February 11, 2009
Posted by Michael Fong
Stephen Crane, "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets"
"Evenings during the week he took her to see plays in which the brain-clutching heroine was rescued from the palatial home of her guardian, who is cruelly after her bonds, by the hero with the beautiful sentiments. The latter spent most of his time out at soak in pale-green snow storms, busy with a nickel-plated revolver, rescuing aged strangers from villains...To Maggie and the rest of the audience this was transcendental realism. Joy always within, and they, like the actor, inevitably without. Viewing it, they hugged themselves in ecstatic pity of their imagined or real condition." (Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets)
Here, Maggie is taken by Pete to see plays. She, like most of the audience, enjoyed it when the hero came and rescued the heroine, and fought of the villains. Whenever the hero was struggling, the audience responded with cries of encouragement; whenever the villain made his entrance, the audience jeered; and whenever anyone died, the audience mourned. From the text, the play is about a hero rising from poverty to wealth and triumph, in which he forgives his enemy and applauded by the public.
Maggie, as it seems, envisioned herself as the heroine. Was she being too naive? Under her situation, I do not think so. Being a girl raised from poverty in a family that is hardly caring nor loving to her, personally I think it is only natural for her to imagine a better future. The ending, in which both Pete and her mother abandons her, shows the tremendous ability of Stephen Crane to capture the ugliest, yet true side of human nature. Life is not like a play. Crane forces readers to recognize the truth, and I think that is why he is so highly regarded by others in American literature.
I myself think that once in a while, happy things do happen to those that need or deserve it. But in real life, rarely do Prince Charmings ride in with their magnificent steeds to rescue the heroine as they embrace each other in the sunset. And that is also why I think people, both in the past and present, enjoy inspirational plays and movies. People like to imagine themselves as the hero, or as the ones being rescued. They like to entertain the notion, the idea, that their lives would take a turn for the best eventually. They immerse themselves in the "transcendebtal realism". I am not, in any way, criticising them. In fact, I do that myself too. Who wouldn't want to be 007, handsome and attractive, fighting off villains single-handedly and have beautiful women around him? Who wouldn't want to be Paul Varjak in Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which Holly Golightly, the woman he loves, eventually accepts his love? It is in the nature of human beings to identify the things that are missing in their lives, the things that they want to have, or the people they want to be, with the characters in movies. I think Maggie, being always dependent on others, is the unfortunate victim of her own romanticism, a bit like Flora in "The Imported Bridegroom". They both got something, or rather, someone, that they think is ideal and suitable for them, when it turns out that their expectations and imaginations could not be realized in real life.