Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Course Hero. "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Sep. 2017. Web. 21 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maggie-A-Girl-of-the-Streets/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, September 20). Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maggie-A-Girl-of-the-Streets/

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Course Hero. "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maggie-A-Girl-of-the-Streets/.

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Course Hero, "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maggie-A-Girl-of-the-Streets/.

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

The mother is eating "like a fat monk in a picture" when Jimmie enters and says, "Well ... Mag's dead." At first the mother does not believe it and continues eating. Eventually she begins crying and lamenting, "I kin remember when her two feet was no bigger dan yer t'umb, and she weared worsted boots."

Neighbors gather. Women enter to mourn and to tidy the place, giving it "that appalling appearance of neatness and order with which death is greeted." A woman in black rushes in and embraces the mother with words of commiseration "derived from mission churches. 'Me poor Mary, how I feel fer yehs! Ah, what a ter'ble affliction is a disobed'ent chil'.'" The mother, now called "the mourner," tells the woman, Miss Smith, about the worsted boots, and all the women moan together. Miss Smith begins to steer the mother toward forgiveness, asking, "Yeh'll fergive her now, Mary, won't yehs, dear, all her disobed'ence? ... She's gone where her ter'ble sins will be judged." The mother retrieves the worsted boots from the other room, and all the women begin crying afresh. She tells Jimmie, "Go git yer sister an' we'll put deh boots on her feets!" Jimmie points out they will not fit her feet, but the mother furiously insists. Jimmie goes out.

Miss Smith takes up her plea again, and says, "Her life was a curse an' her days were black an' yeh'll fergive yer bad girl? She's gone where her sins will be judged." The other women chime in, and say, "She's gone where her sins will be judged." Then they respond in chorus to Miss Smith's "Deh Lord gives and deh Lord takes away." The pressure mounts until the mother can speak, and she exclaims, "Oh, yes, I'll fergive her! I'll fergive her!"

Analysis

The news of Maggie's death echoes the death early on of her baby brother Tommie. Jimmie announces it in a similarly matter-of-fact way, and the reader cannot help but recall the nonchalance with which Tommie's death was recounted. People like Jimmie and Mary are accustomed to death, but Maggie's death also provides her mother with an opportunity to seek attention and pity. In a flash she goes from believing Maggie was evil to remembering the tiny boots she wore on her feet as a child. This is a moment of situational irony given that Mary was never shown demonstrating any affection to Maggie when she was a child. Mary's final exclamation that she forgives Maggie seems more for her own benefit than any actual reconciliation, no matter how belated or untimely. It also begs the question as to why Mary could be so quick to forgive Maggie upon her death but not during her life when it mattered the most. In this light, her demonstrations feel more like a performance rather than something of emotional significance, and indeed, her neighbors show up moments later to partake in the spectacle.

It is significant that from the first moment the reader meets Mary to the last, Crane never once depicts her as having any redeeming qualities as a mother, wife, or human being. It is difficult, then, to feel any sympathy for her belated, demonstrative tears because they have never emerged before, or particularly during any moments that truly deserved sympathy. Crane seems to be highlighting that, due to environment or something more intrinsic, some people are just truly awful. The reader can only guess at the fact that Mary had just as abysmal a childhood as the one she provided for Maggie and Jimmie, but it leaves an uneasy question of whether or not this excuses her behavior. Crane also poses the question of whether or not Mary is directly responsible for Maggie's death by banishing her from the house and therefore depicts her as a kind of monstrous version of what a mother should be. The author ends on a chilling description of a scene in which "the inevitable sunlight came streaming in at the windows and shed a ghastly cheerfulness upon the faded hues of the room." His use of language and evocative description here highlights that, despite Maggie's undeserving life and death, life for people like Mary will go on as usual, and the memory of Maggie will fade.

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