5 Pages, Grade: 10
Characteristics of Naturalism in Stephen Crane’s
Maggie.A girl of the streets.
Stephen Crane’s Maggie.A girl of the street meets almost all traits of naturalism. Beginning with the grim, animalistic environment, continuing with the deranged behavior and sordid language of the characters belonging to the lower class, the eternal battle for survival, the deterministic theory that one cannot escape the genetical endowment and cannot impose one’s will, and ending with the predictability of the plot and the essentially pessimistic, tragic view of life.
The author’s point of view is objective; he merely relates the facts without interfering in any way. Maggie is a satiric assault on weaknesses in social morality, a counterdemonstration to the dime novels presenting slum girls made heroines, that would eventually triumph (such as Cora in Edgar Fawcett’s The Evil That Men Do).Crane’s irony and symbolism asks the reader to look beyond literal meaning, to seek for the underlying discrepant reality.
First of all, the atmosphere of the neighborhood where action takes place is gloomy and tense. At the beginning of Chapter 2, the region is described as “dark”, covered with “yellow dust” raised by the “wind of early autumn”. A dozen of “gruesome doorways”, “one hundred windows” and “a thousand odors of cooking food” coming forth to the street suggest the agglomeration of human settlements and of human souls, in a building that “quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels”. There is a total mess and disorder, “buckets, brooms, rags and bottles’ are serried in “all unhandy places”. It is a world of chaos and decay, a place of damnation, resembling Dante’s Inferno; people live in nightmarish conditions, in filth and misery, at the edge of existentiality. The setting looks like a periphery, the outskirts of a city and of civilization, the margins of society.
Women seem to have gone mad, having the look of insane persons, with “uncombed hair and disordered dress” and behaving like ones, also, “screaming in frantic quarrels”. Children have an awkward behavior, as well, “sitting stupidly in the way of vehicles”, having presumably entailed their mother’s madness. However, the author calls the women “formidable”, in an obviously ironic manner.
 Gandal, Keith The Virtues of the Vicious: Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane and the Spectacle of the Slum, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp.43
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