Naturalism in “Maggie: A girl of the street”

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The author of Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” not only presents naturalism in the story’s content but also explicitly states this concept. The purpose of Crane’s writing is to illustrate the significant influence of one’s surroundings on their life, as he states, “…to show that environment is a tremendous thing in this world, and often shapes lives regardless” (Westbrook 587). Maggie’s upbringing in an impoverished and abusive family, coupled with a bleak future and minimal chance for change, is a reflection of the environment and setting she grows up in. Critics refer to Maggie as a representation of culture and identity shaped by her surroundings.

According to Howard Horwitz’s statement, a person is perceived as a product of their environment, mirroring and replicating it without bringing about any modifications. This is because individuals are seen as complete imitations of their surroundings, as some social scientists label them (Horwitz 608). Therefore, it can be concluded that people reflect the characteristics of the environment they inhabit. Stephen Crane employs the concept of naturalism to illustrate how Maggie’s upbringing and surroundings shape her. Maggie endures a life with an abusive family in the slums and experiences rejection from both her family and her love interest, Pete. Consequently, she turns to prostitution and ultimately dies alone.

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These consequences clearly demonstrate the impact of the environment on Maggie’s life. Maggie’s upbringing was in a family where her parents were drunk and abusive. She has an aggressive older brother named Jimmie, who frequently gets involved in street fights. Additionally, Maggie had a younger brother called Tommie who sadly passed away as an infant. Crane describes their mother, Mary, as a “large, rampant woman” with immense hands and a yellow face, who behaves in a “chieftain-like” manner (Crane 225). Mary’s alcohol addiction caused her to become violent and abusive, especially towards her children, and particularly towards Maggie.

For instance, when Maggie accidentally broke a plate, her mother became so enraged that her eyes shone with sudden hatred. Her face, fervently red, almost turned purple, and she proceeded to strike her daughter (Crane 227). The father provided no support to the children and only worsened the situation. In one scene, the reader catches a glimpse of the father’s addiction as he forcefully takes an old woman’s beer from Jimmie’s grasp (Crane 228). The entire Johnson family frequently engages in fights and behaves like an angry pack of animals trapped in a “cage”. It appears that the entire apartment complex is aware of their family’s domestic violence.

The text highlights the oppressive atmosphere Jimmie faced in his household, which prompted him to seek solace elsewhere. His attempts at escape were met with the neighboring old woman’s inquiry, “Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin’ yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin’ yer fader?” (Crane 227). This incident reveals the recurring cycle of abuse within Maggie’s family, a pattern that has persisted since her early years. Importantly, this detrimental environment significantly influences Maggie’s future challenges. Unlike those inhabiting the slums surrounding her, Maggie grows up with a distinct individuality. Crane supports this notion by remarking that “none of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins.”

The philosophers on different floors of the building were all puzzled by it, as mentioned by Crane (234). Despite Maggie’s unique circumstances, her chances of improving her life are slim. The ignorance and lack of education among those around her make it difficult for her to realize any change. In Crane’s description, Rum Alley is depicted as a place where people withered away in submission, occupying obscure corners while smoking pipes, and where numerous doorways disgorged babies onto the street and gutter.

According to Crane (223), Maggie lives among individuals of low social standing who are characterized by uncombed hair and disordered dresses. They engage in gossip while leaning on railings or involved in frantic quarrels. This depiction implies that Maggie’s situation is one of misery and she must escape her community to improve it. However, she is unable to do so, which ultimately leads to a tragic outcome. Both her family and lover abandon her, forcing her into prostitution. It is important to mention that all members of the Johnson family, except for Maggie, are drunken and aggressive.

The reason why Maggie seeks protection from Pete is because she has been abused by her alcoholic mother. Her main desire is to escape from her family. According to an article by Wilson and Widom, running away from home is often a response to an abusive or neglectful household. They found that individuals who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect are more likely to run away from home compared to other groups (H. Wilson and C. Widom 218). If Maggie had grown up in a loving and caring family, her choice of a romantic partner may have been more positive and healthy.

Following the death of her father, Maggie developed a strong desire to find a man who could fulfill the roles of an ideal husband, hero, and caregiver. The negative experiences she had with her own family prompted her to seek emotional connection beyond her home. As stated by H. Wilson and C. Widom (229), teenagers may engage in early and unsafe sexual activity when positive family relationships are lacking. In Maggie’s perspective, Pete embodies this ideal prototype of a man, as described by Crane: “His mannerisms displayed his belief in his own superiority, and there was a fearless and dismissive attitude towards his circumstances in his gaze.”

In Crane’s text, it is described how he waved his hands in a manner typical of a worldly man who disregards religion and philosophy. This gesture exemplified Maggie’s positive opinion. In the early stages of their relationship, they engaged in ordinary activities that any couple would do, such as dining out. Their typical night out included going to the theater to enjoy various performances and entertainments of different kinds. However, Maggie’s insecurities caused her to envision Pete being pursued by numerous women. She believed that he lived a life filled with pleasure and had friends and acquaintances who feared him.

Maggie’s hopes for a happy life with Pete increase quickly. However, Pete’s attraction to her diminishes just as fast. It becomes clear that Pete is not the ideal man that Maggie believed him to be, especially when it comes to his relationship with Nellie. According to Crane (268), Maggie is stunned when she sees Pete pleading with Nellie and seeking her forgiveness. It is truly shocking for Maggie to witness Pete’s attention being focused on Nellie and his clear desire for her approval.

Eventually, Maggie was left behind by him in order to freely leave for his new relationship. Denied by heartless Pete, Maggie has nowhere to go. She can no longer return to her house, and Pete was her last chance. When she asks him for a place to go, he instructs her to go to hell and forcefully shuts the door in front of her (Crane 275). Going back to her previous home meant enduring significant abuse from her family. After trying to go home, Maggie faced scolding and accusing comments from her mother and contempt from the whole neighborhood.

Maggie’s mother dramatically points her finger at her daughter and exclaims, “Dere she stands! Lookut her! Ain’ she a dindy? An’ she was so good as to come home t’ her mudder, she was …” (271). Even infants were forbidden from being close to Maggie. One mother quickly seizes her child, casting a furious glance at Maggie (272). After leaving home and residing with Pete, Maggie’s actions cause the people of Rum Alley to perceive her as being morally compromised. Consequently, they view her as an outcast and treat her with dismay. Even her brother shows no hope for her when he calls his name but “he drew hastily back from her. Well, now, yer a hell of a t’ing ain’t yeh? ” he exclaims while his hands show horror at the thought of contamination (272). This pivotal moment in Maggie’s life causes her to lose hope both in her family and in finding romantic love. Hence, Maggie ultimately turns to prostitution. As Helen Wilson’s research journal suggests, “romantic and sexual relationships may be the primary context leading to involvement in prostitution from childhood maltreatment” (Wilson 231).

The research likewise indicated that “victims of childhood abuse and neglect are at greater risk for youth problem behaviors and that these behaviors partially mediate the pathway to involvement in prostitution by young adulthood” (233). Consequently, Maggie’s life and destiny are greatly influenced by the individuals and surroundings that encompass her. She is incapable of evading or conquering her destiny and is ultimately left to perish under her horrendous circumstances. Crane effectively illustrates how Maggie’s life is genuinely molded by her environment by means of an abusive childhood, existence in the slums, and rejection from her family and Pete.

Maggie aspires for a better life than the one she grew up in, but sadly, she experiences disappointing outcomes. Meanwhile, her mother and brother embrace their origins and live contently. Throughout the novel, “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” Crane leverages his observations on the natural laws governing humanity to highlight the choice between accepting societal norms or falling prey to them.

Works Cited:

The following sources provide information on different aspects of Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets”:
– Crane, Stephen. “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” The Haves and Have-Nots. Ed. Barbara Solomon. New York: A Signet Classic, 1999. 219-284. Print.
– Horwitz, Howard. “Maggie and the Sociological Paradigm.” American Literary History. 10.4 (1998): 606-638. Print.
– Westbrook, Max. “Stephen Crane’s Social Ethic.” American Quarterly. 14.4 (1962): 587-596. Print.
– Wilson, Helen W., and Widom, Cathy S. “The Role of Youth Problem Behaviors in the Path From Child Abuse and Neglect to Prostitution: A Prospective Examination.” Journal of Research on Adolescence. 20.1 (2010): 210-236. Print

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Naturalism in “Maggie: A girl of the street”. (2017, Jan 27). Retrieved from

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