Stephen Crane's novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets opens with a boy from the Bowery's Rum Alley standing on top of a gravel heap and throwing stones at boys from the opposing neighborhood of Devil's Row. The names of the neighborhoods and the violence of a battle that involves young children seriously injuring each other provide the reader with a vivid introduction to life in the Bowery. Even before the boy falls victim to a "whirling mob" of antagonists, his condition is pitiful and his appearance sinister:
His coat had been torn to shreds in a scuffle, and his hat was gone. He had bruises on twenty parts of his body, and blood was dripping from a cut in his head. His wan features wore a look of a tiny, insane demon.
The Bowery is characterized principally by poverty and violence. Life there is a daily struggle for existence, with gang warfare even between young children.
The boy from Rum Alley is Jimmie Johnson, and life in his family is a microcosm of life in the Bowery, with its poverty and violence. Both Jimmie's parents are alcoholics, a common problem in the Bowery, and their drinking fuels their brutality towards their children. The children are terrified of their mother and father, who alternate between savage rage and drunken sleep. Their alcohol-fueled rampages annoy their neighbors, who, nonetheless, take them as a matter of course, since such behavior is common in the aptly-named Rum Alley.