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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Course Hero. "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2023.


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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Meet the Johnsons

The Johnson family lives in the Bowery, the slums of Lower Manhattan, in the late 19th century. The parents drink, beat each other, and beat their children, Jimmie, Maggie, and Tommie. Jimmie fights in the street and beats Maggie. In contrast, Maggie minds Tommie, offers kindness to Jimmie, and helps Mary, also called the mother, with the dishes. When the parents finally fall asleep amid the broken furniture of a drunken brawl, Jimmie and Maggie huddle together all night watching the mother in fear. When Tommie dies, Maggie steals a flower for his casket.

Years pass, the father dies, and Jimmie becomes a hardened truck driver who hates cops and streetcars. He continues to fight in the street, now against other drivers. Women he ruined hunt him down looking for child support or marriage. Maggie has grown up to be pretty, and Jimmie instructs her to quickly begin working to avoid ruin. She gets a job in a shirt factory sewing collars. Jimmie is the head of the house now and stumbles home yelling at night, like his father before him. The mother, on public assistance, has become somewhat notorious in the court system.

Maggie and Pete

An older friend, Pete, comes over to take Jimmie to a boxing match, and Maggie is fascinated by him. Pete notices Maggie and begins embellishing his fighting stories. She thinks he is rich and high class and tries to spruce up the apartment for his next visit. Mary Johnson, their mother, is drunk all day and suspects the worst of Maggie staying out so long, even though she is working. Pete returns to take out Maggie. She enjoys the show, but he is more interested in the kiss he expects in return. Maggie rebuffs his advances.

Like the apartment, everything appears inadequate now that Maggie sees it through new eyes. She hates her dresses, her boss, and the fact she has no friends. Suddenly she sees the "bloom upon her cheeks as valuable" in contrast to her grizzled coworkers at the factory. The well-dressed women she admires must be cherished and protected, she thinks, whereas her mother is always drunk, and Jimmie—when he does come home—comes home drunk. Maggie's expectations fall on Pete, who takes her out for more nights of entertainment; namely plays in which the poor triumph. Maggie aspires to emulate the cultured characters on stage.

The fighting at home escalates: The mother and Jimmie fight in the hall, then the apartment. Pete arrives to find the mother screaming on the floor and Jimmie bloodied among the brokenness and mess. The mother tells Maggie, "Git out. I won't have sech as yehs in me house!" If she goes with Pete, Maggie cannot go home again. Pete tries to persuade Maggie it will be all right when the mother sobers up, but Maggie leaves with him, trembling.

Jimmie learns from the old lady downstairs that Pete has ruined Maggie. She reports Maggie was crying and begging Pete to say he loved her. Jimmie briefly wonders if "some of the women of his acquaintance had brothers" and vows to "kill deh jay!" Jimmie tells the mother, who cannot believe such a thing could happen to their family. Jimmie leaves to beat up Pete, and the mother curses Maggie. Gossips in the hall are already saying they had seen it coming.

Jimmie and a friend go to Pete's workplace, a neat and orderly bar, and goad him into a fight, breaking every glass, bottle, and mirror. A police officer comes, and Jimmie escapes.

At another show, Maggie tells Pete about her home life. She is reliant on him now, but she does not feel like a bad woman so long as he adores her. He feels proud when other men admire Maggie. She only has eyes for Pete. She draws her skirts away from the "painted" women when they pass.

When Jimmie returns home a few days later, the mother is still raving about Maggie, who had not come home. They cannot believe she could be so wicked. After a few more days, Jimmie grows nervous, saying, "Dis t'ing queers us!" He wants to bring Maggie home and keep the whole thing quiet. The mother will not hear of it. She relishes the misery Maggie will feel and how she will want to come home. Jimmie once again wonders if his women have brothers, but he makes no connection between them and himself. As time passes, the mother uses the story of Maggie's ruin to gain sympathy from neighbors and the courts. Jimmie publicly condemns Maggie to appear morally superior.

Three weeks after she left home, Maggie and Pete are at a hilarious hall (social establishment with a woman at each table)—her with "spaniel-like dependence" and him with his "peculiar off-handedness." Pete is extremely pleased to recognize a woman of "brilliance and audacity" called Nellie. Nellie and Pete catch up while Maggie says nothing and the boy with Nellie, Freddie, sulks. After some back and forth, Pete convinces Nellie to talk in private for a minute. As they go off Maggie is stunned to see Pete in a submissive role to the woman. When they realize their dates are not returning, Freddie puts Maggie on the streetcar.

Maggie's Ruin

Hattie, "a forlorn woman," searches for Jimmie, and he tells her to go to hell. When he gets home, Maggie is there and the mother is screaming abuse. Jimmie recoils from Maggie, "radiant virtue ... upon his brow." Maggie retreats amid the jeers of neighbors watching. The old woman downstairs invites Maggie to stay with her, saying, "I ain' got no moral standin'." The mother's laughter can be heard above.

Pete does not think he ruined Maggie. If she had a problem, it would be because of the mother and Jimmie, whom he believes are trying to "snare him." Nellie mocks Maggie, so Pete claims he was not very interested in her. Maggie then goes to Pete's workplace. He is very anxious about getting in trouble with his boss as it is a respectable establishment. Pete tells her not to hang around. Maggie asks, "But where kin I go?" Pete responds, "Oh, go teh hell." Maggie wanders around, unsure where to turn. She approaches a man in a silk hat with a beatific expression, but he recoils from her.

Some time passes. A painted woman moves through the theater district, smiling at farmers and avoiding city men. Different men respond to her smiles or eye contact in different ways, saying they are busy or have no money. She leaves the theater crowd and revelers behind, until she meets "a ragged being with shifting, bloodshot eyes and grimy hands." Finally, Maggie is at the last stop on her route, the river of "deathly black hue."

Pete, meanwhile, is surrounded by women and completely drunk. He tells the women they can have anything they want and waxes on about his love for all living things. One of the women is Nellie. He tries to give the waiter money, then feels insulted when the waiter tells him to put it away and stop being a fool. Pete wants to fight the waiter, but the women talk him out of it. Instead he apologizes to the waiter, wishing to make amends with everyone. Pete asks Nellie, "Yeh knows I'm stuck on yehs, don' yehs, Nell?" She says yes but leaves in disgust when he passes out, taking his money and saying, "What a damn fool."

Maggie's Death

Jimmie enters the apartment and tells the mother, "Well ... Mag's dead." Once the news sinks in, the mother weeps and fixates on the baby booties Maggie once wore. The neighbor women come to watch and to clean. A woman in black, Miss Smith, arrives to lead the mourning. She takes out the little baby shoes and tells Jimmie to go get his sister so they can put them on her. Jimmie protests they will not fit but leaves anyway. Miss Smith repeatedly urges the mother to forgive Maggie. Finally, the mother says she will.

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Jimmie Johnson gets in a fight with boys from another neighborhood.

Rising Action

2 The Johnsons abuse their children and each other.

3 Maggie Johnson grows up pretty, innocent, and trusting.

4 Maggie falls for Pete, and they begin dating.

5 Mary Johnson, Maggie's mother, damns Maggie to hell.

6 Maggie leaves home.

7 Jimmie reports, "Maggie's gone teh deh devil!"

8 Jimmie fights Pete.

9 Pete abandons Maggie for Nellie.

10 Mary and Jimmie shun Maggie.


11 Maggie appeals to Pete, who rejects her.

Falling Action

12 Maggie survives as a prostitute until her death.

13 Pete, plagued by conscience, throws away money on Nellie.

14 Jimmie tells Mary Maggie is dead.


15 Miss Smith pressures Mary to forgive Maggie; she does.

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