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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 8 | Summary



Thoughts of Pete make Maggie hate all her dresses. She envies well-dressed women who "smiled with serenity as though forever cherished and watched over by those they loved." The smell and noise of the shirt factory dishearten her, as do the "grizzled women" who act as machines. She wonders how long she has before her youth is gone and finds herself one of them: "She began to see the bloom upon her cheeks as valuable." She also hates the boss of the factory. Maggie wishes she had a friend to talk with about Pete. She only has her mother, who is drunk all the time, and Jimmie who stumbles home occasionally.

Pete takes Maggie to the Central Park Menagerie (zoo) and the Museum of Arts on various Sundays, indifferent to the entertainment himself except for a belligerent monkey with which he identifies. He promises to take Maggie on a picnic next year. He endures the museum, mostly with "silent dignity." During the week they attend plays in which the audience loudly voices its approval or disapproval of the heroes and villains. Maggie always leaves the plays with "raised spirits" and "rejoiced at the way in which the poor and virtuous eventually surmounted the wealthy and wicked." The plays give her hope she can obtain the "culture and refinement" shown on stage, even though she is from the slums.


Pete's dates with Maggie only further reinforce her blossoming belief that her current circumstances are embarrassing, specifically her home and her clothing. She becomes increasingly fixated on these outward appearances as an indication of self-worth and fervently believes they are the key to happiness. Just as she has begun to notice and obsess over the shabby nature of her home, so Maggie begins to notice other women not much older than her in the neighborhood who look haggard and worn. She worries that her time as a youthful beauty is dwindling, and since her obsession is with appearances as a symbol of status, she worries her worth will expire as well. Crane dangles the question of whether Maggie would be better off not having been exposed to a better world and life since it seems maddeningly out of her grasp. But the seed has been planted, and now she is aware of all she cannot have. At the same time it is unclear where Maggie and Pete's relationship is heading—will they get married? Or is he only after a physical relationship? Would her life improve were she to marry him? Crane draws out their activities in order to leave the reader guessing, and in the process shows the widening gulf between Maggie's hopes and Pete's boredom. At the same time, watching the plays Pete takes her to causes Maggie to think about things she has never thought of before, such as whether "the culture and refinement she had seen ... could be acquired by a girl who lived in a tenement house and worked in a shirt factory." This thinking reinforces Crane's implicit question of just how beneficial it is for Maggie to hope for a life beyond the only one she knows.

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