Maggie A Girl of the Streets: Novel Summary: Chapter 16

Pete succeeds in rationalizing his position vis a vis Maggies compromised virtue. He transfers the blame to Maggies family and comes to believe that it is they who have created Maggies supposed downfall by making such a great fuss over her absence from home. He is alarmed when he considers that their excitement over the matter might cause his own reputation to be sullied and his job might be in jeopardy as result. He reaches the conclusion that Maggie has done no wrong but that her brother and mother, not himself, have done wrong by her. The “woman of brilliance and audacity” named Nell ridicules his relationship with Maggie and belittles her appearance. Pete forcibly insists to Nell that his attraction to Maggie was a passing thing and meant nothing. He tells Nell that his tastes in women are superior to the likes of Maggie. The day after Maggie tried to return to her family, Pete is at work tending to an empty bar room. As he contentedly wipes the clean glasses even more luminous he is horrified to see Maggie pass outside the bar. He quickly makes his way to the door. Maggie sees him in the entryway and smiling comes over to him. Before she can complete a sentence, however, Pete rejects her in the rudest terms. The smile fades from the girls lips and bewildered she asks Pete where she should go. “Oh, go teh hell,” he offers before slamming the door. Heartbroken, confused and scared Maggie wanders the streets. After some time she notices that some men are looking at her in a strange way and she hurries her steps as if with purpose. Maggie is without purpose, however and in desperation she turns to a gentleman she sees whose dress marks him as a minister. She approaches the gentlemen hoping for pity and the Grace of God but he shies away from her to protect his respectability. “He did not risk it to save a soul,” notes the author, “for how was he to know that there was a soul before him that needed saving.”
Analysis of Chapter 16
Pete rejects Maggie not because he feels that she has sinned, for he would have to admit to his complicity in that sin. Rather, he rejects her because her family has rejected and society rejects her. He is unwilling to compromise his own honor for what he feels are the wholly unwarranted actions of her family. He forgets the pleasure he enjoyed being worshiped by Maggie and opts instead to pursue Nell whose good favor he desires. Nell, for her part, eliminates Maggie as a potential rival for Petes attention by convincing him that she was not worth his time. The scene in which Maggie attempts to return to Pete and is soundly rejected mirrors the earlier one in which Jimmie rejected his former lover Hattie. Maggie is now without means and marked as a fallen woman. Nobody will offer her comfort or work. Simply by being in the street with nowhere to go she begins to attract the attention of men. Thus, she is being inexorably forced into the life of a prostitute by a society that believes she already is one. Not yet fully comprehending her predicament she flees them. Crane uses the episode with the minister to express the manner in which the cultures hypocritical morality extended to religion as well.