A Destructive Society Exposed in Maggie
In Maggie, Stephen Crane deals with poverty and vice, not out of curiosity or to promote debauchery but as a defiant statement voicing the life in slums. Drawing on personal experience, he described the rough and treacherous environment that persisted in the inner-city. By focusing on the Johnsons, Crane personalizes a large tragedy that affected and reflected American society as a whole. His creation of Maggie was to symbolize a person unscathed by their physical environment. Through Jimmie he attempted to portray a child raised without guidance who turned into his abusive, drunk father. Crane plays Jimmie and Maggie off of each other as opposites. The Mother and Father are depicted as failed drunken hypocrites and poor role models. Crane skillfully characterizes and stereotypes the personalities in Maggie to illustrate the influence of environment and the wretched conditions in slums.
Maggie “blossomed in a mud puddle” and represented purity in a corrupt world. When she gets together with Pete she attempted to get out of the world she despised, but instead remained in the slum, unable to escape. Although she is repeatedly abused, Maggie continually picks up the remnants of her life despite being “in a worn and sorry state.”
Jimmie is seen both in a good light, like his sister, as well as an evil and cruel person. In the beginning of the story, he is portrayed as the “little champion” of Rum Alley. However, that description merely cloaked the brutal fight that he was engaged in and the beating he later gave his sister. Later in the story, Jimmie buys some beer for an old leathery woman, but it is taken by his father. Jimmie protests in the name of justice but is not successful. The crude and abusive relationship with his father severely cripples his chances to become a benevolent adult. Instilled with poor values he did not see the world as good and bad but rather bad and worse. When he “studied human nature in the gutter, and found it no worse than he thought he had reason to believe it” he expressed his pessimistic and cynical attitude towards the world.
The Johnson’s mother is typical of a drinking, abusive, and careless mother. She stood for a hypocritical, industrializing society that was neglecting its children. When Jimmie tries to take his mother home when she has been kicked out of a bar “she raises her arm and whirls her great fist at her son’s face.” Even after learning of Maggie’s death she says that “she’ll fergive her Maggie,” although she had abused and disregarded Maggie when she was alive. She displays the attitude of a society mocking law and justice when she repeatedly appears in court and lies to the judges.
Crane utilizes several different manners to typify the evils that persisted in city slums. He focuses on a family, and specifically a girl in that family to expose the flaws in the family unit and the influence of environment on individuals. Maggie was the girl untouched by the evils around her, but eventually succumbs to them. Jimmie was the tough and somewhat virtuous boy who due to lack of fathership becomes corrupt. The mother was abusive, drinking and careless. They all combined to represent a destructive society.