Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Summary

By Stephen Crane

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Summary

The book opens with a scene of violence, and it goes downhill from there. A little scrapper of a boy named Jimmie is fighting against hoodlums from Devil's Row with the help of some other neighborhood street urchins representing Rum Alley. And we're not talking about hair-pulling; we're talking about stone-throwing, clothes-shredding, and bloody faces. Then an older boy named Pete comes along—but rather than saving Jimmie, he sort of eggs him on. But he's got his back.

Home is even grimmer than the gravel heaps of Rum Alley for Jimmie because Mom is a raging alcoholic, Dad is a brute, and siblings Maggie and Tommie just seem like they have targets on their foreheads. It's complete mayhem in the house.

A few years later, Tommie is dead and so is Dad. Jimmie has become a bully and a monster himself, hating everything in his path and itching for the next fight. He's a teamster with road rage long before the term is invented, and he'll make mincemeat out of anyone who crosses his path.

Along comes that Pete fellow again—the one who "helped" Jimmie—and now he's a strapping, well-dressed dandy of a fellow. At least in Maggie's eyes, anyway. They begin to date, which Maggie sees as a prime opportunity to get away from the terribleness that is her life in the tenement. Pete loves him some entertainment, so he and Maggie attend all sorts of "fancy" (again, to her) vaudeville-type theatrical events where the audience is full of other hard-working immigrants. Beats being at home being beaten by Mom, that's for sure.

Mom and Jimmie are not impressed by the whole Pete-Maggie love connection, though. Doesn't matter if you are poor, you still have moral standards and that Maggie—well, she's making the family look bad by spending all sorts of time with that Pete. So they kick her out of the apartment. Now she has no choice but to be with Pete. Nice call.

Jimmie attempts to defend the family honor by beating Pete up—while Pete is at work, so that's not cool. The good times between Pete and Maggie come to a screeching halt. As sure as the day is long, Pete leaves Maggie for Nellie, an old flame who clearly has more sophistication than Maggie (which isn't hard, wide-eyed naïf that Maggie is).

Now Maggie has nowhere to go. Mom is busy maligning her with the neighbors (sweet mom, eh?), so it's the streets for Maggie (hence the subtitle of the book). Crane does a little smoke-and-mirrors trick by showing us a prostitute wandering the streets but not telling us directly that it's Maggie. We know better, though. Unfortunately, the scene doesn't end well, as a creep of a guy with "bloodshot eyes and grimy hands" follows "the girl" (17.17) down to the river. You do the math.

We find Pete drunk as a skunk with a bunch of "ladies," including that Nellie. They all take advantage of his generosity and then leave him passed out on the floor.

Jimmie comes home to Mom, flatly reporting that Maggie is dead. Mom throws a spectacular fit, as neighbors make feeble attempts to console her. The book ends with Mom promising to forgive Maggie. Um… too little, too late, Ma.

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