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MonkeyNotes-Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
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Chapter 19

A woman sits at a table "eating like a fat monk in a picture." A dirty man opens the door and says to her "Well, Mag’s dead." The woman’s mouth is full. She answers that she doesn’t believe him and continues to eat. Then she begins to weep. She remembers when Maggie’s feet were no bigger than an adult’s thumb and she wore worsted boots.

The neighbors gather in the hallway watching Mrs. Johnson weeping as if they were "watching the contortions of a dying dog." They straighten up the rooms. Another woman enters the room and exclaims over poor Mrs. Johnson. She tells her it is a "terrible affliction." She has gotten her words from mission churches. She cries with Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson repeats over and over that she can remember when Maggie used to wear worsted boots. The woman tells Mrs. Johnson her "misguided child" is now gone and it is time to forgive her.

Mrs. Johnson tells Jimmie to go and get Maggie and they will put the boots back on her feet. Jimmie curses and says the infant’s boots won’t fit Maggie’s feet now. She shrieks at him to go and get his sister. He swears and leaves. The other women in the room say "She’s gone where her sins will be judged." They repeat platitudes and Mary Johnson wails out "Oh, yes, I’ll fergive her! I’ll fergive her!"


Notes

The novella ends in the sentimentalism of the melodrama. Mary Johnson turns from being the mother who rejects her daughter as a beast not fit to sleep in the same home with her to the mother who mourns the loss of a daughter went to the bad. Her final wail of forgiveness is as empty as the platitudes of the women standing around her encouraging her display of maternal feeling.

Mary Johnson is clearly the villain of the piece. Crane reserves all his contempt for this woman. Jimmie is saved from the final melodramatic scene by his lack of feeling. He knows his mother is acting on what is expected of her and can’t see beyond the literal-- calling attention to the fact that as a grown woman, Maggie can’t be put into the baby shoes her mother has saved over the years. Mr. Johnson is saved from the final hypocrisy of this scene by virtue of his early death. It is with Mrs. Johnson that Crane lies all the blame for Maggie’s death. In doing so, Crane moves from a novel of social and economic critique to a novel adhering to the conservative gender ideology of his day, an ideology that produced the idea that motherhood is a holy privilege and that a bad mother was the worst kind of evil.

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