In a shocking twist, I read another depressing book by an American author. Something is wrong with me. I think I need a good dose of something safe and saccharine after this.
So: Maggie Johnson is a beautiful and innocent girl growing up in a city slum. Her parents are drunks and her brother Jimmie is a fighter, not a lover. What’s a girl to do? Apart from trying to clean up after her mother and keep Jimmie from fighting, she falls in love with his friend Pete, a supposed “good guy,” but only if your average good guy is Alec D’Urberville and not Mr. Darcy. That’s what kind of novella this is. Of course, poor naive little Maggie takes the fall for this and her fate, as foreshadowed in the title, is a grim one indeed.
It’s kind of remarkable that Crane died so young but left such an indelible literary mark. His work is uncompromising and unflinchingly dark, but he casts a very realistic glimpse at life in the Gilded Era. Women and children suffered in ways that men did not suffer, and that’s what I gleaned from poor little Maggie’s story. The ruin of a woman was seen as a catastrophic family crisis, but no one actually accounted for the woman’s options or set of choices that could prevent her from being “ruined.”
I would definitely teach this book over The Red Badge of Courage. It’s small but significant for the dissolution of the family in industrial America, and it’s a searing glance at the way women were treated at the turn of the century.