Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Maggie Maggie Johnson is created as a type, but several elements go into the type that she is. The most important element of Maggie’s character is her ability to remain innocent in the midst of abuse and viciousness. Maggie is the character in the novel least affected by her environment as far as her thinking goes. Crane seems to have realized how impossible it would have been for his readers to identify with a girl character who is as corrupted by poverty and abuse as her parents and her male siblings are. Maggie maintains a desire to live a good life. She wants to nurture her brothers despite their resistance of her attentions and outright contempt for her. She wants to make the apartment more than livable and strives to make it so when she spends her meager pay on curtains. She wants to find a man who will love her and cherish her. When she meets Pete, she transfers her illusions onto him and becomes blind to his real qualities.
If Maggie is innocent of her situation in life and emotionally uncompromised by her abuse, she is affected by the ideology of her time. This is the second most important element in Maggie’s character. She adheres to the dominant gender ideologies of her age. She wants to be swept out of the filthy tenement building by a knight in shining armor. This gender ideology makes Maggie passive to her environment. It makes her scorn her job at the sweat shop and it makes her want to spend money on her looks instead of saving it for her own life away from her mother’s apartment. It makes her trust Pete far further than she should. It makes her ignore all the stories her mother told her about girls who got involved sexually with men and then got abandoned as a result. Maggie never seems to jettison this gender ideology of the passive and beautiful woman waiting for her knight, even in the last scenes in which she’s featured in the novel. Even there, Maggie is looking for young men of her class, possible lovers instead of potential customers.
Maggie is essentially a victim. Whether Crane knew his nineteenth-century readers would never identify with a girl who knew about the world around her or whether it was Crane himself could couldn’t write such a girl the reader never knows. Maggie is the image Crane gives his readers of the undeserving victim of the neglect and abuse that arises out of poverty.
Jimmie grows up to live the most brutal life imaginable. He drives a team of horses through the crowded streets of New York, getting into fights with people almost every day. There are no authority figures in Jimmie’s life whom he doesn’t scorn. He hates the police, regarding them as his enemies. He hates philanthropists whom he sees as interfering and ineffectual. He hates "obvious Christians" for their ineffectual offers of help and their self- righteous hypocrisy. He only idolizes the men who drive the fire trucks. They seem invincible to Jimmie. They clear a block in minutes; such brute power is all that Jimmie can admire in life.
How Jimmie feels about his family members is hard to fathom. Crane never relates this information. He continues to live with Mrs. Johnson less out of family feeling than economic necessity. He comes home as infrequently as he can and he never does when he is truly in need. He responds to Maggie’s sexual activity with Pete by abandoning her. At first, he wants to bring her home, but only as a way to save his family reputation. He doesn’t seem to care at all about Maggie as a person, but instead to regard her in a proprietary way as his territory that has been invaded by the betraying Pete.