What does the "keynote scene" of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets suggest is the work's main theme?Stephen Crane's Maggie:  A Girl of the Streets

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The broad brush portrait of the Bowery is Stephen Crane's Realism at its best.  In his effort to portray the life in this environment as unsympathetically as he can, Crane touches the descriptions with humor, even to the point of farce.  The opening sentence reads,

 A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley.

What could possibly involve "honor" in the Bowery?  When the readers comes to Chapter II, they perceive the squalor, the degradation, the depravity of the Bowery:

Eventually they entered into a dark region where, from a careening building, a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter. A wind of early autumn raised yellow dust from cobbles and swirled it against an hundred windows. Long streamers of garments fluttered from fire-escapes. In all unhandy places there were buckets, brooms, rags and bottles. In the street infants played or fought with other infants or sat stupidly in the way of vehicles. Formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dress, gossiped while leaning on railings, or screamed in frantic quarrels. Withered persons, in curious postures of submission to something, sat smoking pipes in obscure corners. A thousand odors of cooking food came forth to the street. The building quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels.

This scene suggests that the deprived environment in which the man characters live has much to do with their victimization.   Here is a portrayal of life with no pretense.  Poverty, brutality, and a lack of realistic prospects are what face the inhabitants of this small, dirty world.  That it offers no hope or redemption is clear; the ruin of one as pretty as Maggie is inevitable in this destructive social environment.

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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

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