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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Chapter 14 | Summary



Three weeks later Maggie and Pete enter a "hilarious hall," a smoke-filled establishment of music and clinking beer glasses. Maggie's "spaniel-like dependence" is in proportion to Pete's "peculiar off-handedness." His manner changes completely when he recognizes Nellie, the "woman of brilliance and audacity," accompanied by "a mere boy," Freddie. Pete and Nellie catch up on old times. Maggie has nothing to say, while Freddie sulks. Pete's eyes sparkle. Freddie switches to talking too much, patronizing Pete and trying to spend excessively on Nellie. She tells him to stop—"You gibber like an ape, dear."

Nellie whispers to Pete they should go "to Billie's and have a heluva time." Pete says he has Maggie with him. Nellie says, "Oh, t'hell with her." Pete looks uncomfortable but asks Nellie to step away with him for a moment so he can explain. Freddie, having internally debated fighting Pete, tells Nellie to "shake that Bowery jay!" Pete touches Nellie's arm and entreats her again, "Yer doin' me dirt, Nell!" Freddie suspects they will not return. Nellie reassures him and leaves with Pete, seemingly indifferent to his offered explanations.

Maggie is "dazed" and "astounded" and notices "an air of submission about her leonine Pete." After half an hour, Freddie bemoans his bad treatment by Nellie and orders another stronger drink. He tells Maggie his name is not even Freddie—"I always tell these people some name like that"—and claims they do not fool him. Maggie continues to watch the door, and Freddie continues to drink. When he is fully drunk Freddie says he and Maggie should make the best of it, saying she is good looking, though not on Nellie's level. Maggie declares her intention to go home, and Freddie drunkenly pays her fare for the streetcar.


In the few weeks since Maggie has left home, the narrator observes that her air of "spaniel-like dependence had been magnified and showed its direct effect in the peculiar off-handedness and ease of Pete's ways toward her." Pete has already begun to take her devotion for granted, which paves the way for a grand foil in the character of Nellie to swoop him away with her aloofness and charm. Pete and Maggie's encounter with Nellie appears to be one of the climactic moments in the novel, in which everything changes for Maggie. Maggie suffers in silence while witnessing Pete's affection for Nellie and finally sees him in the moment for who he truly is—someone who can succumb instantly to a woman with more power than him. She observes that "she thought she noted an air of submission about her leonine Pete," which astonishes her to witness. Nellie has provoked an entirely different person to emerge in Pete thanks to her powers of seduction.

To add insult to injury, both Nellie's and Pete's treatment of Maggie only seems to confirm her sense of low self-worth. The reader realizes Maggie and Freddy are disposable to both Pete and Nellie once they encounter each other again, and neither cares much for the emotional repercussions to their victims. The fallout from Pete and Nellie's encounter is such that Maggie has nowhere else to turn. Crane has hinted that Maggie's options are already slim without the support of her family or Pete, and that it is unlikely she can make a living from her factory job. As the realization slowly dawns on both Maggie and the reader that prostitution may be her only option, the horror begins to sink in as to her fate.

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