Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Other Stories

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Other Stories Themes

Misconceptions of the American West

This theme figures most prominently in “The Blue Hotel” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” Both stories feature characters who are unaware of the true nature of the American West. Instead, they naively believe the mythic conception of the West as filled with masculine violence. For example, the drummer becomes overly alarmed when he learns of Scratchy Wilson’s latest episode (in “Yellow Sky”). More significantly, the Swede’s expectations of Western violence in “The Blue Hotel” lead to the Swede’s death. Both of these characters are non-Western men whose misconceptions of the West cause them to react inappropriately to routine situations.

Inconsequence of Man

This theme is most evident in “The Open Boat” as the four shipwreck survivors are depicted drifting in a lonely dinghy in the middle of the ocean. Their efforts to reach the shore are rendered nearly impotent by the vast indifference of the sea. Even people on the shore do not recognize their plight and need for rescue. The correspondent in particular feels his insignificance in the grander scheme of the cosmos. He rightly recognizes that their fate—whether life or death—depends on the whim of an errant wave. The men realize that they have little control over what will become of them; moreover, their outcomes will not appreciably affect nature or the world.

Human Hypocrisy

All of Crane’s short stories depict some form of human hypocrisy. For example, in Maggie, both Jimmie and Mary Johnson have this fault; though Mary is a raging alcoholic who abuses her family, she condemns her daughter as the devil’s spawn and adopts the moral high ground, shunning Maggie after the young girl is deserted by her lover. Though Jimmie is angry about Maggie’s situation with Pete, he does not recognize that he has been the “Pete” to other helpless girls as well and ruined their lives. In “The Blue Hotel,” Johnnie is in fact a cheater, though his denial of it inadvertently leads to the Swede’s death; likewise, the Easterner fails to support the Swede in his accusation. Meanwhile, Scully and the cowboy are unwilling to confront the Swede directly, but as soon as he leaves, they are more than happy to boast about what they would have done to him. In “The Monster,” Judge Hagenthorpe is supposedly a wise and respectable man, but he too succumbs to town pressure and shuns the Trescott family.

Communication and Its Failures

These stories feature issues of communication between characters in various ways. For example, Maggie is unable to communicate with anybody her feelings of Pete; thus, her delusions of his grandeur grow unbounded. Pete fails to communicate to her his true intentions. In “The Open Boat,” the stranded men in the dinghy are unable to communicate to the people on the shore that they need to be rescued. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” Potter has difficulty communicating news of his marriage to the townspeople; when he finally does so, it takes several attempts before Wilson can understand him. These instances of communication, miscommunication, or lack of communication figure prominently in Crane’s stories.

Universality of Human Experience

Whether Crane is describing life in the Bowery slums or men lost at sea, his stories weave through the universality of human experience. The neighborhood in Maggie, though rife with poverty, violence and neglect, depicts those who live there as a united front. Though Mary Johnson abuses them on a regular basis, the neighbors nonetheless band together in her time of need, feeding her grief over Maggie’s death. The men in “The Open Boat” grow closer through their experience as survivors of the shipwreck; even in silence, they are united. In cases like these, people recognize each other’s experiences and feelings as particularly human.

Man vs. Nature

This theme is most obvious in “The Open Boat,” in which the men are stranded and must combat the forces of nature in order to survive. The theme is apparent in other short stories as well. In “The Blue Hotel,” the men must combat the blizzard outside in order to host the showdown between Johnnie and the Swede. The description of their interaction within the hotel is wholly different once they leave shelter and proceed into the snowy weather. The opening of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” also juxtaposes man and nature, with extensive imagery of the manmade Pullman train blazing its way across the untamed West.

Significance of Home and Family

In Crane’s stories, the home and family are important sources of comfort and security. For instance, the Trescotts have only each other to depend on after the town of Whilomville essentially abandons them. Without her family’s support, Maggie is left to walk the streets of New York as a prostitute, leading to her death. The Swede in “The Blue Hotel” likewise does not enjoy the support of a family, which Johnnie and Patrick Scully share. The Swede also dies alone, a victim of his lack of community. Meanwhile, in “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” Potter’s new family—his marriage—protects him from Wilson’s violence.