Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets | Quotes


Naw ... dese micks can't make me run.

Jimmie Johnson, Chapter 1

This statement shows young Jimmie's resilience, tenacity, and courage. It also establishes the setting in terms of the ethnic composition of the neighborhood. The derogatory term "micks" refers to the Irish of Devil's Row in the Bowery.

Jimmie's fearlessness as a fighter—even standing alone against a horde when others encourage him to run—stands in contrast to the abject terror of the mother he experiences later. When the mother turns violent, Jimmie runs, leaving Maggie to fend for herself.


Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin' yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin' yer fader?

The Old Woman, Chapter 2

The old woman's question to young Jimmie—"What is it dis time?"—suggests there have been many incidents in which the Johnson family has attracted attention. A complacent tone reveals a lack of surprise, even fatigue.

The second part of the question suggests in addition to abusing the children, the parents abuse each other. This establishes the degree of violence and misery that is commonplace in the Johnson household and the tenements in general.


The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle ... None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Against all odds—poverty, hunger, neglect, abuse—Maggie grows up to be pretty, a miracle in the tenements. When she was a child playing in the street, "dirt disguised her" and no one noticed her. As a young woman she transcends her surroundings, as if "the dirt of Rum Alley" does not stick to her.

The phrase about the dirt of Rum Alley not being "in her veins" means Maggie is also above the violence, criminality, and immorality of the slums. Her inner goodness is reflected in her outer good looks. This purity is untouched by Rum Alley, and she is able to grow, independent of its influence.


Mag, I'll tell yeh dis! See? Yeh've edder got teh go teh hell or go teh work!

Jimmie Johnson, Chapter 5

When the other men in the neighborhood begin ogling Maggie, Jimmie warns her she must go to work to maintain her respectability. Beauty may bring options for Maggie, but it may also bring peril. If she remains available to their advances it will only be a matter of time before she has sex with one of them, in their vernacular "going to hell." A figurative expression in this case, it also indicates moral and spiritual failure, which—in their belief system—would literally send a person to hell.


She began to see the bloom upon her cheeks as valuable.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Maggie looks at life through new eyes when she meets Pete. She believes he has money, connections, and aristocratic manners. Her admiration for his clothes makes her hate all her dresses and scrutinize all the details of well-dressed women, including the look of serenity on their faces. She compares their circumstances with those of the "grizzled" factory women at her job: the former are protected by those who love them, while the latter grumble about babies and unpaid wages.

Maggie realizes her youth and beauty can only serve her for a limited time. She hopes her "bloom" will lead to an attachment with Pete and take her away from the noise and filth of the factory and from the drunken abuse of her family members. But Maggie does not look to exploit her attractiveness by searching out other wealthy benefactors. Pete is the only man in her eyes.


She asked him did he love her ... An' she was a-cryin' as if her heart would break ... she had been askin' orften, he says: 'Oh, hell, yes.'

The Old Woman, Chapter 10

The old woman eagerly tells Jimmie about Maggie's transgression, using the following hints: she came home very late, she was crying, she was begging Pete to reassure her he loved her, and he was already sick of repeating himself. The connotation is Pete and Maggie had sex, probably after Pete told her it would be all right because he loved her. Possibly flooded with regret, guilt, and shame, Maggie begs Pete to profess his feelings in hope he will make or repeat some kind of promise or commitment.


Jimmie had an idea it wasn't common courtesy for a friend to come to one's home and ruin one's sister.

Narrator, Chapter 10

Jimmie has a sense of being insulted by Pete. Because they were friends first, he feels he is owed some loyalty. Instead Pete wrecked the Johnson home and family after they welcomed him, as if Maggie were Jimmie's possession.

Jimmie is more indignant at the affront to his honor than any wrong that may have been done to Maggie. He goes out to fight Pete, more to defend his own interests and reputation as a fighter than to avenge Maggie—her name is not even mentioned. Jimmie certainly does not defend Maggie when Pete later abandons her.


She did not feel like a bad woman.

Narrator, Chapter 12

Maggie is now dependent on Pete. She has given up her home and family, risking everything for this relationship. Maggie does not feel immoral or impure "so long as Pete adored her as he now said he did." The distance she feels from "bad" women is emphasized when she looks away from other interested men and by holding her skirts away from the painted women.


Dis t'ing queers us!

Jimmie Johnson, Chapter 13

Developing an awareness of the stigma on the Johnson home and family, Jimmie feels pressure to bring Maggie home and try to keep the incident quiet. He likely experienced less discrimination, judgment, and shunning from others than Maggie but is already caving in. The only hope for the mother and Jimmie to control the damage of the scandal and remain on the moral high ground is to publicly denounce Maggie, which they do.


She thought she noted an air of submission about her leonine Pete. She was astounded.

Narrator, Chapter 14

Maggie first realizes something is amiss when Pete reveals his weakness. Pete, who "could appear to strut even while sitting still," suddenly shows deference when Nellie appears. Maggie had thought Pete answered to no one and she put her fate in his hands, but Nellie squashes this expectation.

Further, Pete is hopelessly in love with Nellie—"Yeh knows I'm stuck on yehs, don' yehs, Nell?" in Chapter 18—but she thinks he is a "damn fool." Nellie's unrequited feelings for Pete do not ruin his life. However, his love for Nellie makes him unwilling to commit to Maggie, which ends up ruining Maggie's life.


Radiant virtue sat upon his brow and his repelling hands expressed horror of contamination.

Narrator, Chapter 15

Jimmie—Maggie's best hope for mercy—rejects his sister when she turns to him for support. When they were children, Maggie had shown Jimmie kindness amid the violence. They had huddled together in fear of the mother throughout the nights. But this commonality goes separate ways based on gender.

Adult Jimmie—like all men of this time—can have sex with numerous women and even father children he will never support while appearing virtuous and moral. Maggie—like all women—can have sex once and be perceived as dirty, demonic, contaminated, and evil. Rather than defend his sister, Jimmie puts his comfort and reputation first by hiding behind this double standard.


Where kin I go?

Maggie Johnson, Chapter 16

Seemingly such a simple question, but the ramifications are enormous and even fatal for Maggie. After being rejected by the mother and Jimmie, the last hope for homeless Maggie to stay off the streets is an appeal to the man who just abandoned her to make good on whatever promises he made in the heat of passion. Readers already have an example of what to expect from Jimmie's treatment of Hattie. Pete responds exactly the same way, even telling Maggie to go to hell. Maggie has no friends, and her attempt to approach a religious-looking man for help is rebuffed. With nowhere to turn, Maggie wonders what lies in store for her.


An'body treats me right, I allus trea's zem right! See?

Pete, Chapter 18

Pete has a crisis of conscience. He does not speak of Maggie directly but feels a strong urge to make peace with the world, to have others call him a good fellow. Buying drinks for a group of women, Pete is in essence paying them to say he is good and fair to absolve him of blame. He repeatedly proclaims his fairness, but what Maggie did (in Pete's mind) to deserve his unfair treatment only Pete knows. Or more likely, he simply is not fair, and no amount of whiskey will change this fact. Unfortunately Pete wastes his money on Nellie and her friends who think he is a "damn fool" instead of using it to support kind, innocent Maggie, who believes he is the greatest guy ever.


Well ... Mag's dead.

Jimmie Johnson, Chapter 19

Jimmie tells the mother of Maggie's death in a matter-of-fact way, devoid of any emotion. Jimmie is a product of this cruel environment, so even the death of his sister does not faze him. Maggie's death is simply a fact, and if a cause could be identified, it would be her immorality.


Oh, yes, I'll fergive her! I'll fergive her!

Mary Johnson, Chapter 19

The mother forgives Maggie too late. Forgiveness could have saved her. Miss Smith's church missions could have saved her. When she was alive Maggie was a reminder of human frailty and moral failings. She brought shame upon her household. So only after death can Maggie be forgiven, when her presence and her actions no longer reflect on the mother.

Miss Smith helps the mother—still an upstanding member of the community despite her drinking and swearing—find peace so the depravity of her daughter does not drag her down.

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