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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 16 | Summary



Pete does not think he ruined Maggie. If he knew "her soul could never smile again," he would blame it on the mother and Jimmie. He thinks they want "to snare him" and worries about keeping his job working for a boss who demands respectability. Nellie factors in, too, mocking Maggie as "a little pale thing with no spirit," with eyes that have "something in them about pumpkin pie and virtue." She hints that Maggie is beneath Pete when she says, "What are you coming to?" Pete vehemently denies his interest in Maggie.

The day after Maggie leaves home, Pete is immaculately dressed and dreaming of Nellie while he works at the bar. He sees Maggie walk slowly by outside. Feeling nervous and guilty, Pete hurriedly meets her in the street. Maggie is relieved to see him, but he warns her away, saying she will get him in trouble. She protests, "Why, Pete! yehs tol' me—" to no avail. Pete launches into a tirade, starting with "Say, yehs makes me tired. See? What deh hell deh yeh wanna tag aroun' atter me fer?" Now concerned, Maggie tries again, "Pete, don't yeh remem—," perhaps alluding to promises he had made. Pete's response of "Oh, hell" makes clear to Maggie the depth of her situation. When she finds her voice enough to ask, "Where kin I go?" Pete replies with exasperation, "Oh, go teh hell." He slams the door, returning "with an air of relief, to his respectability."

Maggie wanders the streets, pausing eventually to ask herself, "Who?" She soon realizes walking with nowhere to go attracts the wrong kind of attention from men, so she tries to look intent on getting somewhere. Entering a residential neighborhood, Maggie approaches "a stout gentleman in a silk hat and a chaste black coat" whose appearance reminds her of "the Grace of God." He steps around her, though, to spare his own respectability rather than save a soul.


Maggie's confrontation of Pete echoes that of the one between Jimmie and the girl he was involved with, Hattie. Much like Jimmie, Pete roundly rejects and avoids Maggie's pleas and overtures to help her. He also seems to have no sense of how dire Maggie's circumstances are, or how he might have played a part in them. The narrator observes coldly that Maggie's questions "exasperated Pete beyond the powers of endurance. It was a direct attempt to give him some responsibility in a matter that did not concern him." Here Crane emphasizes what seems to be an observation on the inherent selfishness of people, causing the reader to wonder if this is a product of environment or something more innate. This moment marks a particularly painful loss of innocence for Maggie, who still seemed to hold on to the idealistic notion that everything would still turn out okay. This moment marks her final loss of innocence in hopes and dreams, since now she really has nowhere to go and no one else to turn to. Her final attempt at finding help comes in the form of soliciting a priest, who avoids her with disdain. The attention men on the street begin to pay her gives the reader the sense that the walls of the path to prostitution are quickly closing in on Maggie. Crane asks the reader to consider if this fate for Maggie was always inevitable, and how much society at large played in ushering her down this path by marking her as a "ruined" woman. The narrator notes that men are beginning to look at her with "calculating eyes," and although Maggie doesn't yet seem to understand what this will mean for her, the reader, as usual, knows before she does.

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