Naturalism In Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets

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Stephen Crane established the naturalist style in literature, where concepts from real life are reconstructed in a fictional context to exemplify the plight of those trapped in the lower dregs of society. Naturalistic writers depict their characters as individuals oppressed by their environment; their acts are based upon their need to survive and the social order they fall into. The ideals of naturalism claim that human beings are not free, but that their actions are controlled and pre-determined mostly by the setting they inhabit and the natural or learned traits they possess. Keith Fudge, author of “Sisterhood Born from Seduction: Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie Johnson” states that “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” has been recognized as “Naturalism’s first novel” (Fudge 43). The scientific philosophy comprised in naturalism originated from Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution that claim that only the “fittest” will survive. Throughout the novel, numerous degrees of survival and extinction are depicted; whether it is by Jimmie, Mary, Nell, or Maggie herself. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is indeed a naturalistic tale of both physical and mental survival. Crane’s use of setting, tone, characters, and concepts of Darwinism illustrate this unequivocally. I will begin by fleshing out the concepts of Darwinism and Social Darwinism in the context of the novel and its relation to naturalism. Clarence Darrow spoke this famous line that exemplifies Social Darwinism’s philosophy, which is universally misattributed to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change”. The environment is of significant importance to s... ... middle of paper ... ... of moral sense; just as it exist in the Galapagos Islands of Darwin. Crane inserts isolated statements which serve to reinforce the Darwinian aspects of the novella. There is a zeitgeist of natural history that runs throughout. The matter of fact retelling of dreadful events, such as when Crane writes, “The babe, Tommie, died. He went away in an insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian, she and Jimmie lived.” helps illuminate this point. The first example of Naturalist literature, this novella is original in its approach to literary theory; it is not overly explicit nor does it call for change or revolution in a Marxist fashion, it is unadorned and free of opinion. Maggie: Girl a Girl of the Streets solely recounts what is observable and the rules that are known to be true in the natural world.

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