Maggie and Pete are spending an evening out at another hall, and Maggie’s demeanor has changed. “She leaned with a dependent air toward her companion. She was timid, as if fearing his anger or displeasure. She seemed to beseech tenderness of him” (Crane 34). Pete maintains his air of superiority, though he compliments Maggie on her appearance. He is proud when other men look at her. Though Maggie perceives dimly that she is a social pariah, she is simply happy to be by Pete’s side and to claim his love.
Jimmie finally returns home several days after the bar fight. Mary is still infuriated by her daughter’s choice to live with Pete. Furthermore, Mary is particularly embarrassed by the neighbors’ gossip and judgments of the Johnson family. Jimmie and Mary discuss the family’s embarrassment. Mary also says that even if Maggie returns home, she will be rejected. Jimmie idly wonders whether his own lovers have brothers who feel the way he does regarding Maggie and Pete. Nonetheless, in a brief moment of decency, Jimmie “almost came to a conclusion that his sister would have been more firmly good had she better known why” (Crane 38).
One night, Pete and Maggie run into a woman named Nellie, whose presence greatly excites Pete. Nell is with her own companion, a young man named Freddie. However, Pete makes his interest in Nell clear, and the two talk privately together. “Maggie was dazed. She could dimly perceive that something stupendous had happened” (Crane 41). Maggie and Freddie are left to fend for themselves, and though Freddie finds Maggie to be a reasonable substitute for Nell, she leaves. Maggie abruptly decides to go home once it becomes clear that Pete has deserted her for another woman.
Another woman, Hattie, tries to track down Jimmie on the streets. When she begins to tell him that she was looking for him, he becomes extremely aggravated. He warns Hattie not to follow him around the city and cruelly rejects her. Hattie’s situation reflects Maggie’s with Pete, though Jimmie does not realize this.
When Jimmie returns home, he discovers that Maggie has returned home. Mary, however, is hysterical; she “screamed in scoffing laughter” (Crane 43). Her uproar causes neighbors to come to the scene to witness the family fight. Maggie attempts to appeal to Jimmie for sympathy in the face of her mother’s contempt, but he rejects her as well. Thus, Maggie leaves her family home to the jeers of her own mother.
Crane returns to the setting of Maggie’s and Pete’s first date to depict how drastically Maggie has been altered. The repetition of setting allows for a more direct comparison of Maggie’s life and attitude, both before and after being “ruined” by Pete. While she was initially enraptured by Pete, now, “[f]rom her eyes had been plucked all look of self-reliance.... She seemed to beseech tenderness of him” (Crane 34).
Maggie has become dependent upon Pete, still clinging to the notion of his grandeur. Again we see the theme of appearances. “She contemplated Pete’s man-subduing eyes and noted that wealth and prosperity was indicated by his clothes” (Crane 35). Likewise, Pete judges Maggie on how other men regard her appearance; their attention to Maggie makes him feel proud.
Meanwhile, at home, Mary Johnson’s hyperbolic judgments of Maggie’s behavior reveal the depth of her rejection of her daughter. Her words deepen her true nature as an uncaring, neglectful alcoholic who has abused her children. She laments that her daughter was inherently evil: “[Maggie] had a bad heart, dat girl did, Jimmie. She was wicked teh deh heart an’ we never knowed it” (Crane 36).
Jimmie is deeply hypocritical in his attitude toward Maggie and Pete. Ironically, he fails to recognize, though the reader does, that he has also been in Pete’s position before, frequently “ruining” women’s reputations. “Again [Jimmie] wondered vaguely if some of the women of his acquaintance had brothers. Nevertheless, his mind did not for an instant confuse himself with those brothers nor his sister with theirs” (Crane 38). Somehow it is different when he is the one leading other women astray.
The grandiose gestures of Pete, Nell, and Freddie are subtly parodied in Crane’s depictions. Nell is supposedly a “woman of brilliance and audacity” (Crane 40), but she is in fact a cheap gold-digger with no real decency. She has no qualms about stealing Pete away from Maggie and is condescending to the younger girl. Freddie “beamed upon [Nell] with an expression that was somewhat tipsy and inexpressibly tender” (Crane 41).
Hattie’s character is another example of irony; she is to Jimmie what Maggie is to Pete. Though Jimmie is angered by his sister’s destruction by Pete, he does not recognize his own role in Hattie’s destruction. Instead, he cruelly rejects her on the street. Furthermore, this rejection foreshadows his rejection of Maggie when she attempts to return home.
The theme of the gallery as the neighbors is present again when Maggie returns to the Johnson apartment. “Through the open doors curious eyes stared in at Maggie. Children ventured into the room and ogled her, as if they formed the front row at a theatre” (Crane 44). While Maggie had once enjoyed the theater with Pete, hoping for the heroine’s triumph, she is now the subject of her own drama. We watch as well. This is another example of the dramatic tradition of a “play within a play.”
In another example of misconception, “Pete did not consider that he had ruined Maggie. If he had thought that her soul could never smile again, he would have believed the mother and brother ... to be responsible for it” (Crane 45). Like Jimmie, Pete misconceives the real social situation for the woman he has ruined according to the prevailing social values. The misconception has its roots in the double standards of this society, where the men can ruin one woman and go on to the next with impunity, then reject their own sisters who have been treated the same way by other men.
Pete does not realize how his actions have cost Maggie. When she goes to his workplace, Pete admonishes her for showing up and, like her family, rejects her. Maggie is humiliated and abandoned. She has no one to turn to, and she wanders the streets of New York City aimlessly. At one point, she attempts to approach a well-dressed gentleman in a silk hat to seek help. He appears to be a kind and generous man, but as soon as he sees Maggie’s approach, he turns away.
Months later, Maggie has descended into the world of prostitution. She is described as being a well-known prostitute who is familiar with many of the men who roam the streets. She encounters several men but has difficulty securing a client. Some of these men are not interested, others are busy, and yet others have no money. Finally, Maggie meets a huge fat man who accepts her implicit offer. He takes her to the river, and this is the last scene in which Maggie is seen alive.
Meanwhile, Pete is a drunkard surrounded by women, Nell among them, in a saloon. Pete grows progressively drunker, though the women humor him and appear to fawn over him. He enjoys the attention, and for all intents and purposes he has wholly forgotten about Maggie. Pete is so intoxicated that he imagines himself to be in an argument with the waiter—and then he confusedly wishes to apologize. Finally, Pete passes out in a stupor from the alcohol. The women immediately express their disgust for him and leave. Before Nell leaves, she takes Pete’s money.
One day, Jimmie arrives home to tell his mother that Maggie is dead. Suddenly, Mary becomes hysterical and reminisces about Maggie as a young girl—when she wore worsted boots. Her emotional upheaval brings the neighbors to the door once again. A woman in a black gown, Miss Smith, rushes in to help Mary. She stokes Mary’s hysterical frenzy, and Mary sends Jimmie to retrieve Maggie’s body. Jimmie reluctantly goes. At home, Miss Smith drives Mary to proclaim her forgiveness of Maggie’s sins.
Maggie’s opportunities for salvation are punctuated by repeated short sentences, indicating that she “went” or “went away.” Each time she is rejected, first by her mother, then by both Mary and Jimmie Johnson, then by Pete, Crane writes a line such as, “Maggie went away” (Crane 47). This short sentence is repeated to emphasize the moments in which these separate incidents contribute toward her fate.
The last chapter in which Maggie is described as alive progressively transforms as she grows closer to her death. Chapter 17 begins by describing the bustling business in the town, filled with various men who reject Maggie for a number of reasons. Then, “[t]he girl went into gloomy districts near the river, where the tall black factories shut in the street and only occasional broad beams of light fell across the pavements from saloons” (Crane 49). The setting grows darker, foreshadowing the darkness in Maggie’s immediate future.
As Maggie nears her last client, she must go “further on in the darkness” (Crane 49). The buildings in the area are also personified to evoke gloom and danger. “The shutters of the tall buildings were closed like grim lips. The structures seemed to have eyes that looked over her, beyond her, at other things” (Crane 49). When she meets her last client, Crane provides one final, morbid clue about her fate: “At their feet the river appeared a deathly black hue” (Crane 50).
The final chapter serves as the last act in a play, with Maggie’s death announced and the anti-hero (Mary Johnson) in hysterics. She is supported by her “gallery” of neighbors, particularly Miss Smith. “The neighbors began to gather in the hall, staring in at the weeping woman as if watching the contortions of a dying dog” (Crane 53). Mary Johnson, who has been extremely melodramatic throughout the entire story, tops her performance in this scene. “Two or three of the spectators were sniffling, and one was loudly weeping. The mourner arose and staggered into the other room” (Crane 54). It is likely that this performance of concern and forgiveness is no more than a show due in part to the presence of the neighbors and in part to the immediacy of the emotions. We are left with the feeling that in a short time, the neighborhood and the family will go back to their old, dim ways.