Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Poverty

By Stephen Crane

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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. (1.8)

This is a real Charles Dickens moment. The house is like the people who live in it: skulking and lying to wait.

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. (2.1)

Because the Irish Catholic poor in the novel continue to have babies, they can never make enough money to educate their children or move away from the neighborhoods that keep them down.

The man mumbled with drunken indifference. "Ah, wha' deh hell. W'a's odds? Wha' makes kick?"

"Because he tears 'is clothes, yeh damn fool," cried the woman in supreme wrath. (3.19)

Momma Johnson does not appreciate her husband's apathy about Jimmie's violence—not because she is afraid the little boy will get hurt, but because he always ruins his clothes when he is fighting.

Jimmie stood until the noises ceased and the other inhabitants of the tenement had all yawned and shut their doors. (3.22)

For the poor inhabitants of the tenement, entertainment consists of watching other people fight. The claustrophobic environment serves the curiosity of bored spectators.

<em></em>Her eyes dwelt wonderingly and rather wistfully upon Pete's face. The broken furniture, grimy walls, and general disorder and dirt of her home of a sudden appeared before her and began to take a potential aspect. Pete's aristocratic person looked as if it might soil. She looked keenly at him, occasionally, wondering if he was feeling contempt. (5.11)

That Pete sure is smokin' hot—and next to him, the furniture just looks filthy. He's a king as far as Maggie can tell, and she and her kin are just lowly peasants.

Turning, Maggie contemplated the dark, dust-stained walls, and the scant and crude furniture of her home. A clock, in a splintered and battered oblong box of varnished wood, she suddenly regarded as an abomination. She noted that it ticked raspingly. The almost vanished flowers in the carpet-pattern, she conceived to be newly hideous. Some faint attempts she had made with blue ribbon, to freshen the appearance of a dingy curtain, she now saw to be piteous. (6.10)

Don't overthink it because then everything starts to look bad. The more she falls for Pete, the worse Maggie's apartment looks through her eyes—and making an effort only throws her deeper into despair.

As thoughts of Pete came to Maggie's mind, she began to have an intense dislike for all of her dresses. (8.1)

First the apartment, now her clothes. Maggie has dreams and aspirations of playing the princess to Pete's knight in shining armor.

The air in the collar and cuff establishment strangled her. She knew she was gradually and surely shriveling 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. (8.5)

Work in a stuffy factory seems all the gloomier now that Maggie has met her golden boy and imagined the possibility of a different life. Her senses are assaulted by the environment, making industrial work a true form of punishment.

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. (8.24)

In this book, rags-to-riches tales are only fictions to watch unfold on stages. Alas, Maggie crosses her fingers they might apply to her life someday anyway.

"Not a damn cent more of me money will yehs ever get, not a damn cent. I spent me money here fer t'ree years an' now yehs tells me yeh'll sell me no more stuff! T'hell wid yeh, Johnnie Murckre! 'Disturbance'? Disturbance be damned! T'hell wid yeh, Johnnie—" (9.4)

It's a bad day for a bar in the Bowery when Momma Johnson threatens not to spend another dime there. She has clearly sunk just about every penny she can into that bar just to numb the pain of her existence.

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