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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 5 | Summary



Somehow Maggie grows up pretty, and "none of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins." As a child she was disguised by dirt, but now the men notice her. Jimmie advises her to avoid ruin, stating, "Mag, I'll tell yeh dis! See? Yeh've edder got teh go teh hell or go teh work!" She chooses to work in a shirt factory sewing collars and cuffs.

Jimmie, now head of the household, proceeds to stumble home drunk as did his father before him, swearing and passing out on the floor. The mother is notorious in the courts now, her drunken sprees occurring every month. One day Pete comes by to take Jimmie to a boxing match, and Maggie observes him. His hair is oiled, his clothes have elaborate details, and "his patent-leather shoes looked like murder-fitted weapons." Everything about him suggests he is confident in his superiority, and she agrees: "Maggie thought he must be a very elegant and graceful bartender."

Pete brags about fighting with customers. His boss likes him to keep order, so he throws out anyone who means to start trouble. Pete and Jimmie swap stories, while Maggie stays in the shadows and considers Pete. She wonders if he is repelled by the grime and broken furniture. He just continues talking. Believing Pete to even be aristocratic, "Maggie perceived that here was the beau ideal of a man ... Under the trees of her dream-gardens there had always walked a lover."


Although the reader has been introduced to Maggie and gets a sense of her character as kind, sweet, and timid, Crane begins to increasingly direct the reader's attention to her as she grows up. Although she grew up in the same abusive home as her brother, Maggie has only seemed to grow more timid and naïve, in contrast to Jimmie's world-weariness and scorn. Her interest in Pete seems to be the first thing that sparks an actual sense of hope and wonder in her, and Crane teases the reader with the possibility that perhaps this will be Maggie's way out. She has never met anyone like Pete, and although the reader can see he is not much better as a person than Jimmie, his confidence and charisma are dazzling to someone like Maggie. Pete also begins to open Maggie's eyes to her own environment as she begins to see the squalor they live in, and she squirms with shame at the things she never noticed before. Unlike Jimmie, who uses disdain as a defense mechanism against hope, Maggie's realizations signal that she does, in fact, desperately hope she can change her conditions.

Jimmie's advice to Maggie that she can either "go teh hell" or get a job is slang for the notion that, in their neighborhood, she can either become a prostitute or work in a factory. For a girl like Maggie, these are literally her only two options to make a living to support herself. Crane also raises the tension of this choice by the fact that Maggie is depicted as having grown up to be an attractive woman, something the men around her are quick to notice and appreciate, including Pete. Although Maggie goes to work in a dreary factory, Pete becomes her possible escape from a life of drudgery—he raises the possible hope of a different future. Yet Crane has already demonstrated that hope is flickering and brief, quickly stamped out by brutal realism. Here Crane sets up a more philosophical question: Is Jimmie or Maggie more likely to survive in this world? While it would seem that Jimmie's toughness would benefit him, Crane hints that perhaps a sense of home is what will save one of them. The narrator notes, "None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in [Maggie's] veins." This is something that will either doom her or reward her, and Crane lays the seed of possibility to keep the reader hooked.

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