Places: Maggie

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1893

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Places DiscussedMaggie’s home

Maggie’s Maggiehome. Apartment in Manhattan’s Rum Alley in which Maggie lives with her parents and brother. Her father and mother are both alcoholics, and her mother, despite her piety, is particularly given to violence. Stephen Crane often describes the shambles of the troubled home: bloody fights, broken items, loud, vulgar language, and drunken stupors. Maggie’s father, though mostly absent in Maggie’s life, describes their home as “reg’lar livin’ hell! Damndes’ place!” The abuse that Maggie and her brother Jimmy experience causes Maggie to fantasize about places beyond the interior of her home. She is thus easily attracted to a flamboyant barkeep, Pete, who can take her to places outside the misery of her home’s four walls.

Maggie’s relationship with Pete eventually results in her expulsion from her home. In her subsequent aimless wandering she finally confronts Pete with the haunting question, “where kin I go?” This question epitomizes the tragic and futile relationship of Maggie to the places of this novel. Pete’s answer, “go teh hell,” pushes her to the point of desperation. She is eventually found in the gloomy districts near the river. In other words her descent has reached its social and moral nadir.

After it is clear that Maggie is dead, the final scene of the novel returns to the interior of her home where her mother, in pitiful self-indulgence and brazen denial of reality, forgives her. Thus, readers are brought full circle to see how the family environment into which Maggie was born is part of a larger social system that destroys innocent and unsuspecting flowers like Maggie.

Rum Alley

Rum Alley. Street in Manhattan’s impoverished Bowery district on which Maggie’s family lives, along with many other Irish immigrant families. The neighborhood is used symbolically to portray not only the dismal nature of Maggie’s world, but also to emphasize the extent of environmental forces that Maggie and others in her neighborhood must overcome just to survive.

The novel opens with a description of a fight between gangs of young boys from Devil’s Row and Rum Alley (including Maggie’s brother Jimmy). The names of these fictitious Manhattan streets suggest the fatalism that Crane attaches to this novel, in which even very young children are caught in the ironic struggles of defending places that are not worth defending. In fact, these slums are responsible for the dysfunctional behavior of the citizens of these places, places where “deh moon looks like hell” and where Maggie “blossomed in a mud puddle.”

Shirt factory

Shirt factory. Sweatshop in which Maggie works long hours as a seamstress before she meets Pete. This place in the novel reinforces the poverty that immigrants faced, where women and children experienced horrible working conditions. Such sweatshops were usually insufficiently heated in winter, beastly hot in summer, and poorly lighted year round. Crane uses the shop to underscore the futility of Maggie’s life.

Manhattan nightclubs

Manhattan nightclubs. After Maggie meets Pete, an arrogant bartender and friend of her brother Jimmy, Pete takes her to a variety of nightclubs. At first Maggie regards Pete as the “beau ideal of a man,” and the places of his world provide a pleasant contrast with her limited and oppressive home. In reality, however, the clubs that Maggie visits are merely cheap imitations of the night-life spots that wealthy New Yorkers frequent. They seem brilliant to Maggie, but their presence in the novel only underscores the deprivation of Maggie’s existence.

The clubs appear in the narrative in an approximately descending order of taste. Pete first takes Maggie to cheap theaters and music halls. Next comes a visit to the Bowery, a carnival-like atmosphere where immigrants of various ethnic origins mingle in “phantasies of the aristocratic theatre-going public, at reduced rates.” This is followed by an evening at the hall of irregular shape where two painted women are in the crowd. Finally, Maggie is taken to a hall in which prostitutes are stationed at every table. There, Pete abandons Maggie for Nell, a “woman of brilliance and audacity.”

BibliographyGandal, Keith. “Stephen Crane’s Maggie and the Modern Soul.” English Literary History 60, no. 3 (Fall, 1993): 759-785. Argues that the novel is not about Maggie’s moral decline but her loss of self-confidence and self-defensiveness. Asserts that Maggie fails not in trying to redeem her sinful nature–the old story of the fallen woman–but in overcoming self-doubt and cowardice, making it a modern psychological tale.Golemba, Henry. “‘Distant Dinners’ in Stephen Crane’s Maggie: Representing ‘The Other Half.’” Essays in Literature 21, no. 2 (Fall, 1994): 235-250. Crane uses food imagery to suggest the realist’s problem. By feeding the reader’s taste for detail, the writer plays into the gluttonous, base, modern social tendencies he exposes.Gullason, Thomas A., ed. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Contains the 1893 text as well as biographical and literary background period reviews, and important critical essays on the work’s structure, technique, and subject matter.Irving, Katrina. “Gendered Space, Racialized Space: Nativism, the Immigrant Woman, and Stephan Crane’s Maggie.” College Literature 20, no. 3 (October, 1993): 30-43. Asserts that immigrants posed a threat to late nineteenth century American society, especially women prostitutes such as Maggie, who must die before diluting “native” stock.Sweeney, Gerard M. “The Syphilitic World of Stephen Crane’s Maggie.” American Literary Realism 24, no. 1 (Fall, 1991): 79-85. Discusses how Crane reveals the diseased condition of Maggie’s world, its syphilis and alcoholism. His tough realism suggests Maggie is fortunate to escape through early death.
Categories: Places