Study Guide

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Poverty

By Stephen Crane

Poverty

Welcome to life on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is full of beggars, over-worked manual laborers, prostitutes, the uneducated, and the homeless. The poor here have no way out.

That said, Crane reveals poverty in various ways—not just by describing the neighbor as a beggar or by showing Mr. Johnson stealing a beer. The apartments and the streets, and their interchangeability, are the ultimate settings for suffering. Fireplaces have no fires; plates are empty; everything looks tawdry. The music halls and entertainment venues offer some respite, but since they're filled with locals, even these fail to show anything truly different.

Questions About Poverty

  1. In what ways does Crane present Maggie as the "face" of immigrant poverty? For a jumpstart on this one, swing by her page in the "Characters" section.
  2. Do any of the novel's characters show promise for making it out? Why or why not? What does this tell you about poverty in this book?
  3. Is Pete really well-to-do, or does he just appear to be in comparison to the novel's other characters? Use the text for evidence.
  4. Does Maggie commit suicide because she has no financial hope? Does her cause of death matter? Explain your answer, please.

Chew on This

Crane presents the Bowery as a world unto itself. The characters do not leave the confines of the neighborhood and seem stuck in the world of poverty and ignorance.

Alcohol plays a central role in the poverty cycle: It's what people spend the little money they have on, and prevents them from being coherent and ambitious enough to get out. It's just enough short-term gratification to hold people back.

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