Stephen Crane was as much an impressionist as a realist and he regularly employed colors as symbolic representations of a particular mood or context to connect a particular sequence of events in his stories. For instance, Maggie and Jimmie cower in the apartment and fearfully watch their sleeping mothers red hued face. Crane describes the red glowing light from the stove as suffusing the room with a hellish atmosphere. The red light from the stove and the alcoholic tinge of red in their mothers cheeks combine to impress the reader with the fear, violence and vulnerability that mark Maggie and Jimmies childhood. By contrast, Maggies innocence and naivete is typically described as pale in color. The prostitute Nell, for instance, refers to Maggie as “a little pale thing with no spirit.” Maggie romantically imbues Pete with golden colors as when she imagines the “golden glitter of the place where Pete was to take her.” Maggies idealized vision of Petes golden devotion turns out to be gilded, however, when he rejects her for Nell. Crane also uses color, specifically light and shade, to good effect in chapter seventeen. Maggie proceeds through the city from the well-lit areas around the theaters to the darkness of the docks where the blackness of the river signifies death.
Theater as Life / Life as Theater – Melodramatic devices figure prominently in the novels final chapter in which Mary receives news of her daughters death. With the neighbors as her audience and Mrs. Smith in the role of confessor, Mary dramatically comes to the conclusion that she must forgive her dead daughter for her sins. The author writes that: “The inevitable sunlight came streaming in at the windows and shed a ghastly cheerfulness upon the faded hues of the room.” The obvious references to low theater – the “inevitable” beam of sunlight for instance – marks the scene as a mirror for the descriptions of the plays to which Pete takes Maggie earlier in the novel. This pairing of the slum to the dramatic world of the stage ties the Bowerys low imitation of the morals of middle class society to the milieu of the melodramatic play and its ameliorative pretensions.
During the course of the novel Crane describes three different music halls to which Pete takes Maggie. The atmosphere of these halls acts as metaphors for the arc their relationship. The first hall is described in chapter seven and while it is not glamorous it is respectable, relatively clean and the stage show evokes genuine emotional responses from the audience. At this point in their relationship Maggie is innocently in awe of the spectacle of the hall and is flattered by Petes attention. Pete watches Maggie closely and seems genuinely glad that she enjoys the show. The second dance hall (described in chapter 12) is filled with more smoke than the first and is irregularly shaped. The stage show is banal and features a woman who sings badly and wears progressively less clothing. At this point in the story Maggie has left home to be with Pete and she is obviously dependent upon him. Pete is “infinitely gracious to the girl” and is pleased to see that other men in the hall are eyeing her closely. Thus, their relationship, like the stage show, is somewhat riskier. The third and final dance hall (described in chapter 14) is tawdry and full of noisy men whose exhortations drown out the scantily clad woman singing on the stage. All the women in the hall are prostitutes and the hall is filled with smoke. Maggie is, at this point, completely dependent upon Pete but he chooses to give his attention to Nell. The confusion of the hall completely matches Maggies own incomprehension when Pete leaves with Nell and does not return.
The ornamental hanging that Maggie purchases and places above the mantle is a metaphor for the domestic peace completely lacking in her home. After Petes first visit, during which she is ashamed of the apartment, she purchases the lambrequin in an attempt to beautify the otherwise squalid appearance of her familys rooms. On his next visit he doesnt notice it and she is ashamed of her attempt. Her mother belittles it and tears it from the wall during a drunken rampage in which she denounces her daughter and urges her to leave. Maggie realizes at this moment that her life at home offers nothing but shame and violence. In this manner the lambrequin serves as a metaphor for what she can never have at home.