INNOCENCE VS. EXPERIENCE
It is believed that the world exists in two fashions, innocence and experience. Neither can exist without its opposite. Innocence is where humans begin, and they must pass through experience on their way to heaven. One figure from turn-of-the-century literature are prime examples of innocence lost which characterize this idea. Maggie, author Stephen Crane’s main character in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a soul whose story shows the trauma of the loss of innocence through experience. This story can be used to develop the polarity of innocence and experience.
Stephen Crane’s Maggie is allowed no such Heaven. Her traumatic experience ends in her death without redemption. Crane allows for the dual existence of innocence and experience but without the catharsis enjoyed by Mamie. Innocence surrounded by experience, but unable to survive there, is the dominant theme of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.
After her little brother’s death near the beginning of the story, Maggie exists as the sole example of innocence in the Bowery. Her parents drunken rages and constant fighting are tragic representations of the horrors of experience. Her brother Jimmie is the epitome of experience, driving his horses through the city and trampling any innocence upon which they come. He cannot understand how Maggie could possibly remain innocent surrounded by the filth of his world. Maggie seeks only escape from the Bowery but doesn’t wish to become as her family. She latches onto Pete as a symbol of maturity and success who can both appreciate her innocence and incorporate her into his experience. Pete is at first attracted by her purity but eventually abandons her for Nell, a figure who, like Mamie, speaks fluently and dresses accordingly. Without Pete to lead her out of Bowery life Maggie is lost and, ironically, becomes alienated even by her own family because of her imagined experiences.Maggie actually becomes experienced but not in the sense her family thinks.The trauma which is her experience is when she is tossed aside by Pete and her family and forced to wander the streets; she finally loses her innocence.
Crane’s story ends with Maggie’s death and her family’s reaction to it. They do not admit that she was forced into experience by them, but rather wonder how she could have lost the innocence they imagined they taught her.She is not allowed the catharsis that Jake undergoes and instead her death occurs outside the narrative. Crane’s readers cannot sense any redemption for Maggie. When her death is revealed, it is understood that she was not allowed any future as Jake and Mamie were granted.