The world of Stephen Crane’s novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, is a dark, violent place. People curse one another openly and instigate fights over petty issues. The intense poverty of the populace leads to a feeling of general despair and creates a lack of self-confidence in each individual. People want to feel that they mean something. They want to know that their life does not go unnoticed. They desire power over others lives. The poor, who are constantly controlled by the rich, yearn for the opportunity to control their world. In a typical society these urges would be satisfied by successful careers and families but in the torn and impoverished world of Maggie people gain power and control only through violence and the moral desecration of others. This thesis will be shown through the fighting amongst the children, the violence of the household, and the family’s treatment of Maggie’s death.
The kids in the world of Maggie fight each other for the positions of control and power among other children. The novel opens with a scene of violence. Two different groups of boys are engaged in a bloody scuffle. Crane writes, “A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him'; (Crane 3). That the kids are battling for the so-called “honor of Rum Alley'; (Crane 3) shows that the kids are trying to gain a position of power through battle. If they can injure those who stand in their way in front of everyone else they will earn the respect and, therefore, the control and power they are seeking. Donald Pizer explores this idea in his essay, “Stephen Crane’s Maggie and American Naturalism';. Pizer states that the scene quoted above of the boy on top of the rock pile fighting with the other kids has what he calls a “basic chivalric cast'; (Pizer 188). He writes, “The very little boy is a knight fighting on his citadel of gravel for the honor of his chivalrous pledge to Rum Alley'; (Pizer 188). Pizer compares the fighting for control and power to medieval battles in which knights (who were all from the noble class) battled for fame and fortune (Pizer 188). A further examination of the theme of medi...
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...ve been uttered at all but for the neighbors’ prodding. As they repeatedly ask if the mother will forgive, she senses that it would be a fine gesture to make; it would make her out a martyr'; (Overmyer 185). Maggie’s mother wants the power and control that being a martyr encompasses.
Maggie is a powerful work of fiction. It sets us in a desolate and hopeless world. But the world that it creates is closer to reality than some would like to think. The characters in the book are not born with evil in their souls. They are shaped by their environment just as much as everyone else that has ever lived. It just so happens that the environment around them is so oppressively bleak that it affects them in a negative way. This environment leads people to feel inadequate and unimportant. The characters in Maggie want to have an element of control and power in their lives. But in their horrifying world they must use violence and the moral destruction of others to gain that power and control. This is shown through the fighting amongst the children, the violence of the household, and the family’s treatment of Maggie’s death.
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