Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Society and Class

By Stephen Crane

Society and Class

She received daily a small sum in pennies. It was contributed, for the most part, by persons who did not make their homes in that vicinity. (3.2)

People who live in the Bowery are poor, but they find a way to scrape by. Begging in your own destitute neighborhood isn't very profitable, so you have to home in on people from outside the area. That's the scheme used by the Johnsons's neighbor.

Above all things he despised obvious Christians and ciphers with the chrysanthemums of aristocracy in their button-holes. He considered himself above both of these classes. He was afraid of neither the devil nor the leader of society. (4.12)

Jimmie loathes a lot of things, chief among them religious folks and anyone who shows off their money. In fact, he doesn't like anyone who displays his or her identity at all. He's above it all because his sense of superiority is based on fear, not on God or wealth.

He himself occupied a down-trodden position that had a private but distinct element of grandeur in its isolation. (4.18)

Jimmie protects himself by embracing his own lower-class position. His feeling of superiority is something he has constructed out of being tough—to him, violence is where cool is at.

Two women in different parts of the city, and entirely unknown to each other, caused him considerable annoyance by breaking forth, simultaneously, at fateful intervals, into wailings about marriage and support and infants. (4.28)

Jimmie has his own set of problems. He has fathered two children whom he can't and won't support, doing his part to contribute to the cycle of misery.

None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins. The philosophers up-stairs, down-stairs and on the same floor, puzzled over it. (5.2)

Although she lives in the eye of the poverty storm, Maggie remains untouched by all the degradation. No one can figure out how she manages to remain untouched by the only environment she has ever known. At the same time, though, this distinction raises an important question about whether she could actually transcend what seems to be her fate.

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." (5.11)

Pete, like Jimmie, has a strong sense of self. They both do the whole bravado thing, acting superior to everyone around them. Hey, fake it 'til you make it, we guess.

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. (6.11)

Maggie sure is onto something here. She seems to be the only one clued in to just how bad she has it—she understands work in a factory as the drudgery that it is. Where she goes astray, however, is in believing that Pete lives a life of pleasure and affluence.

A few evenings later Pete entered with fascinating innovations in his apparel. As she had seen him twice and he had different suits on each time, Maggie had a dim impression that his wardrobe was prodigiously extensive. (6.14)

Again, this is all part of Maggie's fantasy and hope that Pete represents a life different from the one inside the Bowery. He may not be as poor as the Johnsons, but two nice suits doesn't equal a ticket out of there.

The vast crowd had an air throughout of having just quitted labor. Men with calloused hands and attired in garments that showed the wear of an endless trudge for a living, smoked their pipes contentedly and spent five, ten, or perhaps fifteen cents for beer. There was a mere sprinkling of kid-gloved men who smoked cigars purchased elsewhere. The great body of the crowd was composed of people who showed that all day they strove with their hands. (7.2)

The crowd at the music hall consists of other immigrant laborers just looking for an amusing distraction from the brutalities of life. They work hard all day for an evening's pleasure and diversion. The few who wear gloves (rather than having exposed, worn hands) smoke fancy cigars and stand out from the rest.

He was extremely gracious and attentive. He displayed the consideration of a cultured gentleman who knew what was. (7.6)

Pete puts on a good act. What he doesn't have in money and intelligence, he makes up for in displaying all of the manners he has learned from watching others—and being a tough guy.

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