Maggie, a girl who has grown up in the slums of New York. Although surrounded by corruption of all sorts throughout her youth, she has remained uncontaminated by it. When she falls in love with Pete, a friend of her brother, her moral deterioration begins. After she has lived with him, her family, who are anything but models of decorum, will have nothing to do with her. She turns to prostitution but finds it hard to support herself; eventually, she commits suicide.
Jimmy, Maggie’s brother. After his father’s death, he goes to work to support Maggie and their mother. He quickly falls into the normal patterns of life for men of his class, has a succession of affairs, and fathers several illegitimate children. When Maggie tries to return home after her affair with Pete, he is highly indignant and will do nothing to help her.
Pete, Jimmy’s friend and Maggie’s lover. After seducing Maggie, he quickly tires of her and turns her out. Thereafter, he denies any responsibility toward her.
The Mother, a woman given to drink and constant haranguing with her husband and children. When Maggie and Jimmy were small, she left them to shift for themselves most of the time, but it is she who assumes an attitude of outraged virtue when Maggie tries to return home. After her daughter’s death, she is inconsolable.
Although there are characters in Maggie, he uses only a few to give shape to his story. He has created characters that are both individualized and stereotypical. The major characters are the members of the Johnson family, Pete, and "the outer world" as represented by the preachers and social workers.
Mary Johnson is both the selfish, abusive, alcoholic mother, and the symbolic reproducer of all the ills of the slums. Her unnamed husband is both the selfish, weak willed father that abandons his children, and paternalistic society, the society that turns its back on its child. Jimmie, their surviving son, reproduces all their ills and thus represents the idea of environment reproducing itself. Maggie, their daughter, represents a good person who wants to improve herself and the lives of those she loves. Maggie represents Hope. Crane will have that hope directly rejected. Thus Jimmie and Maggie together make Crane's argument for the slums being caused and reproduced by environment and by circumstances.
Pete, Maggie's boyfriend, is a cowardly, selfish man who uses, other people, wealthier and more self-assured than members of the Johnson family, but unwilling to give without getting a return. He therefore also represents that portion of society that gives the people of the Bowery a peek at a better life without helping them to obtain that better life. Maggie has seen books showing totally different ways of living; she has learned about artists in school; and she has heard about jobs that were not in sweat shops. These small glimpses of a better life give her hope that she and her family can achieve them, but of course she cannot because society denies the poor opportunities to become educated enough to receive good jobs.
The two ministers that Crane identifies in the story are clearly representatives of social and religious organizations, and that portion of society that pays lip service to helping the people of the ghetto while despising and rejecting them. The minister who works in the food kitchen clearly is fulfilling his expected duties; he is not there out of a desire to help people, and he doles out food only after lecturing the hungry. He is Crane's symbol of the social institutions, including schools, churches, and social service agencies, that have little interest in changing the plight of the poor.
Jimmie Johnson Jimmie, Maggie’s brother, appears at the opening of the novel. At a young age, he has become as savage as the little “true assassins” he battles in the streets. His survival on these mean streets depends on his ability to dodge fists and stones as well as to develop an exalted sense of...
(The entire section is 1,586 words.)