Enthusiasm for Life’s Struggles?
In Stephen Crane’s novella, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, he displays a relentlessly brutal, violent and oppressive existence trapped in the bottom class standing of the New York Bowery of the 1890’s. “My Adventures as a Social Poet” by Langston Hughes’ is an answer to an ongoing question, “Why do you write ‘social’ poems?” and his battles with being a colored scholar in the early 1900’s. Stephen Crane’s novella is fictitious while Langston Hughes’ piece is somewhat of an autobiography but the poems included are about people he comes across in his life. But because Hughes’ struggles and oppression stem from real life experiences and he has found positive outcomes or more uplifting results, the reader responds in a more optimistic and enthusiastic way. In regards to the novella by Stephen Crane, the characters failure to achieve social reform through their oppression deflates the reader’s response because in the fictitious scenario we assume that the victim should triumph over. Because they fail to do this, Hughes and the speaker of his poetry are held in much higher regard with a more encouraging outcome. In this paper, I want to discuss how these two authors have different expectations and feelings toward oppression and the struggle of being poor or being colored. Despite the title, the novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is not necessarily just about Maggie, but rather deals more directly with the environment, Bowery, and how it shapes the lives of its inhabitants. The tenement where Maggie and family resides is described as, “a dark region where...a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter”(5). All of the inhabitants of Bowery are all in the same situation and there isn’t a way out. They are oppressed to such living conditions. Outside readers might criticize that it is an over exaggeration but in lieu of things by exaggerating the ‘dark region’, it portrays that life isn’t so easy. The environment and the setting Maggie grows up in does not support anything more than a dull, dreary and pathetic future for her. An old women asks Maggie’s brother Jimmy “Eh, Gawd, child, what is it this time? Is yer fader beatin yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin yer fader?”(10). There is a lack of love and support of her family that hinders Maggie’s ability to live a happy and fulfilling life. This kind of family struggle isn’t something that can be shrugged off or can have any encouraging outcome because there isn’t a way out of it. Maggie is portrayed as a virtuous and naive girl who becomes ruined by forces bigger than she. Maggie “...blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew up to be a most rare and wonderful production of the tenement district, a pretty girl”(16). When Pete takes Maggie to see shows with plots of young women being saved by love, she so innocently believes Pete can be her chance to escape. “She imagined a future, rose-tinted, because of its distance from all that previously had experience”(28). She is like any other girl, dreaming of princes that carry her into the sunset but reality is that there was no really way out this sort of oppression, poverty. Pete is a lowly barkeep who wants to believe that himself has made it above this low class society, but hasn’t. He can’t help himself nor can he help Maggie overcome the struggles of the lower class. What most readers may not think is that the biggest tragedy in the novella by Stephen Crane is that if Maggie didn’t possess her beauty and spirit, she would be easily be able to blend in with her surroundings and lead a normal life of a poor girl. Her beauty and spirit make it easier for her to be a victim in her situation. Given that the life of a normal poor girl doesn’t include glory and probably not much happiness, but it still seems like a better option than that of an early death. Maggie’s individuality within Bowery, or Rum Alley also makes her a victim of her own death. The fates of the characters...
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