Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Violence

By Stephen Crane

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Howls of renewed wrath went up from Devil's Row throats. Tattered gamins on the right made a furious assault on the gravel heap. On their small, convulsed faces there shone the grins of true assassins. As they charged, they threw stones and cursed in shrill chorus. (1.5)

Our first image in the novel isn't pretty. Imagine a bunch of kindergartners fighting like their lives depend upon it. Crane's point? They start early with the butt-kicking around here.

The small combatants pounded and kicked, scratched and tore. They began to weep and their curses struggled in their throats with sobs. The other little boys clasped their hands and wriggled their legs in excitement. They formed a bobbing circle about the pair. (1.29)

It doesn't take a child therapist to figure out this is not what children should be doing. Crane uses elevated language to describe these little scrappers, calling them "combatants," but still showing they are small children mixed up in a horrible world of violence.

"Stop that, Jim, d'yeh hear? Leave yer sister alone on the street. It's like I can never beat any sense into yer damned wooden head." (2.12)

Ah, yes—don't hit your sister… in public. If you do, I'll beat you within an inch of your life. That said, behind closed doors, do whatever you want to the girl.

"Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin' yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin' yer fader?" (2.50)

Violence in this book is not exclusive to men—nope, it's equal opportunity violence, at least insofar as handing out whoopings goes.

He became a truck driver. He was given the charge of a painstaking pair of horses and a large rattling truck. He invaded the turmoil and tumble of the down-town streets and learned to breathe maledictory defiance at the police who occasionally used to climb up, drag him from his perch and beat him. (4.15)

Jimmie finds the perfect job for applying his aggressions. Driving his truck, Jimmie is unafraid of breaking the law and sees police violence against him as part of the routine.

He developed too great a tendency to climb down from his truck and fight with other drivers. He had been in quite a number of miscellaneous fights, and in some general barroom rows that had become known to the police. Once he had been arrested for assaulting a Chinaman. (4.28)

Nothing like a good smack down, right? Jimmie is always looking for a fight—on the street, in a bar… Heck, the only person with a longer rap sheet is his mother.

"Why," he said, referring to a man with whom he had had a misunderstanding, "dat mug scrapped like a damn dago. Dat's right. He was dead easy. See? He tau't he was a scrapper. But he foun' out diff'ent! Hully gee." (4.4)

This quote is interesting on the heels of Quote #6, where Jimmie beats up a Chinese man. Here, Jimmie uses the word "dago," a derogatory term for Italian. Jimmie is proud of himself for putting this guy in his place, highlighting how important national identity was back then.

As a final effort, the singer rendered some verses which described a vision of Britain being annihilated by America, and Ireland bursting her bonds. A carefully prepared crisis was reached in the last line of the last verse, where the singer threw out her arms and cried, "The star-spangled banner." (7.16)

People don't immigrate for no reason, and here we're given a subtle clue about the reason so many people have left Ireland for the Bowery: Life's not easy over there, but violent in its own rights. Otherwise Ireland wouldn't be described as held in "bonds."

The door of the Johnson home opened and Maggie looked out. Jimmie made a supreme cursing effort and hurled his mother into the room. He quickly followed and closed the door. The Rum Alley tenement swore disappointedly and retired. (9.27)

Oh, Mom, you're such a maniacal bully. Someone's always getting pushed in or out of the doorway at that Johnson apartment—so much so that it's entertainment for the neighbors.

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