Maggie A Girl of the Streets: Essay Q&A

1.In what ways does the novel adhere to the naturalist style and in what ways does it depart from that style?
The novel has long been regarded as a masterpiece of the style of naturalistic writing that flourished in the late 19th century. Its slum setting and downtrodden characters exemplify the naturalist mode of storytelling and the manner in which their actions and beliefs are determined by their environment also places the novel squarely in the Naturalistic milieu. Critics have long acknowledged, however, that the novel incorporates elements of impressionism and irony that belie a strictly naturalist reading that open the work to multiple interpretations. Cranes use of color in particular adds to the works impressionistic tone as does the narrative asides which open the actions of the characters to the world beyond the Bowery. Similarly, an ironic tone runs through the work and yields a critique of Mary, Pete and Jimmie in particular. Cranes deft use of irony is much more subtle and incisive than the obvious didacticism of a cause and affect driven naturalistic telling.
2. How does Crane use the theater to further the development of the novel?
Maggie and Pete attend several melodramatic plays and Maggie comes to identify with the heroines on the stage. She wonders if the rise from poverty to wealth, from sadness to joy that she witnesses on the stage would be possible for a girl from the Bowery such as herself. This idea opens her mind to the possibility of a better future, specifically a future in which Pete, in the role of the hero, can provide for her happiness and makes possible her departure from home. The noisy theater audiences which catcall the villains and yell advice to the hero mirror the Johnsons neighbors who view the spectacle of Maggies downfall as though it were entertainment. Mrs. Smith, in particular, seems to be drawn directly from the character of a self-righteous missionary of the slums. Mary, who points a “dramatic finger” at Maggie and asks the neighbors to look at her ruined daughter, also furthers the dramatic tone of their encounter.
3. Discuss the manner in which Jimmie and Maggies work reflects their place in the society of the Bowery?
Jimmies job as a truck driver places him in the constant state of warfare that was the streets of Manhattan at the turn of the century. We learn that he did not hesitate to enter into nearby frays. “He entered terrifically into the quarrel that was raging to and fro among the drivers on their high seats,” Crane observes, “and sometimes roared oaths and violently got himself arrested.” This work suits Jimmies outlook and his cultures expectation that only the strongest can survive and every dollar earned must be fought for. As a woman Maggies role in society is limited to submission to men within the world of the Bowery. Her workplace is aptly described as a prison. “The air in the collar and cuff establishment strangled her,” notes Crane. She realizes that her only escape from incarceration of the factory is to find a sympathetic man and that she must do so while young or chances of escape will lessen. Thus, her willingness to trust Pete with her future is born partly out of a desire to free herself from the factory.
4. How is Petes manner different with Nell than with Maggie and how does this affect her?
Maggies conception of Pete is built around her impression that he is master of his surroundings and yields to no one. Maggie on the other hand feels completely subordinate to the world. “To her the earth was composed of hardships and insults,” notes the author, “she felt instant admiration for a man who openly defied it.” As such, Maggie is completely submissive to Pete and he clearly enjoys her attention and his role in her life by inflating himself in her eyes. It is completely shocking to Maggie, then, when she views Petes submissive behavior to Nell. Far more shocking to the girl than Petes attention to Nell is his obvious need for her approval. Her lion turns out to be a cub and Maggie never recovers from the realization that she has placed her trust in a man so easily subdued.
5. Which characters in the story come closest to realizing the moral hypocrisy of the Bowery and which characters reinforce the ignorance of the slums?
Maggie is the victim of the story. She is completely steered by events and circumstances — so much so that even her decision to leave home is less of choice between her family and Pete than it is a necessary step to escape her abusive alcoholic mother. As such, Maggie is never truly cognizant of the forces that bring her to ruin, rather she is mystified by the machinations of fate and completely submissive to the world. Her mother, Mary, exemplifies not only the deterministic violence of the Bowery but through her treatment and judgement of her daughter she is complicit in the moral hypocrisy that destroys Maggie. Pete acts in accordance with the moral hypocrisy of the slums by rejecting Maggie simply because her family has done so without regard to his own role in her plight. Jimmie also uses and rejects women and like Pete rejects his sister because of the pressure of his peers but he at least pauses to consider that Maggie would have acted better if she had every known any better. He also briefly considers the notion that the girls he has ruined may also have brothers. Of all the novels characters, then, it is the professional prostitute Nell – the woman of “audacity and brilliance” – who fully understands the hypocrisy of the Bowery and uses it to her own ends.