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MonkeyNotes-Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
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Chapter 17

Several months later, on a busy street, people begin to pour out of several theaters and find their way to their conveyances home. "An atmosphere of pleasure and prosperity seemed to hang over the throng, born, perhaps, of good clothes and of having just emerged from a place of forgetfulness." In the midst of this throng of people, a handful of "wet wanderers" hang around looking dejected. "A girl of the painted cohorts of the city" wanders around as well. She smiles at men she passes, but she usually chooses the men who are from the country or are poor-looking. She hurries through the crowd as if she’s looking for her home.

She moves along the streets until she gets to the saloon district. She passes the door of a concert hall and hears the boisterous sounds from within it. She sees a tall young man in evening dress standing around looking bored. He is surprised that the girl passes him without taking notice of him. She continues to walk on. She passes a pompous man with "philanthropic whiskers" whose broad back seems to sneer at her. She passes a man in business clothes who seems to be rushing to make an appointment. He runs into her on accident and apologizes hastily.

The girl passes out of the restaurant-saloon district into the darker streets. A young man notices her looking at him. He wonders if she thought he was a farmer. A worker replies to her saying it’s a fine evening. She smiles in the face of a hurrying boy who smiles back at her with "cheery unconcern," saying he can’t be with her this evening, but will perhaps do so on another. She comes across a drunken man who yells at her that he has no money.

She passes into the "gloomy districts near the river" which are the residence of black factories. She only occasionally passes saloons. She comes across a man who tells her he already has a date. She passes on until she meets a ragged man who asks her if she thinks he’s a millionaire. Finally, she passes into the "final block" and approaches the river. She sees a huge man in torn and greasy clothes. He laughs at her and then follows her into "the crimson regions." As they walk along, the river "appeared a deathly black hue."


Notes

The unnamed girl of this chapter is obviously Maggie. Crane doesn’t name her as a method of suggesting that the reader shouldn’t view her as an individual case of a girl who went on the wrong path, but a type who represents many such girls who inevitably end up prostituting themselves for lack of other livelihood.

Crane structures the chapter on a journey motif. Maggie moves down the class scale from the theater district to the dock yards. She seems to be most inept at her new profession of prostitution. She chooses only those men who seem too poor to pay her. She never even approaches the men in expensive suits, but hurries past them. The one man standing in evening clothes outside a hall would have been a likely candidate for Maggie, but she passes him by as if he weren’t there. Perhaps Crane is suggesting that since Maggie has been raised in the strictly segregated class world of her society, she sees men of other classes as almost invisible. She never imagines that she could come into contact with them and profit from them.

The images of prostitution here are obviously images of death. Crane sees Maggie’s new job as one that inevitably will lead to her death. Her walk from the lighted streets of the theater district to the dark, unlit streets of the docks symbolizes her walk from life to death. Crane cannot seem to imagine how a woman could possibly survive having to use her body for making an income. In this, he ignores the vast number of women who were sex workers for years and years of their lives. He is a nineteenth-century thinker in this aspect as in others.

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