Maggie A Girl of the Streets: Novel Summary: Chapter 2

Swept along by an early autumn breeze Jimmie and his father arrive at their miserable tenement building. Bedraggled clothes flap from the fire escapes, disordered women gossip and quarrel, withered old persons sit listlessly on the ground and babies are left to fight amongst themselves. The building itself is full of the odors of cooking food and loud noises that betrayed the weight of humanity bound inside it. Jimmie and his father encounter Jimmies younger sister Maggie dragging their baby brother Tommie down the alley. The bawling baby resists his sisters attempts to force him home. When Maggie sees Jimmies torn clothes and bleeding face she cries out: “Ah, Jimmie, youse bin fightin agin.” To which her brother responds: “Ah, what deh hell, Mag. See?” The girl begins to weep with the realization that their mother will be upset and the whole family is likely to suffer as a result. Jimmie smacks his sister in the mouth to stop her crying and the stunned girl retreats cursing. Seeing this Jimmies father upbraids his son and wonders aloud why the boy never learns anything from the beatings he gives him. Jimmie curses his father as the whole group makes its way up grimy staircases and down gloomy halls. They enter their apartment where their mother, a large woman, is doing battle with a seething stove and a table covered in pans. The woman sees that her son has been fighting and explodes with anger. Knocking the howling baby to the ground she grabs Jimmie and violently shakes him before taking him to a filthy sink and vigorously scrubbing his wounds. Jimmie cries in pain and tries to escape. The father, who sits by the stove smoking his pipe, yells at his wife, whose name is Mary. The father complains that he cant get any rest because Mary is always pounding one of the children. He accuses her of being drunk and the husband and wife fall to arguing violently and the children cower. Maggie crawls over to her brother who refuses to let her clean his wounds. Instead he turns to face the wall. The father storms out of the house to go get drunk and Mary screams after him. She returns to the stove, stirring up the children in the process and eventually produces a pan of fried potatoes that the hungry children desperately consume. Mary drinks from a bottle while they eat. She becomes somber and weeps as she puts Tommie to bed. Maggie struggles do clean the dishes while Jimmie nurses his various wounds and cautiously watches his mother weeping and drinking by the stove. Maggie accidentally breaks a plate and Mary roars to life. Jimmie flees and runs down to the next floor where an old woman opens a door and says: “Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin yer fader?”
Analysis of Chapter 2
In this chapter we meet Maggie – a young girl dragging her baby brother home through an alley. She is characterized as simply another product of the rough and tumble Bowery environment caught in the cycle of violence of hypocrisy. She takes issue with Jimmie because his behavior will mean trouble at home and receives a slap in the face. Their father upbraids him for hitting her in the street. The fathers insistence that the act is wrong only because it is in public is the first hint that the morality of respectability still applies to their world.
At home the mother, Mary Johnson, dominates the action. Seemingly bereft of maternal feelings she not only responds to her sons wounds by doing more violence to him but she knocks her baby aside in the effort. Maggie shows genuine sympathy for her brother when she asks if she can help clean his wounds but he refuses and occupies himself with thoughts of revenge upon a member of the Devils Row gang. Thus does Jimmie project his familys violence outward into the larger world. When Mary turns on Maggie, Jimmie flees the apartment and leaves his sister to be beaten. We learn that this is a common occurrence in the family when the old woman wearily wonders aloud who is beating whom in the apartment this time.