Maggie: a Girl of the Streets

Stephen Crane wrote many short stories, one of which was Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. His stories contained various aspects of Naturalism, a literary movement that sought to replicate a believable everyday reality, as opposed to Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. Poverty, abuse and a survival of the fittest way of life created an environment which Maggie was negatively influenced by. Her environment is made up of many circumstances that affect her, one of which is poverty. Maggie grew up in poverty, living out her childhood in a shabby apartment in Rum Alley.
This poverty influenced her beliefs. The story says “when Pete arrived Maggie, in a worn black dress, was waiting…,” (18). In comparison, Pete was said to wear nice clothes such as “his blue double-breasted coat, edged with black braid, buttoned close to a res puff tie, and his patent-leather shoes,” (14). Maggie has her “worn dress” and as such she sees herself as lowly. The effect of the poverty is emphasized when Maggie, while observing Pete, ponders “She vaguely tried to calculate the altitude of the pinnacle from which he must have looked down upon her,” (16).
This statement shows how, at this point in her life she sees other people above her. The poverty caused her to think this way- it influenced her in ways so subtle and yet so big. It was this thinking caused by the poverty which led to her seeking out Pete’s strength. The poverty stricken environment in which Maggie lived is one in which only the strong survive or one who adapts. The women are described as “formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dress,” (4). They are survivors. They have no time for looking nice, they are working to be strong and survive.

Maggie, on the other hand, “grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl,” (13). She is not strong in that aspect and as such she sought out a strong person, Pete. When seeing him she thinks “Here was a formidable man who disdained the strength of a world full of fists. Here was one who had contempt for brass-clothed power; one whose knuckles could defiantly ring against the granite of law. He was a knight,” (16). She became enamored with his strength and defiance. He proclaims how great of a fighter he is and as a result she gravitates towards him so he can be her knight.
He could protect her. This thinking that she needed a strong man was a result of her environment. It was survival of the fittest and her attempt at survival was attaching herself to a strong man. Another time in which she had to adapt in order to survive was when she was walking down the streets “Soon the girl discovered that if she walked with such apparent aimlessness, some men looked at her with calculating eyes. She quickened her step, frightened. As a protection, she adopted a demeanor of intentness as if going somewhere,” (47). This quote emphasizes the fact that in order to survive she needed to adapt to the streets.
Throughout all of Maggie’s life there was, on top of the poverty and the primal instinct for survival, violence and abuse in her home. Violence and abuse was a constant in Maggie’s life. The violence and abuse affected her psychology. Both the physical beatings and the lack of parental figures as a result of the abuse cause her to act differently than she would if she had a mother who loved her and a stable household life. Maggie repeatedly refers to her mother as ‘the woman’ or ‘the mother’ such as in the quotes “the eyes of both were drawn, by some force, to stare at the woman’s face,” (10).
She does not talk of Mary as her mother; instead Maggie refers to her as another woman. This happened as a result of the violence shown to her from Mary; she does not trust her mother. Her mother then proceeds to, later on in Maggie’s life, kick Maggie out of the apartment because she does not like Maggie’s boyfriend, Pete. Mary tells Maggie “Yeh’ve gone the deh devil, Mag Johnson, yehs knows yehs have gone the deh devil. Yer a disgrace the yer people, damn yeh. An’ now, git out an’ go ahn wid dat doe-faced jude of yours.
Go the hell wid him, damn yeh, an’ good riddance. Go the hell an’ see how yeh likes it,” (27). This verbal abuse is something which Maggie has lived with all her life. This quote is the climax in Maggie’s life. The abuse from her mother pushes her out of the apartment and to her subsequent death. All of the abuse and violence influenced Maggie and caused her to have a messed up life. Ultimately throughout Maggie’s life, she was influenced by her environment. Her life would have evolved in a completely different way than in Maggie: A girl of the Streets.
The environment in which one grows up in is crucial in life. The environment is one where children learn from and it influences who they will be. For some people their environment influences them for the better, and in other cases, like with Maggie, it is for the worse. All abuse, the poverty and survival of the fittest environment lead to her early death. Had those factors not been there she most likely would have lived a long and great life. But, those factors where there in her environment and that is the reality of life, not everything is perfect.

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