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"The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle." No one in the tenement neighborhood notices her as a pretty girl when she is a child because she is so covered with tattered and dirty clothes. When she is a teenager, people are surprised at how pretty she is. The young men begin to comment on her.
She gets a job making collars and cuffs. Jimmie becomes head of the family. He stumbles upstairs drunk every night just like his father did before him. Maggie’s mother becomes famous in the police stations around the neighborhood. They all know her by her first name. She always stands in front of the judge with "voluble excuses, explanations, apologies and prayers."
One day, Pete, the young man who got Jimmie out of the fight in his childhood, comes to visit. "Maggie observe[s] Pete." He is dressed in the flamboyant clothing of a bouncer of a bar, the person who keeps order and throws rowdy customers out. He and Jimmie exchange stories of fights they’ve had and Maggie sits in the shadows admiring Pete’s clothing and his carriage. She begins to feel embarrassed about the ugliness of her family’s furniture. She sees in Pete a "beau ideal of a man." She has always dreamed of finding a lover like Pete.
The novella finally turns its attention to Maggie, the protagonist, in this chapter. Yet, the focus is on Maggie in the shadows watching her brother and Pete talk. She remains on the periphery in Crane’s description, demonstrating that in this degraded world, the lowly Jimmie is more important than his sister. He and his friend spend the evening exchanging stories about fist fights while Maggie sits in the shadows admiring Pete as an aristocrat and worrying that he is thinking disdainfully of her poor apartment furnishings.
The chapter opens with the story of Maggie’s growing beauty as she grows up. Next, Jimmie gives her the two alternatives of her life. He tells her she must either go to hell or go to work. In the 1896 version of the novel, Crane wrote instead "go on d’ toif" (i.e. walk the streets as a prostitute) or get a job. The reader should recognize the closeness of the life of prostitution for a girl as beautiful and as poor as Maggie. The reality of that kind of life is ever present in all of the steps Maggie takes in life.