In Darkest New York
The stone fight that begins Maggie occurs between young Jimmie’s gang and some Irish children or, to use Jimmie’s word, “micks.” As an adult, Jimmie continues to get into fights and is arrested for assaulting a “Chinaman.” Pete also has a reputation for his fighting ability, which he exploits to impress Maggie. Describing one fight, Pete uses a derogatory term for an Italian and says his opponent “scrapped like a damn dago” (52). Though New York’s ethnic population is not a prominent theme in Maggie, it is an omnipresent one. These three derisive references cast the immigrants in an adversarial role. Jimmie and Pete represent the Native-born, Anglo-Saxon population, who must fight their various battles in an effort to assert their superiority over others. These instances of physical violence emphasize the ethnic tensions that significantly contributed to the urban tenement problem during the late nineteenth century and that set the tone for Stephen Crane’s novel. The violence in Maggie — both the street fights and the domestic violence within the “gruesome doorways” — does more than simply illustrate the tension-filled urban life, for it suggests that tenement dwellers are in the process of degenerating to a more primitive state of existence. The attitude underlying Crane’s savage imagery was not unusual for the times. A good portion of the middle-class American reading public held similar beliefs toward the urban poor. No words better reflect their attitude toward New York’s tenement district in the 1890s than the phrase, “in darkest New York.”
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