situation between his sister and Pete. Using the usual Bowery diplomatic strategies, he decides to go kick the living daylights out of Pete.

Maggie was pale. From her eyes had been plucked all look of self-reliance. She leaned with a dependent air toward her companion. She was timid, as if fearing his anger or displeasure. She seemed to beseech tenderness of him.

Maggie's hopes begin to wane. Pete's no longer as keen on her, and she feels all the more desperate to hitch her wagon to his proverbial star. She can tell already, though, that it ain't gonna happen.

She contemplated Pete's man-subduing eyes and noted that wealth and prosperity was indicated by his clothes. She imagined a future, rose-tinted, because of its distance from all that she previously had experienced. (12.10)

Again with the clothes. Maggie is easily impressed by a nice suit because it represents everything she lacks in life: decency, style, attention to appearances. The clothes spark thoughts of a different future for her—one very far from the life she has known so far.

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