Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Chapter 4 | Summary



Baby Tommie dies and is carried away in a "white, insignificant coffin," and Maggie steals a flower to place in his hand. Maggie and Jimmie grow up. Jimmie becomes hardened, studies "human nature in the gutter," and develops a chronic sneer: "He never conceived a respect for the world, because he had begun with no idols that it had smashed." Before he begins working, Jimmie hangs around street corners "dreaming blood-red dreams at the passing of pretty women" or getting soup at church missions and drinking with friends.

By the time the father has died and the mother is on public assistance, Jimmie goes to work as a truck driver. His fighting ways now turn to police, pedestrians, and other drivers. He hates streetcars and respects only the fire engines. Adulthood finds Jimmie still fighting, mistrustful, and avoiding his former lovers, "two women in different parts of the city, and entirely unknown to each other."


Crane depicts the death of baby Tommie in an unsentimental, hardened fashion. Crane writes, "He went away in a white, insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian." The narrator even comments that perhaps of the three Johnson children, Tommie was the luckiest. There seems to be no time to mourn or process his death—his parents only continue to drink heavily, while life must go on for Jimmie and Maggie. Crane also speeds up time after Tommie's death, almost to signal that the lives of these characters have already been forged in stone—there is no going back to alter the outcome of their futures. Jimmie grows up much as the reader might expect him to, molded in the shape of his deceased father's angry tendencies. Crane notes, "The inexperienced fibers of [Jimmie's] eyes were hardened at an early age." His survival instincts have only hardened into indifference, demonstrated by his lack of concern over two women who love him but are unaware of each other's existence. According to Crane, indifference seems to be the only psychological defense against a world in which violence and death are commonplace.

The narrator observes that Jimmie "was afraid of neither the devil nor the leader of society." Jimmie's view of the world in his neighborhood and city calcifies into one of disdain. He realizes he will likely never rise out of the conditions into which he was born, and so contempt for those who are better off is yet another of his defense mechanisms. His career as a truck driver only serves to highlight his belief that it's the one place he can wield any sense of power by having people and cars get out of the way for him and where he can feel larger than he is.

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