Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Religion

By Stephen Crane

Religion

She dragged him to an unholy sink, and, soaking a rag in water, began to scrub his lacerated face with it. (2.17)

We get a characteristic Crane jab here: Mary Johnson may bathe her child, but she does so in an environment devoid of holiness. In other words, she may be their mother, but she's no role model—there's nothing devout about her or her home.

They had a lurid altercation, in which they damned each other's souls with frequency. (2.29)

This depiction of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson shows the mockery these two make of religion. Damning each other has no meaning because neither of them cares a bit about what God thinks. They're all bluster.

The old woman was a gnarled and leathery personage who could don, at will, an expression of great virtue. She possessed a small music-box capable of one tune, and a collection of "God bless yehs" pitched in assorted keys of fervency. Each day she took a position upon the stones of Fifth Avenue, where she crooked her legs under her and crouched immovable and hideous, like an idol. (3.2)

The people in Maggie only use religion when it benefits them. The downstairs neighbor may show some decency to Jimmie, but she has her own scam going on out in the mean streets of the Bowery.

<em></em>He clad his soul in armor by means of happening hilariously in at a mission church where a man composed his sermons of "yous." (4.3)

Jimmie laughs in the face of piety. The preacher may be doing everything he can to appeal to the people by directing his sermon at them, but he's still totally ignored.

"You are damned," said the preacher. And the reader of sounds might have seen the reply go forth from the ragged people: "Where's our soup?" (4.6)

In short, these folks don't give a hoot if they are damned. In their defense, when your stomach is empty, nothing else matters.

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. (4.8)

Jimmie barely allows himself to dream of living in a place of beauty, and his companion only wants money and alcohol. This is a rare glimpse of Jimmie's otherwise hardened soul.

There came a time, however, when the young men of the vicinity said: "Dat Johnson goil is a puty good looker." About this period her brother remarked to her: "Mag, I'll tell yeh dis! See? Yeh've edder got teh go teh hell or go teh work!" Whereupon she went to work, having the feminine aversion of going to hell. (5.4)

Young women in the Bowery don't have many options. Maggie can basically get a factory job and eventually get married, or go straight to the streets (a.k.a. "teh hell") and become a prostitute.

Maggie's red mother, stretched on the floor, blasphemed and gave her daughter a bad name. (6.23)

The idea that Maggie's mother is in any position to condemn her daughter is absolutely absurd. Of course, that act is made even more ridiculous by the fact that she is "blaspheming" her daughter while crashed out on the floor.

Suddenly she came upon a stout gentleman in a silk hat and a chaste black coat, whose decorous row of buttons reached from his chin to his knees. The girl had heard of the Grace of God and she decided to approach this man. (16.34)

Here's Maggie's low point (or close to it). While God has never seemed to have meaning to her, at this point she hopes he's a player in the world—it's what inspires her to seek help from this man. But it doesn't work out, and we're imagining that being ignored by this guy doesn't help establish her faith.

In a room a woman sat at a table eating like a fat monk in a picture. (19.1)

Ah yes, Crane's last jab at Mary Johnson. Her holier-than-thou attitude and unchecked appetite present her as an unholy glutton.

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