Naturalism in Stephen Crane's "Maggie: a Girl of the Streets"

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Naturalism in Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” is a novella written by Stephen Crane and published in the year 1893. This work was published during the time of the Industrial Revolution, when factories were appearing everywhere. Their workers were often not paid enough to lead a decent life, and suffered from their situation. They were not very civilized and sometimes aggressive in their behavior. Perhaps because of this radical change from a more agricultural lifestyle to one of industry and factories, some pieces of literature were starting to transition from the classification of Realistic writings to works that are now categorized as works of Naturalism. While the two categories are related, Naturalistic works often are based in urban landscapes and focus upon the poor and less educated; whereas the character focus and settings of Realistic works were ordinary people living in both cities and small towns. Crane’s novella was written right as the literary movement of Realism ended and Naturalism began, and understandably includes elements of both movements. Crane’s story, though, can be concretely set in one category. His story occurs in urban New York. The plot of it is set on a community of its poor residents who cannot change their situation. The themes and tenets used in this work, as well as the aforementioned setting and plot choices, concretely set this novella in the classification of a work of Naturalism. Crane uses foreshadowing to allude to storylines that are created and events that occur later in the story. In the opening of the novella, we are greeted with a scene of a bloody and intense fight. Those involved are mere children, who are fighting intensely and drawing all the blood they can from their adversaries. The names of the neighborhoods from which the boys are from: “Rum Alley” and “Devil’s Row”, imply to the reader that the inhabitants are both heavily dependent on alcohol and rough in their personalities. The fact that young children are fighting battles like animals echoes the similar themes of Naturalists portraying the city as a jungle, and its’ inhabitants equal to the animals that occupy it.

Crane uses both similes and metaphors to add intensity and detail to his work. His work is peppered with colorful language that allows the reader to perceive an occurrence or characteristic with greater intensity. Crane implies that Maggie is a flower through stating that she “blossomed in a mud puddle” (ch. 5). When referring to the speed with which Maggie at her food, Crane states that she ate “like a small pursued tigress” (ch. 2). Later, Jimmie confronted Pete at the bar, and “snarled like a wild animal” when he threatened Pete into a fight (ch. 11). Soon before the fight, Jimmie, his companion, and Pete stood close together and “bristled like three roosters” (ch. 11).

From these similes and metaphors can be pulled Crane’s portrayal of the city. The use of animal comparisons to refer to the actions of people expose the animal-like and barbaric nature of those described. Crane and other Naturalists used this technique of describing the city as a jungle to present to their readers the reality of city life. The lifestyle and living conditions of the poor were animal-like. They fought one another in a struggle to survive. Whoever was larger was always considered superior over the small. When Pete approaches the brawling children and hits one on the head to stop him from fighting, the young boy “scrambled to his feet, and perceiving, evidently, the size of his assailant, ran quickly off, shouting alarms” (ch. 1).

Crane’s use of diction is also telling of the lifestyle of those living in the Bowery. The characters speech is consistently made up of curses and broken words. It shows that the inhabitants are either poorly educated or uneducated, and lack a civilized lifestyle. The male inhabitants, at least in this story, are constantly challenging another...
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