11 July 2006

Naturalism, as I defined it, is a literary movement in which authors tried to demonstrate the effects of determinism by showing all the links in a particular chain of causes. I also gave these authors credit for a moral decision, in that their choice of chains to follow--their choice of subject--could show the results of particular actions to those people in a position to make decisions about performing such acts. Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, seems to meet these low expectations.

Crane named his book for a young , presumably Irish woman growing up in the tenement district, but his subject was Maggie's family, not just her. We see very little of Maggie's thoughts: the piece is written from an author-omniscient perspective, but the voice is one of reportage, rather than psychological insight. This choice compels Crane to describe physical detail, which he does: we see and hear every scene clearly. The pieces are placed in order for us; Crane only leaves us to see the connection.

Crane does not, however, force the connection onto us. There are wide gaps in the story: several months pass between Maggie being banished from her mother's home and her death, and we know nothing of what happened in those months. She might have joined a convent and been killed by a falling crucifix, for all we know. I don't, however, see this as a weakness. The gap forces a reader to consider Maggie's situation and draw some sort of conclusion, and the story is structured so as to steer readers' thoughts toward a particular vision of Maggie's end, one which is inevitable, given her starting situations.

Maggie also meets my didactic criterion: Maggie concludes as it does because of a choice made by a character with power. Even if that power is only the ability to dazzle an innocent girl, it gives Pete the power to ruin her life and hasten her death. This is a power many people have, and Crane could have counted on at least a few people with that power coming across his story. I assume Crane's purpose was greater than producing a pamphlet for the abstinence crusade, but if his only intention was to show tomcatting teenagers that their actions did have consequences, he executed it masterfully. Maggie is a vivid book, easy and enjoyable to read, and more than fulfills my expectations of naturalism. Then again, when you don't expect much, it's harder to be disappointed.


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