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Table of Contents
2. Stephen Crane in New York
2.1. Living in New York
3. Literature and the City
3.1. Writing and Selling Books in the 1890s
3.2. The Literary Debate of the Nineties and Crane’s Literary Fellowship
4. Stephen Crane and Maggie within the Context of Naturalism
4.1. An Introduction to the Novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
4.2. Naturalism, Crane and Maggie
5. The American City and its Reflection in the Novel
5.1. Urban Theories - Social and Psychological Implications of City Life
5.2. The American City Novel
Stephen Crane’s first novel Maggie - A Girl of the Streets has been keeping literary critics busy from its 1896 edition up to now. The secrets of the changes between its first edition in 1893 to the second one in 1896, especially as Crane himself never seems to have said anything about the reasons for the changes, are still open to speculation. Many critics like Fredson Bowers sees the changes as a result of the pressure exerted on Crane by his editor Ripley Hitchcock. For others like Fritz Oehlschlaeger the evidence produced by Bowers appears to be less convincing. In the last decade a lot has happened in the evaluation of Crane’s works. In 1995 the 100th anniversary of his major success The Red Badge of Courage was celebrated enthusiastically. Many new studies on Crane’s works were published, like in 1994 The Crane Log: A Documentary Life of Stephen Crane, 1872-1900 edited by Wertheim and Sorrentino, An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Scholarship (1992) and The Pluralistic Philosophy of Stephen Crane (1993) by Patrick K. Dooley. In September 1989 a major conference on “Stephen Crane: Revaluation” was held by the Virginia Tech University. Furthermore the Stephen Crane Society revived the Stephen Crane Newsletter, now renamed Stephen Crane Studies.
So, what is it that makes Crane such an interesting object of research? After all, he was not even 30 years of age when he died, and he left a comparatively huge collection of works of differing quality. His short life was very closely related to his writing, which does not come as a surprise as his literary credo was to be as true to his own experience as possible. In January 1896 Crane wrote in a letter to John N. Hilliard: “I understand that a man is born into the world with his own pair of eyes, and he is not at all responsible for his vision - he is merely responsible for his quality of personal honesty.”1 Possibly his striving at truthfulness is what makes his writing so vivid and still interesting for the average reader who does not read for literary-historical reasons. To literary critics he appears to be some kind of enfant terrible, somebody whose works cannot be classified as naturalistic, neither as symbolistic. Perhaps he was a frontier crosser between both, preparing the way for modernism by traversing his own borders between being the tough guy and war correspondent and the sensitive, observant writer.
This paper will attempt to define the role of city life, of life in the new metropolis to come, New York, with special regard to Stephen Crane, who tried to record the influence of the city upon the human mind as truthfully as possible in his first novel Maggie - A Girl of the Streets ( 1893).
This paper follows two lines of argumentation, which shall both examine the city’s influence on the people living (and writing) in it. The first line will attempt to study the living conditions in New York in the 1890s. The second will deal with the way the city bears upon those who spend their lives in it and how that finds its reflection in the city novel in general, and in Maggie in particular.
Beginning with a short biographical sketch, I will put the author’s life within the context of living in New York in the nineties. I will show what living there was like at that time and how it affected Crane, his writing and literary career. The great debates in literature as well as the rise of Naturalism and Crane’s association with it will be examined in order to evaluate the influence they have on Maggie.
I will argue that Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a city novel, which only works within the framework of the metropolis. A description of the impact of urban conditions on the way people make their way through life will be given as a demonstration for the support of this thesis.
The discussion following these two lines shall lead to a complex picture of the influence the city exerted on its inhabitants, writers and poor immigrants who reflected upon the same object, the metropolis they lived in, in different ways, some with romantic dreams of something better, some with sensitive observation and irony.
2. Stephen Crane in New York
Stephen Crane, born in Newark, New Jersey, grew up in a family of a minister. His father died when he was still very young, and his mother devoted her life to religion from that time on. Crane began fairly early to live exactly for those vices that his parents disapproved of. His relation to the religion he had been brought up with was a rather ambiguous one. He shunned organized religion but did not deny religious experience as such. Religion as well as warfare were part of his family heritage, and the latter became an important constituent in his own experience and accordingly in his writing. Crane’s paternal grandfather had been colonel of the Sixth New Jersey Infantry during the Revolution and a ranking major at the time of his death, while a younger brother of this officer had been a ranking commodore of the navy. Crane himself started to write for newspapers after he had transferred to Syracuse University in 1891. He became a correspondent for the New York Tribune, which must have been much more interesting to him than studying, and after one term at Syracuse University he broke off formal education.
During his college time he also began to write the first draft of Maggie. According to a friend of his, he went to the New York slums for a week in search of material for his novel. As the accounts of his life differ very much it is difficult to say whether he really went there or whether he only knew Bowery life merely from the social-critical descriptions, which were common goods at that time. Crane showed his interest in problems of city life also in his Travels in New York: The Broken-Down Van (July 10, 1892) where he created the dialect and atmosphere of the New York slums. According to Gullason2 Maggie was probably written before Crane went to New York, but Asbury Park was not far away from the city, anyhow, and as a passionate traveller the distance was no obstacle to him.
Maggie was not well received in the beginning and as hard as he tried, he could not find anybody to publish the book. Therefore he decided to publish it himself. For 895 $ Crane had 1100 copies of it printed of which he sold only a very few. Some of these copies Crane sent to important critics of his time like Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells. While the latter found the novel and its language rather too offensive, the first one must have been quite excited about its discovery. But all the support that Crane received did not help to get the novel published. It was not before his second novel The Red Badge of Courage appeared in serial form in 1894, which brought its author a certain reputation as a writer, that he could find a publisher for his first novel. Appleton published the novel in 1896 after Crane had made a number of changes, which I have referred to earlier.
Unlike Bowers Fritz Oehlschlaeger proposes a normal working relationship. He argues that Bowers had overdetermined the meaning of a letter from February 10 1896, where Crane mentioned that he “carefully plugged at the words which hurt”3 The context for that letter was a correspondence between Crane and Hitchcock about The Third Violet and its length which would make it too long for the 75 cent series and too short for Appleton’s Town and Country Library. According to Oehlschlaeger, “questions of manuscript length were routine matters of concern in Crane’s dealing with Hitchcock.”4 Crane had been depicted by Bowers as the embattled artist fighting for his literary freedom, a picture that had been taken up by his antagonists such as Heshel Parker and Brain Higgins. The arguments of Bowers as well as Parker and Higgins depend upon a highly dramatic relationship between author and editor, where the former plays the young hero and the latter the villain and upholder of Victorian values. Oehlschlaeger concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that Crane was unhappy with the text of Maggie as published by Appleton. The firm brought out Crane’s The Little Regiment in October 1896, and though he later turned to Heinemann as his publisher, Crane designated Ripley Hitchcock one of literary executors in November 1896.5
There seem to be those critics who regard the changes as made under pressure and those for whom they reflect Crane’s own maturing. The truth, as critics like Gullason see it, might lie somewhere in between. Crane might not have been too happy with some of the changes he had made, an uneasiness quoted by Gullason: “Later, following Maggie ’ s publication, he confessed: ‘It is indeed a brave new binding and I wish the inside were braver.’”6
The publication of Maggie in 1896 was largely overshadowed by the success of The Red Badge of Courage, which made Crane famous overnight, not only in the literary and artist circles, but also among the common men. Puritanical reactions against the book amounted to its condemnation as too ugly, too negative and too depressing. Thus, one critic blamed it for describing not human society but a menagerie at feeding time.7
2.1. Living in New York
Up to the 1880s, and before Henry James’ Washington Square appeared in 1881 writers had hardly drawn any attention to New York City. “But now that Howells was established among them, with sculptors like Saint-Gaudens, painters like Ryder, and architects like Stanford White, the confidence of the New York writers was rapidly rising.”8. In 1883 new magazines like The Critic and Life began to appear and to provide a platform for many writers. The development of the big American cities like Chicago or New York into metropolises had already begun. But inspite of immigration one could still speak of the ‘New York of the Knickerbockers’9. The immigrants had moved into areas like the Bowery, which also seemed to attract young bohemians, artists and writers.
Another home of wit in poverty was the Bowery, once bordered by old Dutch farms, near Chinatown now and the Italians of Mulberry Bend, where numbers of aspiring writers and artists, living in third-floor backs or fronts, subsisted on goulash in lieu of spaghetti and tripe.10
Those with more money to live on were hardly aware of these parts of their city. Only “ardent collectors of slums”11 came to areas like the Bowery in order get new impressions and local colour.
But before the rise of the settlement-houses there was still a quality of the Arabian Nights in this ‘region of socialistic rainbows’ as James Huneker called it, when one could play the disguised sultan and sally forth with a favourite vizier at eve from Park Row in pursuit of strange adventures.12
The nineties were the young man ’ s epoch. The notion of the novelist as war correspondent began with the person of Richard Harding Davis. He arrived in New York in 1889, became a reporter and made the reporter’s life a hero’s life. His elegance, masculinity, fearlessness and independence, his travels as war correspondent and his being on the side of the underdogs made him a celebrity and exemplary for many young men. He went to Cuba as war correspondent together with Stephen Crane, who later still remembered his very vivid personality. Crane belonged to this poor bohemian life in New York just as he represented the Harding Davis type of man.
3. Literature and the City
3.1. Writing and Selling Books in the 1890s
On the surface Crane seems to have been in the right place at the right time. The 1890s were the time for the short story, but in genteel, romantic fashion, not in a realistic manner. Still, it was relatively easy to get short stories printed. The short stories that Crane published in magazines were rather his safer ones, which he sold in order to earn a living. He knew that one could not make a reputation as a writer with short stories. There was also an interest in novels, which could be published in serial form. To have a novel issued in serial form meant first of all a possibility to earn money on a regular basis, but also to gain a wider reputation and a bigger market for a publication in book form afterwards. Crane surely had sufficient economical reason for not staying with short stories even though many scholars thought him a master of that art, not of novel writing. On the other hand, most of the popular novels of the time were romantic so that Crane wrote against the popular fashion. “With Maggie, The Red Badge and George ’ s Mother, he was trying to perform a gargantuan feat; turn the novel and the art of fiction in a new direction; and make money. He did both - temporarily.”13
3.2. The Literary Debate of the Nineties and Crane ’ s Literary Fellowship
Crane and his work were part of the great literary debate of the nineties, the battle between realism and romanticism, especially in the novel, a subject which the Atlantic Monthly had been airing in the seventies and eighties, or ever since the advent of Howells and Henry James. While realism had generally won the day, with democracy and science - which, in a fashion, it expressed through the art of fiction - the romantic mind had its revenge in the sudden outpouring of popular novels that began with Richard Harding Davis’s The Princess Aline.14
Crane was personally drawn into that debate by the question of his being indebted to Zola’s La D é b â cle for his knowledge of a soldier’s perceptions and feelings in a battle. Similar questions were raised by critics later about Crane’s Maggie in comparison to L ’ Assommoir by Zola. He always denied any direct influence of Zola on his writing. He even pretended not to know most of the great French naturalists, which Åhnebrink in his comparative study rejects. He follows Spiller argumentation that “there is no doubt that he [Crane, J.S.] took direct inspiration from these French realists [Maupassant and Flaubert], and even more certainly from Zola, for L ’ Assommoir probably provided the plot for Maggie,[...]”15
I have mentioned above that Crane might not have known Bowery life when he wrote his first draft of Maggie. If he did not know his subject at that time he must have either invented his description or borrowed it from other sources. These sources could lie in the French realists or in popular American writing of the time. According to Cunliffe, Crane could at least have read L ’ Assommoir as two translations of it were available in America within only a few years after its first publication in 1877. Still, Crane considered Zola honest but tiresome.
Cunliffe finds it more probable that the sources of Crane’s inspiration are the mass of literature on the evils of slum-life, which had been produced and published in magazines like The Arena long before the muckrakers came into being. The tradition of denouncing these evils can be traced back to the 1830s with the writings of reformers as Edwin Chapin and John R. McDowall. Charles Loring Brace’s The Dangerous Classes of New York, published in 1872 includes a chapter on street-girls and is illustrated with an engraving called The Street-Girl ’ s End, “in which a dejected prostitute stands at the end of a quay, peering down into the river-waters below, literally and metaphorically on the brink”16.
Another possible origin might have been the preachings and writings of socially-critic clergymen like Thomas DeWitt Talmage (1832-1902), whose sermons drew up to 5000 people and whose words were reprinted in books and newspapers. Talmage’s lessons were neither particularly narrow minded, nor fanatical.
He condemns the pleasure-seeking male rather than the purveyors of pleasure. In the sermon called ‘The Gates of Hell,’ after expatiating on ‘impure literature,’ ‘the dissolute dance,’ ‘indiscreet apparel’ and ‘alcoholic beverage,’ Talmage considers the prostitute:
Suppose one of these wanderers should knock at your door, would you admit her? Suppose you knew where she came from, would you ask her to sit down at your dining table? Would you ask her to become the governess of your children?... You would not - not one of a thousand of you that would dare to do it There is not one out of five thousand of you that has come so near the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as to dare to help one of these fallen souls.
Are there, Talmage asks, any ways out for such a girl? One way is ‘the sewing-girl’s garret, dingy, cold, hunger-blasted’:
Another way is the street that leads to East river, at midnight, the end of the city dock, the moon shining down on the water making it look so smooth she wonders if it is deep enough. It is. No boatman near enough to hear the plunge.
...However, Talmage indicates that there is yet another way: the way of repentance. The poor shivering prostitute of his imaginery tale, touched by a sermon...drags herself away from the city, back to her old home in the country, where a forgiving mother greets the dying girl with the cry of ‘Oh, Maggie!’17
Apart from the obvious resemblances to Maggie in name and possible fate, one realizes the equation of the city with sin, prostitution and suicide while the country serves as the home, the place where sins are forgiven. The city as antagonist to those who live there becomes a central theme in American literature from the nineties onwards.
4. Stephen Crane and Maggie within the Context of Naturalism
4.1. An Introduction to the Novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
Maggie’s story is -on the surface- a story about the downfall of a girl living under circumstances, which only allow her to choose between the poor life of a working girl in a “collar and cuff establishment”18 and the more prosperous life of a prostitute. She tries both and as she is too naive or not tough enough, she ends up killing herself out of moral despair. There are obviously naturalistic features in Maggie, such as the effect of environment and the slum setting of the novel. On the other hand, we find verbal irony and a main protagonist that appears strangely untouched by her environment. All the characters are drawn with their own frame of mind without discernible comment that makes up this particular irony, like in chapter 5 after Maggie had got to know Pete:
Maggie perceived that here was the beau ideal of a man. Her dim thoughts were often searching for far away lands where, as God says, the little hills sing together in the morning. Under the trees of her dreamgardens there had always walked a lover.19
Here the description of Pete as “beau ideal of a man” is clearly not Crane’s serious impression of his character, but rather the romantic transfiguration of Maggie.
Donald Pizer comments upon the depth of Maggie as follows:
Perhaps, then, Maggie can be best discussed by assuming from the first that Crane’s fictional techniques imply that the theme of the novel is somewhat more complex than the truism that young girls in the slums are more apt to go bad than young girls elsewhere.20
Maggie is not well equipped for the circumstances she has to live in, but she is only on the surface this incarnation of purity against all odds. The reasons for her inability to fit in and finally for her suicide do not lie in her moral integrity and strong personality, but rather in the lack of both. She lives in a fantasy world, which does not correspond to her living conditions. She imagines herself as a poor, but pure heroine who will finally be saved by the male hero. Unfortunately, Pete, who comes to her in that disguise - “he was a knight”21 -, is only a confidence trickster. Still, he comes to rescue her out of a life in a family of drunkards and full of brutality, which had never provided any kind of home for her, anyway.
The step out of that so-called home where the hearth does not warm is, on the other hand, the decisive step towards her downfall. As she transgresses the boundaries of her small family world, she leaves the correct place for a respectable woman behind. The moral values of her surrounding, of family and neighbours, do not correlate to the situation they are all living in. These are middle-class values, and Maggie’s are middle-class dreams. The middle-class ethic stresses the home as the centre of virtue, and respectability is a primary moral goal. Maggie is cast out of her home for desecrating it, and Pete later rejects her plea for help because she threatens the respectability of the bar he works in. The pretentiousness culminates in the final scene after Maggie’s death in chapter 19, when Maggie’s mother remembers the time when Maggie’s “two feet was no bigger dan yer tumb, and she weared worsted boots”22 and which ends with the pseudo-religious, sentimental statement: “’Oh, yes, I’ll fergive her! I’ll fergive her!’”23
The self-righteousness of her mother knows no limits, not even as she faces the death of her child. “Maggie is thus a novel primarily about the falsity and destructiveness of certain moral codes.”24
These moral codes make all the protagonists see their world through a strangely distorted mirror, where only outward appearance counts. Pete’s first words to Maggie are: “’Say, Mag, I’m stuck on yer shape. It’s outa sight.”25 While Maggie “wonders what Pete dined on.”26 According to Henry Golemba, Pete’s words reflect the realists’ worries about being stuck on shape instead of picturing life as objectively as possible. “The closer artists came to achieving their technical goal of surface representation, the more their works bordered on voyeurism.”27 Voyeurism makes those who are being watched objects, while those who are in a position to observe the other are the privileged ones.
Like other realists of the 1890s Crane tried to get out of that dilemma by creating a language of food, which gave the impression of being inside the social topic.28
The stove functions as urban surrogate for the domestic hearth, and it fails in that function in the Johnson family. It is treated disgracefully, bounced around by Maggie’s family, but it is also the only object at home that is cared for. Maggie makes a lambrequin in order to show Pete a nice side of her home, to attract his courtship and finally to get the chance to build up a family of her own. The saloon, on the other hand, is a surrogate home, a false one, though, where everybody deceives everyone else. There are mirrors all around that mislead and feed vanity, but it is place full of life. Whereas at home the fire in the stove had gone out. The displaced lids and open doors showed heaps of sullen grey ashes. The remnants of a meal, ghastly, like dead flesh, lay in a corner. Maggie’s red mother, stretched on the floor, blasphemed and gave her daughter a bad name.29
The surrogate home, however, does not give any warmth, either. After Pete has left her, and her mother does not allow her to come back, she turns to prostitution - successfully in the beginning as “her well-shod feet”30 tell. Still, she has lost all her illusions, her dreams, is not interested in a middle-class life, anymore.
She threw changing glances at men who passed her, giving smiling invitations to men of rural or untaught pattern and usually seeming sedately unconscious of the men with a metropolitan seal upon their faces She hurried forward through the crowd as if intent upon reaching a distant home,[...]31.
Maggie never had a real home, so where is she aiming at? Her journey is not to be taken literally, but it is a spiritual one, as she passes by the different types of men within a seemingly short period of time. her suicide appears to be planned, the final stage in her progress towards the water - which could be interpreted as a return to the home where all life comes from, the uterus.
The fat man episode, which is left out in the 1896 edition of the novel, slightly suggests a rape murder. It might have been left out because it breaks the two time schemes. It makes her hurried progress to the river as final solution an involuntary one, and moral despair is no valid reason anymore. Maggie would in her own eyes have been bereft of the only dignity left, namely that of a dignified death after a wretched life. It would also have taken the sentimentality out of her death, the death of a heroine in a romantic novel.
4.2. Naturalism, Crane and Maggie
The setting in Maggie might be regarded as a naturalistic one, but the style obviously is not. The verbal irony, Crane’s technique of expressionistic symbolism asks the reader to look beyond literal meaning. I think that Crane has achieved something special, namely the link between Naturalism and Symbolism, which are widely perceived as antipodeans. In symbolistic writing the sensory-subjective impression plays the biggest role, the unique moment. The feeling and the impossibility to analyse it lead to the dematerialization of a world that could then only be sensed in mood swings. Hence the importance of the outer frame of the plot is diminished and an onomatopoeic language preferred. Short and concentrated literature becomes most prominent, such as sketches, novellas and lyrical one-act plays.
Crane’s literary credo is very much connected with American Naturalism just as that of his mentors Garland and Howells as he wrote to a friend:
It seemed to me that there must be something more in life than to sit and cudgel one’s brains for clever and witty expedients. So I developed all alone a little creed of art which I thought was a good one. Later I discovered that my creed was identical with the one of Howells and Garland and in this way I became involved in the beautiful war between those who say that art is man’s substitute for nature and we are the most successful in art when we approach the nearest to nature and truth[...].32
And yet, Crane aimed at describing reality the way he saw it. He knew that objectivity was not possible, that everything that was written was always mediated though the storyteller. His truth to reality was meant as a truth to his own feelings. And he carefully avoided preaching in his own writing, as “preaching is fatal to art in literature”.33
The outstanding literary critic William Dean Howells, one of the pioneers in Naturalism, whom Crane greatly admired, wrote in 1902 about Frank Norris versus Stephen Crane that Norris gave one the impression of strength and courage that would hold out to all length...I never met him but he made me feel that he could do it, the thing he meant to do, and do it robustly and quietly, without the tremor of ‘those electrical nerves’ which imparted itself from the presence of Stephen Crane.34
Crane’s fiction, Howells went on, was characterized by “physical slightness”35, reflecting “the delicacy of energies that could be put forth only in nervous spurts, in impulses vivid and keen, but wanting in breadth and bulk of effect.”36 There is a sensitivity in Crane’s writing, an awareness of the subjective moment in the search for the underlying truth in reality, which makes him unorthodox and special within the Naturalist movement. Michael Davitt Bell calls him “something like a female hysteric”37, which seems a rather short sighted description of a man who travelled to the West and Mexico, worked as war correspondent, got shipwrecked and did not leave any dangerous situation out during his short life. He proved his ‘masculinity’ in every possible situation and still, his sensitivity as reflected in his style, appeared too emotional, not enough sticking to the hard facts.
Another problem for readers as well as critics has been the excessive use of colloquial language and slang. Crane’s attempt at truthfulness and honesty in theme and style did not meet conventional expectations. “The hero and heroine might be poor, but they must be educated and genteel; half a century after Cooper, the convention was still in force.”38
5. The American City and its Reflection in the Novel
5.1. Urban Theories - Social and Psychological Implications of City Life
According to Housman Gelfant, three features characterize urban population: the great numerical size, the density and the heterogeneity. The great numerical size weakens social ties. Relationships tend to be superficial, impersonal, transitory and segmental. A person reacts only to a part of the other one’s personality, which is necessary because otherwise the unceasing external contact would lead to a complete internal atomization. The segmentation mentioned above makes people react to each other as if they were not human beings but utilities. The personal relationships broken down, man is left without objective assurance of his value as a complete person, from which a feeling of solitude derives, whereas the physical proximity in the city seems to deny the social isolation.
The density, the concentration of numbers, reinforces this sense of a social vacuum, and it serves to explain the segregation of social groups into small, differentiated settlements. Different social groups live in their areas close to each other. This proximity of different cultural patterns may either develop one’s sense of toleration, or it might lead to confusion through conflicting traditions and alternative moral codes. Maggie adopts moral standards of the middle class, which do not fit her situation at all.
The community and the city are antithetical as concepts and social realities, as social unanimity in a community cannot survive in a milieu in which various conflicting cultural patterns exist side by side. There is no tradition, which is generally agreed upon. Therefore the individual cannot turn to one for his or her social role. Family and religion have largely failed to establish a guiding tradition, and both disappoint Maggie. Her family does not provide any guidance, and later the priest whom she approaches turns away from her.
In the growing metropolis the influence of the Church as part of a former guiding tradition is weakened by the industrial system of labour division .
The industrial system of division of labour deprives the family of economic unity and self-sufficiency, just as commercialized entertainment deprives it of an essential social function. The movies, poolroom, dance hall, or bowling alley take the individual out of the home and further the process of family disintegration initiated by working conditions. And the unsatisfactory aspects of living in small and crowded apartment-house flats either cause the family to disperse or else produce tensions with the home.39
As the realities of everyday life conflict more and more with the ideals of the Church, its influence is further diminished. The city, a structure developed out of technological and scientific necessity, supports a rationalist and materialist point of view, which often involves the repudiation of the supernatural and of religious doctrines.
The growing specialization in work and the acquisition of only those skills which are necessary for a certain job make the employee dependent, for any dislocation in the economic world threatens his security, and there is no family that could compensate for this and give any sense of security. Financial dependence from a family, which does not fulfil its function anymore, as well as from an employer generates a sense of helplessness, inability and inadequacy. The overall effect of the specialization on the worker’s personality is described as follows:
Engaged in only part of a total process, man responds with only part of his personality; segmentation of experience, typical of his social relationships, thus also characterizes his work. Moreover, since mass production calls for mass consumption, man is urged and frightened into buying standard products. As he wears the same clothes as other men, reads the same newspapers, smokes the same cigarettes, enjoys the same entertainment, he becomes a standardized product, much like an interchangeable unit on an assembly line. The machine deprives him of individuality.40
The emotional security of a family is replaced by a financial security. A sense of identity can be achieved through consumption, which is why fashion comes to symbolize status and achievement. The struggle for success is a struggle for the possession of things.
Nowhere else are luxuries so glittering and seductive; and nowhere do they exert a greater power over the imagination. The life of the rich seems glamorous and completely enviable, while the appaling contrasts between poverty and wealth accentuate the desire for material things.41
All the conflicts referred to appear to promote a high incidence of neurotic disorders, like neurosis, alcoholism or suicide.
The final escape of the disorganized person - the ultimate expression of one’s inability to integrate desire and act towards a progressive achievement of self-fulfillment - is suicide.42
This shall serve as a psychological and sociological approach to Maggie’s fate in the context of life in the city as it is depicted in the novel. Again it is not the environment, the city as such, which shapes lives regardless, but the perception of this life, which is determined by the situation, the surrounding. Therefore one could argue that the framework for Maggie - A Girl of the Streets is a naturalistic one, even if it goes further than merely showing the environment and the way its shapes lives. Crane depicts the influence the city, New York and the Bowery, exert upon the perception of reality of its inhabitants, and this perception differs very much already from one member of the Johnson family to the other. Therefore again it seems appropriate to me not to concentrate merely on the main protagonist Maggie, but to illustrate in which different ways the great antagonist - the city, shapes lives.
5.2. The American City Novel
With the growth of the big cities like Chicago and New York and the concern over the personal impact of urban life at the end of the nineteenth century, the city becomes an important actor in human drama. It functions as a special place, which leaves its distinctive mark on the minds of the people who live there. The city usually serves as antagonist, “as the obstacle to the fulfillment of the hero’s desire, while, ironically, it may promote and encourage them.”43
Maggie’s desire to live in a sphere where food would be something nice to enjoy, and where she could take part in amusement, be well dressed, all the glamour that the city in its very different spheres produces together with her lacking sense of reality lead to her downfall. The fulfillment of several of her financial desires through her work as a prostitute does not govern her to happiness, but to her death out of moral despair. It is not the city as such but the effect that it has on her mind which leads to her end, her perception of what she sees and imagines in other social spheres of the city. Her surrounding has also been shaped by the city they live in. But still, her parents e.g. behave in a completely different manner. Their history in the city as Irish immigrants is not a topic of the novel.
Still, the fate of all the residents of Rum Alley depends on the city. The cold and indifference of the metropolis New York with its temptations, and the pretentiousness of the inhabitants of the Bowery make up the necessary prerequisites for Maggie’s destiny, which Crane uses in order to present a rather coherent vision of life in this particular part of the city. Maggie can be regarded as a city novel based on the line of argument given above.
The intention of the city novel is to explore the city, to show what it is, what values it lives by and what kind of influence it exerts upon the minds of the people who live in it, “it interprets life as a social structure”44. The social impact of the city novel lies in its social implications, not in a direct attack on urban problems as in the city problem novel, which aims at fighting one particular evil in the city.
There are according to Housman Gelfant three forms of the city novel: the portrait study, where the city is revealed through one single character, the synoptic study, a novel without a hero where the city is the main protagonist itself, and the ecological study, which focuses upon a small spatial unit such as the neighbourhood or a city block. The manner of life within this sphere of the city is explored.
The ecological novel differs from the portrait study by having as its protagonist not a single person but a spatial unit - a city neighbourhood, block, or even an apartment house. Interest focuses upon the social relationships and manners within a close group, although one figure may come to prominence,[...]45
The title of the book then often refers to that spatial unit, or sometimes to a social group.
As far as Maggie is concerned, many critics (e.g. Gullason) have blamed Crane for not admitting enough room to the main protagonist of his novel, which within the given framework does not appear to be correct, when already the title of the novel Maggie - A Girl of the Streets (A Story of New York) suggests that Crane did not intend merely to picture Maggie’s tale of woe, but to show how the physical and mental environment shapes or rather destroys life. Therefore he depicts the neighbours, the Johnson family and everybody around them just as detailed as the heroine’s way to the dark river. The other protagonist of the novel and also Maggie’s main antagonist is the Bowery.
This ecological approach is justified by the breakdown of the city into small, self-contained, social worlds. The reader comes to understand the inner life of a community in terms of the perception of its people. Within the limited local setting the usage of the speech of the area is a useful means of creating character and scene. The urban setting is presented through physical facts of the scene (streets, structures and topography) and the aesthetic impression that the scene makes upon a sensitive mind. The description of objective scenes as subjective experience dramatizes the setting as an inner experience with emphasis laid upon the perception. “The aesthetic impression reflects the quality of mind of the observer, whether it be the novelist or one of his characters.”46 In Maggie the authority behind the narrative language is not the author, but the self-delusion of the characters.
The characters are meant to stand as symbolic representatives of their surrounding, the circumstances they live in. In that sense Crane uses urban symbolism where physical elements in the setting are equated with social or psychological characteristics of city life. Urban characters are used as symbols in this context, which at first does not seem to work with Maggie, as she is described as explicitely different from her surrounding. On the other hand, and if the narrative language represents the world of each of the characters, Maggie might be the only one who thinks herself special, just like many young girls who imagine themselves as the heroines of a romantic novel, movie stars or famous athletes. For Maggie everything is turned around. Her idea of herself does not correspond with reality just as her fine clothes in the end are neither a marker of a good social standing nor of personal happiness.
Maggie is also an experience in alienation and solitude in modern city life. Her personal relationships with the neighbourhood are merely fakes as explicitely shown in the scene after Maggie’s mother got informed about her daughter’s death. If dissociation is the main topic in city life and city fiction, and dissociation means lack of social unanimity, means that the community has failed to provide a cohesive tradition that could guide the individual in his or her choice of goals and moral alternatives, then Maggie is also lead astray because she had not been given any guidance, apart from that by false romanticism and middle-class ethics which did not apply to her situation. Even though, this seems to me only part of her truth. It is not only her lack of personal vision, which wrecks her life, but also the lack of other chances (apart from those presented by Talmage).
“The pathos and tragedy of urban fiction lie in the inner defeat that man suffers as he becomes self-divided and perhaps self-destructive.”47 Maggie’s tragedy derives from her romantic perception of herself and especially Pete. Characters of urban fiction typically feel estranged from the world they live in, just like Maggie who is pictured as some sort of alien already in the beginning. Her being thrown out of her home results in a certain freedom for her, a freedom from the morals of her family and community, which she cannot handle. She needs that connection, even if it is a fake one, in order to survive.
“Although dissociation takes form as a personal failure, it has been related in both literary and sociological pictures of the city to the social context of urbanism as a way of life.”48
The novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets reflects upon the situation in the city, upon the way people are influenced by city life, the morals of which are dictated by the middle class. The novel therefore belongs to the genre of the city novel. The main protagonist of the novel are just as much the heroine Maggie as the environment which shapes her life and makes her end up in moral despair and suicide. Crane does not merely describe the way this happens, but he questions the moral codes that people live up to, and pours his irony over the romantic tradition in fiction, which does not correspond to reality at all. He also criticises the realistic tradition for its voyeurist view. As has been mentioned in the introduction, Crane obviously liked to fall between all stools, but thereby he bridges the gap and starts the way that will lead to modernism.
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1 Letter to John N. Hilliard, Jan 1896. In: Letters. p.110. Quoted in Pizer, Donald: Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Carbodndale and Edwardsville, 1984. p.105.
2 Gullason, Thomas A. (ed.): The Complete Novels of Stephen Crane. Garden City, New York, 1967.
3 Bowers, Fredson (ed.): Stephen Crane. Bowery Tales. Maggie. George ’ s Mother. With an Introduction by James B. Colvert. Virginia, 1969. p.lxxiv-lxxv.
4 Oehlschlaeger, Fritz: Stephen Crane, Ripley Hitchcock, and ‘ Maggie ’ : aRreconsideration. In: The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 01/98, vol.97: n.1. p.4.
5 ibid. p.16.
6 Gullason. p.57.
7 ibid. p.59.
8 Brooks, Van Wyck: The Confident Years 1885-1915. London, 1952. p.5.
9 ibid. p.10.
10 ibid. p.5.
11 ibid. p.9.
12 ibid. p.9.
13 Gullason. p.54.
14 ibid. p.87.
15 Spiller quoted in Åhnebrink, Lars: The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction. Uppsala, 1950. p.250.
16 Cunliffe, Marcus: Stephen Crane and the American Background of Maggie. In: American Quarterly, 1955. p.36.
17 ibid. p.39-40.
18 Crane, Stephen: Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. With an Introduction by Jayne Anne Phillips. New York/Toronto/London/Sydney/Auckland, 1986. p.25.
19 ibid. p.19.
20 Pizer, Donald: Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth Century American Literature. Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1984. p.144.
21 Crane. p.20.
22 ibid. p.60.
23 ibid. p.61.
24 Pizer. p.151.
25 Crane. p.19.
26 ibid. p. 20.
27 Golemba, Henry: “ Distant Dinners “ in Crane ’ s ‘ Maggie ’ : Representing “ The Other Half ” . In: Essays in Literature 09/22/94, vol.21:n.2. p.1.
28 According to Golemba, “food is so integral to realistic fiction that Maggie’s structure[...] is an inverted vegetation myth with Mary as a twisted Proserpine who lays waste to the land because of Dis, personified by Pete.” ibid. p.2.
29 ibid. p. 21 f.
30 ibid. p. 54.
31 ibid. p. 54.
32 Some Letters of Stephen Crane. Academy, LIX (August 11, 1900). p.116. Quoted in: Åhnebrink. p.151.
33 ibid. p.153.
34 Bell, Michael Davitt: The Problem of American Realism. Studies in the Cultural History of a Literary Idea. Chicago and London, 1993. p.131-132.
35 ibid. p.131-132.
36 ibid. p.131-132.
37 ibid. p.132.
38 Cunliffe, Marcus: The Literature of the United States. London, 1991. p.232.
39 ibid. p.34-35.
40 ibid. p.36.
41 ibid. p.38.
42 ibid. p.39.
43 Housman Gelfant, Blanche: The American City Novel. Oklahoma, 1954. p.5.
44 ibid. p.8.
45 ibid. p.12.
46 ibid. p.17.
47 ibid. p.23.
48 ibid. p.24.
- Quote paper
- Jeannine Schätzle (Author), 2000, The Reflection of the Metropolis in Stephen Crane`s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/101259