Stephen Crane

This essay has a total of 2604 words and 12 pages.


Stephen Crane





Stephen Crane
Today in modern America, it has become almost impossible to avoid the tales of horror that
surround us almost anywhere we go. Scandals, murders, theft, corruption, extortion,
abuse, prostitution, all common occurrences in this day in age. A hundred years ago
however, people did not see the world in quite such an open manner despite the fact that
in many ways, similarities were abundant. People’s lives were, in their views, free
of all evil and pollution. They assumed they lived peaceful lives and those around them
lived the same flawless lives untouched by corruption as well. Many were too blind to see
beyond their own homes and into the lives of others who dealt with a more unfortunate
fate. Those being the ones who lived in poverty, abuse, and other harsh conditions which
were finally exposed to America in 1893 by a 22-year old college free lance writer who
simply wished to show things as they appeared to him: bitterly real. Stephen Crane was
America’s first realistic writer who exposed the realities of the slums, tenement
living and other unfavorable conditions to a very na´ve American audience. Through hard
work and his great devotion to the examination of the darker side of life Crane finally
was able to publish his novel in which explored his experiences of the New York slums.
Through his great use of dialect, irony and realism in his novel Maggie: A Girl of the
Streets Stephen Crane is able to accomplish his goal of creating a


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vivid picture in his reader’s mind, portraying the harsh, abusive conditions of the
many lives condemned to this fortune.

Stephen Crane began his quest for the truth in the summer of 1889 while visiting his
brother who lived in New Jersey (Peden, 104). While living with his brother Crane was
drawn to the idea of realistic writing. He would travel to New York on almost a daily
basis to witness and experience the poverty and abusive conditions of the slums (Colvert,
104). During his visits to New York Crane was able to establish an understanding and
develop a feeling for what life was like in the slums. He soon acquired a craving for
individuality and a yearning to express his experiences. He began his mission by placing
upon himself the desire to become his own individual, separating himself from other
writers of the era by using his unique style of realistic writing as well as dialect
(Cantwell, 141).

According to Hamlin Garland a well-known critic as well as a writer during this time,
Crane, “…gives the dialect of the slums as I never before seen it
written—crisp, direct, terse” (121). His use of dialect throughout the novel
is virtually impossible to ignore. The choppy uneducated lines and dialogue shows the
obvious knowledge of the way the poor lived and the purpose behind the writing. Crane was
able to develop his own dialect which was reflected in his writings. His dialogue is
perhaps the best aspect of his writing gained through his experience. Crane used dialect
as the basis of his writings (Karlen, 5843). All other techniques fell into place and
based themselves around this aspect (Karlen, 5843). Crane’s unique way of
expressing the events that are taking place is perhaps one of the most admirable qualities
of his writings. “The girl,

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Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew up to be a most rare and wonderful production
of a tenement district, a pretty girl”(Crane, 16). Crane’s choice of wording
in this description of a grown Maggie is one of the many examples of Crane’s unique
choice of wording in contrasting Maggie, a beautiful girl, to a mud puddle, the tenements,
which she’d grown up around. Amo Karlen describes this kind of writing as being one
of Crane’s, “…little masterpieces of the most subtle and difficult prose
effects—rhythm, assonance, alliteration—and full of premeditated irony or
menacing beauty…”(5844). Aside from his contrasting views, the dialogue among
Crane’s character’s is unavoidable and at times somewhat difficult to follow.
“The conversation has the exactitude of the dull repetitious speech of half-drunken
boasters, and Crane is responsible for the fictional theory that such repetition is
realistic art”(Quinn, 534). Perhaps the best example of the uneducated dialogue
between the characters is most evident at the beginning of the novel when Maggie and her
bother Jimmy are just children. They have both just come home only to be greeted with the
loud crying of a baby’s voice:

Ah, what deh hell!, cried Jimmie. Shut up er I’ll smack yer mout’.
See?….The father heard and turned about. Stop that Jim, d’yeh hear? Leave
yer sister alone on the street. It’s like I can never beat any sense into yer
dammed wooden head (Crane, 7).

Scenes like these are typical in the opening chapters of the novel. His uncensored
dialect help in the creation of Crane’s, “…modern slum-world, ferocious
and sorid…”(Berryman58-59). It continues in this manner until Maggie and
Jimmie are

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introduced as young adults. The tone as well as the dialect of the book becomes much
lighter and the tension between the characters lessens.

The main focus of the remaining chapters is the change of Maggie. After being introduced
to Peter, one of Jimmie’s friends, Maggie undergoes a drastic change. She becomes
aware of her surroundings and begins to take note of the world around her. Perhaps the
greatest irony of the novel lies in this change that occurs to Maggie. When first
introduced to Maggie, we are given a picture of complete and utter innocence. She is
presented to us as a strong, defiant child battling to overcome life’s hardships.
She is unaware of life beyond her way of living and is much too na´ve to realize how
poorly she lives. All this changes when she meets Peter. She becomes more self
conscious, taking notice of things around her that she has never before taken note of and
never in her life had any significance to her:

Turning, Maggie contemplated the dark, dust-stained walls and the scant and crude
furniture of her home. A clock, in a splintered and battered oblong box of varnished
wood, she suddenly regarded as an abomination. She noted that it ticked raspingly. The
almost vanished flowers in the carpet-pattern, she conceived to the newly hideous. Some
faint attempts she had made with blue ribbon, to freshen the appearance of a dingy
curtain, she now saw to be piteous. She wondered what Pete dined on (Crane, 20).

This shows Maggie’s first signs of awareness as well as her big reality check.
Crane purpose behind is all, simply to be real. John Berryman once found a quote of
Crane’s

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which stated, “I believe in Irony”(55). His belief in this is created his
inspiration for the basis of Maggie’s theme. In the novel Crane uses irony as
weapon against both Maggie and her family member who only see life as their surroundings
and are incapable of seeing things beyond that point (Colvert, 105). He presents it to
his audience in this manner because he knows it’s unavoidable. It becomes almost
impossible for his audience to ignore the truth and the harsh reality of this young
girl’s life. James Colvert quotes, “…Maggie’s irony marks the
contrast between reality and fantasy which is the basis of the novel’s
structure”(105).

Although the whole theme of the novel lies in its irony, it does not only exist there.
Perhaps the first bit of irony lies in the opening chapter of the novel as Jimmie stands
to fight for the honor of Run Alley, which is simply a heap of gravel which he prides
himself in (Pizer 5850). His defiance to defend something so insignificant is not only
ironic, but humorous as well. He is almost beaten to death, but none the less remains
defiant in his honor of defending Rum Alley. Chester Walford notes of Crane’s
technique, “…it’s greatness lies in the irony of this harsh environment,
no one’s quest is fulfilled, and no one learns anything: the novel swings from chaos
on the one side to complete illusion on the other.”

The end of the novel brings along with it, the end of Maggie herself. In the final
chapter Maggie meets her ultimate fate. Edwin Moses says of Maggie’s conclusion,
“It is one of the most harrowingly ironic endings in all of
fiction…”(433). After being disowned by her mother for leaving her home to
live with Peter, Maggie is disowned by Peter as well. In the end she is left for a more
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