Maggie, a Girl of the Streets: Summary, Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:04 'Maggie, A Girl of the…
  • 0:31 Plot Summary
  • 3:14 Themes and Analysis
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

'Maggie, A Girl of the Streets' is a story about Maggie and her family, who live in the Bowery district of New York. This lesson will focus on the summary, themes, and analysis of 'Maggie, A Girl of the Streets.'

Maggie, A Girl of the Streets Intro

Maggie, A Girl of the Streets is a novella written by Stephen Crane in 1893. The story follows Maggie, her family, and the Bowery neighborhood where they live. Stephen Crane, who was 22 when he published this story under a pseudonym, lived in the Bowery slum of New York and witnessed firsthand the misery of that poverty. This lesson will cover the summary, themes, and analysis of Maggie, A Girl of the Streets.

Plot Summary

In the opening scene, a group of thuggish boys are fighting. A boy named Jimmie leads his group against boys from another part of their slum. When things get very rough, Jimmie is rescued by Pete, an older teenager. At that moment, they see Jimmie and Maggie's father, a cruel alcoholic, who drags Jimmie to their squalid home, promising to beat the life out of him. There, the reader is introduced to the rest of Jimmie's family: the toddler Tommie; the shy, beautiful older sister Maggie; and their mother, Mary, who is as mean and drunk as her husband.

That night, Jimmie's father stalks off to the bars to get drunk, while Mary rages and drinks until she passes out. The traumatized children huddle in the corner, hoping to escape notice. Unfortunately, this seems to be a regular occurrence in the household.

Time passes, and little Tommie and the father both die. Jimmie begins to work as a teamster, where he is a heartless bully and a menace. Maggie alone is not corrupted by their situation. She is beautiful and full of nativity and genuine goodness. Pete, who now works as a bartender, is taken by her beauty and sets out to make a conquest of her.

She is captivated by his experience and confidence. Pete sees an easy score in Maggie. She sees an escape from the Bowery in him, even though he is barely a step above her family. He takes her to romantic shows, and she falls into his arms and his bed.

One night, Mary gets drunk and picks an argument with the gentle Maggie. Mary accuses Maggie of bringing dishonor to her family, and Maggie runs away to Pete. Jimmie confronts his one-time friend for ruining his sister, and they get into a fistfight. Maggie moves in with Pete.

Jimmie and Mary join the neighbors in castigating Maggie. A few weeks later, Maggie and Pete are in a bar together when they meet a sophisticated woman named Nellie. Nellie sets her claws into Pete, and he and Maggie break up. Maggie comes crawling back to Mary and Jimmie, but they won't let her stay.

Gaps appear in the timeline of the book. We learn that Jimmie, who pretended to be horrified about what Maggie and Pete had done, has in fact ruined other boys' sisters. We see Maggie visit Pete at work, but he brushes her off.

Months pass, and a prostitute wanders the streets of New York. Crane never says that this is Maggie, but we know it is. She walks near the river, a sad, dejected figure. Then we see karma get the drunken Pete when he collapses to the floor and is abandoned by Nellie. The novel ends when Jimmie gives Mary the news that Maggie is dead and her body has been found. Mary ironically promises to forgive her daughter.

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