Naturalism in “Maggie: A girl of the street” Essay
Naturalism is evident not only in the content of Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” but this naturalistic idea is also expressly stated by the author. Crane’s purpose in writing Maggie is “…to show that environment is a tremendous thing in this world, and often shapes lives regardless” (Westbrook 587). Maggie lives with a poor and abusing family and a hopeless future with only the small possibility of change. The environment and setting she grows up in support only a dreary and pathetic future for her. Maggie expresses a model of culture and identity that critics call environment.
Howard Horwitz expresses in saying that “ this model conceives a person as natural growths of environment, who do not modify but instead reflect and reproduce environment because they are wholly, as some social scientists put it, ‘imitation’ of environment ”(Horwitz 608). This shows that people are a reflection of the environment they live in. Stephen Crane uses naturalism to show that Maggie is shaped by her environment. Maggie lived with an abusive family, grew up in the slums and is rejected by her family and love interest, Pete; she also becomes a prostitute and eventually dies alone.
These consequences clearly demonstrate the environment’s effect on the outcome of Maggie’s life. Maggie grew up in a family with drunk and abusive parents. She has an older brother, Jimmie who is aggressive and likes to get into fights on street corners. Maggie also has a younger brother, Tommie, who passed away as an infant. Crane describes their mother, Mary, as a “large, rampant woman,” with immerse hands and yellow face, acting in a “chieftain-like” style (Crane 225). Her addiction to alcohol caused her to become violent and abusive particularly to her children and more specifically, Maggie.
For example, when Maggie broke a plate by mistake, her mother was so furious her eyes “glittered with sudden hatred. The fervent red of her face turned almost to purple” and hit her daughter (Crane 227). Her father was no help to children and did not make the situation any better. In one scene the reader gets a glimpse of the father’s addiction as he rips an old woman’s beer from Jimmie’s hands (Crane 228). The entire Johnson family often fight with each other and act like an angry group of animals in a “cage”. It seems like the whole apartment knows about their family’s domestic violence.
When Jimmie tried to escape the war-like air in the house, the old woman next door opened the door and said, “Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin’ yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin’ yer fader? ”(Crane 227). This demonstrates the abusive nature of Maggie’s family since her childhood. This abusive nature in Maggie’s home life also plays a big role in her future problems. Maggie grows up differently from “the slum’s living” around her. Crane explains Maggie’s individuality by stating that “none of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins.
The philosophers up-stairs, down-stairs and on the same floor, puzzled over it” (Crane 234). Maggie’s exclusivity gives her the chance to get a better life, but only a slim chance. Even though Maggie differs from the people around her, their ignorance and lack of education are making it hard for her to change her life. Crane describes the town of Rum Alley as a place where “withered people, in curious postures of submission…, sat smoking pipes in obscure corners”, and “a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter.
Formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dresses, gossiped while leaning on railings, or screamed in frantic quarrels” (Crane 223). Readers could portray the circumstance and conditions of Maggie as living among low scale people; it is misery for Maggie. To improve her life Maggie has to escape her own community. However, Maggie cannot escape her slum world and it eventually leads her to a tragic end, where she is abandoned from her family and lover and causes her to become a prostitute. All of the members in the Johnson family, except Maggie, are drunk and aggressive.
Abuse from an alcoholic mother is the reason that drives Maggie to Pete’s protection. All Maggie wants is to escape from her family. An article by Wilson and Widom states, “Running away may be a response to an abusive or neglectful home environment for some youths, as evidenced by finding that victim of childhood abuse and neglect are more likely to run away from home than comparison groups” (H. Wilson and C. Widom 218). Maggie’s choice of love might have been a more positive and healthy one if she had grown up in a family with loving and caring parents.
Maggie’s father passed away and the memory of his drunken state lead Maggie to seek the perfect model man that could become her husband, her hero and her caregiver. The “lack of positive family relationships can lead teenagers to early and unsafe sexual activity in their attempts to find emotional connection outside their families” (H. Wilson and C. Widom 229). Crane describes Pete in Maggie’s opinion, when he explains, “His mannerisms stamped him as a man who had a correct sense of his personal superiority. There was a valor and contempt for circumstances in the glance of his eye.
He waved his hands like a man of the world, who dismisses religion and philosophy…” (Crane 236). This showed Maggie’s positive view. At the beginning of the relationship, they did things that any couple usually would do, like dining out. An average night for them included going to the theater and watching “entertainment of many hues and many melodies” and other various performance acts. Maggie’s insecurities lead her to have visions of Pete having “some half dozen women in love with him” Maggie believes “he must live in a blare of pleasure and that “he has friends and people who were afraid of him” (Crane 239).
Her hopes of a happy life grow rapidly with Pete. However, Pete soon tires of Maggie as quickly as he was attracted by her. It turns out that Pete is not the ideal man she thought he was when it comes to the situation with Nellie. “Maggie was dazed…she wondered why Pete saw fit to remonstrate with the woman, pleading forgiveness with his eyes” (Crane 268). It was completely shocking to Maggie when seeing that Pete’s attention was given to Nellie and his obvious need for her approval.
Eventually, he abandoned Maggie in order to freely depart in his new relationship. Rejected from heartless Pete, Maggie has no place to go. She can no longer go back to her house and Pete was her last hope. When she asks him where she can go, he tells her to go to hell and slams the door in her face (Crane 275). Returning to her previous home meant that she would have to endure considerable abuse from her family. After attempting to go home, Maggie received scolding and accusatory remarks from her mother and despise from the entire neighborhood.
Maggie’s mother points with dramatic finger to her daughter, “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 babies were not allowed to be near Maggie. One mother “rushed forward and grabbed her child, casting a terrible look of indignation at” Maggie (272). After leaving home and living with Pete, Maggie’s actions make Rum Alley’s people believe that she has now become less moral. As a result, they saw her as an outcast and treated her with dismay. Even her brother gave her no hope when he called his name but “he drew hastily back from her. Well, now, yer a hell of a t’ing ain’t yeh? ” he says with “hands expressed horror of contamination” (272). This was the turning point in Maggie’s life that caused her to lose hope in both her family and her ability to find romantic love. Because of this, Maggie ends up becoming a prostitute. According to a research journal from Helen Wilson, “romantic and sexual relationships may be the primary context leading to involvement in prostitution from childhood maltreatment” (Wilson 231).
The research also mentioned that “victims of childhood abuse and neglect are at increased risk for youth problem behaviors and that these behaviors partially mediate the pathway to involvement in prostitution by young adulthood” (233). Therefore, Maggie’s life and fate are largely impacted by people and environments surround her. She unable to escape or overcome her fate and is left to eventually die from her horrific circumstances. Through an abusive childhood, life in the slums, and rejection by her family and Pete, Crane clearly shows how Maggie’s life is truly shaped by her environment.
Maggie dreams of a better life than the way she was raised. However, she ends up with sad results while her mother and brother accepts their roots and lives fine with it. From the beginning to the end of the Maggie: Girl of the street, Crane used his observation of the natural law of the universal to emphasize how one can either accept the laws determined by social order or become their victim.
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.