Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Fate Versus Free Will

By Stephen Crane

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Fate Versus Free Will

In the street infants played or fought with other infants or sat stupidly in the way of vehicles. (2.1)

Okay, so these kids are pretty much screwed from day one. Crane lets us know early on that these stupid infants will soon turn into stupid and belligerent adults. Hey—we never said Crane was a nice guy.

During the evening he had been standing against a bar drinking whiskies and declaring to all comers, confidentially: "My home reg'lar livin' hell! Damndes' place! Reg'lar hell! Why do I come an' drin' whisk' here thish way? 'Cause home reg'lar livin' hell!" (3.14)

As far as Mr. Johnson—and just about everyone else in the novel—sees it, life is what it is. There's no changing things, just suffering through. That said, the general consensus seems to be that drinking helps.

Her bare, red arms were thrown out above her head in positions of exhaustion, something, mayhap, like those of a sated villain. (3.25)

The story of the lives of these characters has already been written, which means that the villains, the damsels, and the heroes have been determined, for good or ill.

The babe, Tommie, died. He went away in a white, insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian.

She and Jimmie lived. (4.1-2)

Crane reports events around life and death as if they are not at all surprising—perhaps because in a world in which existence is predestined, nothing is surprising.

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. (4.3)

To make it in this game, you have to harden yourself fast. Here, we hear about Jimmie and how life never surprises him: He has always expected things to be grim, so he's not disappointed because he never expected anything in the first place.

While they got warm at the stove, he told his hearers just where he calculated they stood with the Lord. Many of the sinners were impatient over the pictured depths of their degradation. They were waiting for soup-tickets. (4.3)

Meanwhile, at the Church… the priest is telling people who don't give two hoots about God just what God thinks about them. The only reason people are put off by hearing about their place with God is that it delays the meals they are so eager to receive.

When they would thrust at, or parry, the noses of his champing horses, making them swing their heads and move their feet, disturbing a solid dreamy repose, he swore at the men as fools, for he himself could perceive that Providence had caused it clearly to be written, that he and his team had the unalienable right to stand in the proper path of the sun chariot, and if they so minded, obstruct its mission or take a wheel off. (4.23)

Jimmie may be fated to poverty and ignorance, but he also has providence looking out for him: He believes he has an inalienable right to plow his way through the crowd like the ultimate Greek god.

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. (5.1)

Maggie has no say in turning out pretty. We can see her "rare" prettiness as a metaphor for her not fitting in among the tenement crowd—and since she can't help being pretty, we can also say she can't help not fitting in.

When he said, "Ah, what deh hell," his voice was burdened with disdain for the inevitable and contempt for anything that fate might compel him to endure. (5.24)

Pete is torn between accepting his fate and resisting that he must do so—he just hates that he knows what will happen.

To her the earth was composed of hardships and insults. She felt instant admiration for a man who openly defied it. She thought that if the grim angel of death should clutch his heart, Pete would shrug his shoulders and say: "Oh, ev'ryt'ing goes." (6.12)

Maggie is the only one who ever expresses a shred of hope, but unfortunately for her, she sees Pete as her way out. Pro tip: When exercising free will, it may be best not to hitch your star to someone else's wagon. It's kind of not the point.

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