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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 18 | Summary



Pete drinks with several laughing women in a saloon, having arrived "at that stage of drunkenness where affection is felt for the universe." The women agree with everything he says about what a good fellow he is, and how he treats people right when they treat him right. He tells them they can have anything they want, calling the waiter over for another round. The girls are the "right sort," he believes, saying, "Now, if I sawght yehs tryin' work me fer drinks, wouldn' buy damn t'ing!" He vows he will stay until he has spent his last cent and tearfully professes his love for all of humanity.

When the waiter returns, Pete tries to give him money just for being a "damn goo' f'ler." Disgusted, the waiter refuses, and says, "Yer loaded an' yehs on'y makes a damn fool of yerself." Pete feels rejected by the waiter, but Nellie pats his arm and tells him she and the girls will stand by him. Feeling "that if he could be convicted of a contemptible action he would die," Pete looks to Nellie for further reassurance, asking, "Shay, Nell, damn it, I allus trea's yehs shquare, didn' I? I allus been goo' f'ler wi' yehs, ain't I, Nell?" She agrees heartily and rallies the girls to toast his health.

Pete wants to order more drinks and becomes impatient with the waiter, suspecting he has insulted him. The girls persuade him to let it go instead of fighting the waiter, and Pete decides to apologize to him instead. Pete "felt a sleepy but strong desire to straighten things out and have a perfect understanding with everybody," so he asks Nellie if he always treats her right. She says, "Sure." He asks, "Yeh knows I'm stuck on yehs, don' yehs, Nell?" Her answer is just the same, "Sure." Taking out the last of his money, Pete lays it on the table and tells her she can have all he has. When Pete falls asleep, the women continue laughing and drinking. He falls to the floor, and they shriek and pull back their skirts. Nellie grabs the money as the women leave. She laughs and pronounces Pete "a damn fool."


The only assurance of retribution Crane provides the reader with is the fact that Pete is eventually taken advantage of by Nellie. The recurring role of alcohol plays a part in allowing Pete to succumb to being made a fool of, and here Crane hints that alcohol has impaired the judgment of many of the characters in the novel. Even though Nellie has cruelly stolen Pete from Maggie without so much as a second thought, here Crane portrays her as someone perhaps worthy of admiration when it comes to her own survival. Nellie knows how to charm Pete well enough to take his money, and thus in the game of survival of the fittest she emerges as the only clear winner. The sense of retribution on behalf of Maggie rings a bit hollow, however, when the reader realizes Pete isn't even fully aware of just how he has been taken advantage of. For characters like Pete, Mary, and Jimmie, ignorance is bliss, and realizations rarely lead to any significant self-realizations. For Maggie, however, innocence is hell. Again Crane leads the reader to ponder what justice and fairness look like in this harsh and realistic world.

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