A Reflection of women in, Stephen Crane’s Maggie A Girl of the Streets and Willa Cather’s Coming, Aphrodite!

Maggie A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane is a story that documents New York City life at the turn of the twentieth century, deterministically linking crowds, drinks, and ignorance with the limited options of a beautiful girl who allows the sparkle of romance to entice her to seduction and eventually prostitution. Crane is wistful, but when it comes to Maggie's decision, he leaves no room for uncertainty. The tale of Willa Cather's Aphrodite revolves around the two characters Don Hedger and Eden Bower. Cather delves into the dangers of being an artist; the two artists, however, have different views. Hedger comprehends true ideals of the artistry whereas Eden though talented, chooses commercial success. She does not comprehend the difference between being an excellent artist and attaining material success. This paper shall look into the reflection of woman in the two novels and how they go through the life hurdles.

Crane’s novel focuses on a young lady wishing to flee the nastiness of the Bowery tenement. Coming from a home of alcoholic parents, Maggie had no option but to fend for herself. Together with her siblings, they never receive parental love. Maggie is finally forced into prostitution as a way of surviving. Crane attempts to depict Maggie as a woman who uses her sexuality to attain social advancement. In this community, women are dependent on men since they do not have skills or education to stand on their own (Crane 13). Maggie is seen putting her hopes on a man; the man later disappoints her, the audience responds to her and her situation in a specific sense of pathos. In coming Aphrodite, Eden Bower is the opposite of Maggie. She is an independent woman who manages to attend college to pursue music. She is also a talented opera singer whereas Maggie has no talents (Crane 15). There is a huge contrast between the two women and the social climates in which the authors were writing.

Maggie Johnson in Maggie a Girl of the Streets yearns to run away from the confinement of the Bowery tenement. Even though, she “blossomed in a mud puddle” (Crane 18), it is evident that she is longing for a better life, beyond the constraints of the Bowery. This yearning is evident throughout the story especially when Pete takes her to the show; the author uses a language that enables the audience to experience the same sense of marvel that Maggie encounters:

An orchestra of yellow silk women and bald-headed men on an elevated stage near the centre of a great green-hued hall, played a popular waltz…Little boys, in the costumes of

French chefs, paraded up and down the irregular aisles vending fancy cakes [while] clouds of tobacco smoke rolled and wavered high in the air about the dull gilt of the chandeliers. (25)

Crane’s depiction invokes pictures of an overpowering sensory experience. The sights, sounds, and smell are an exciting and dramatic change from the confines and filth of the Bowery that Maggie had gotten used to. It is evident that she yearns to break out of her meager existence once she encounters the good things that exist beyond the borders of Bowery.

After going to that show, a change in Maggie can be seen. She is now more preoccupied with her appearance and presenting herself in a way that is suggestive of a modern civilized New Yorker. The confinements of Bowery tenement had constrained Maggie’s mind that she never knew that a better life existed on the other side (Lawson 600). But still, even if she knew of such good life, she never had the means to achieve it. In this society, Crane depicts women as dependent on men. They do not have a means to improve their lives or their social standings unless with the help of men.

Crane writes,

“as thoughts of Pete came to Maggie’s mind, she began to have an intense dislike for all of her dresses [. . . and how] she began to note, with more interest, the well-dressed women she met on the avenues” (29).

However, this interest of presenting herself in a way that is beyond her current social standing started before her date. With Pete, Maggie does see an individual that represents what she understands as classiness and gracefulness of New York.

With his fancy attire together with the capability to show her a world that she could only imagine before, Maggie thinks that she ought to be more close to him. To her, Pete is after all a means through which she can have access to the better side. Through him, she can be among the “well-dressed women she met on the avenues.” (Stallman 530). The audience perceives her aspirations for social elevation when after Maggie meets Pete, she tries to rearrange and beautify her dirty apartment in an attempt to impress her would-be lover. This is a moment that Maggie can be seen being ashamed of her living conditions. Crane depicts Maggie as a naïve woman realizes the need to improve her situation through a man and is only motivated to change or re-modify herself to impress a man (Stallman 531). She does not do these things because she wants it for herself but rather for a man.

The shame of her current situation emerges only after she meets Pete and sees him as a means to a better life and escape from her family. Maggie even goes further and tries to rearrange her home into a residence worthy of Pete. She uses her money “in the purchase of flowered cretonne for a lambrequin” (Crane 23) to create “a debased parody of the cluttered Victorian parlor [sic], with its plush fabrics, upholstered furniture, and copious bric-abrac” (Crane 24). Crane depicts here a woman who is trying to improve her social standing by renovating her house and enhancing her appearance. Maggie wishes to make herself to be like someone from a higher social standing. It might be nice to want to enhance and better oneself, however, the only problem with her is that she is using a man.

The audience has seen how Maggie struggles to remodel herself and her apartment in an effort to enhance her own social standing, nonetheless, as a woman, she is not able to realize this alone (Stallman 533). Luckily for her, she has a man, a sophisticated and classic bartender, a man who is attracted to her. Whereas her endeavors are not to be viewed as trading sex for money, it is evident that she sees the benefits of the relationship. This does not imply that her feelings for Pete are not true, but however they are secondary, rather she is more mindful of the economic and social advantages of the relationship (Lawson 600). Unfortunately, Maggie hopes dwindle as Pete does turn out to be the opposite of what she expected. He simply uses her then when he has achieved his goals; he leaves her like she is nothing.

Crane depicts women as just objects and not highly regarded like men in the society. Even though Maggie tried to use her sexuality to advance her social standing that seemed to be the only feasible option for her. When she was rejected by her family for having an intimate relationship with Pete, she now turns to prostitution and uses her sexuality now as a means of survival (Harris 7). It was not her use of sexuality as a path for social elevation that failed her but rather her dependence on Pete as a facilitator. This dependence on a man to help in social elevation is a key point of contrast between Maggie A Girl of the Streets by Stephen cane and coming Aphrodite by Willa Cather.

In coming Aphrodite by Willa Cather, 20-year-old opera singer, Eden Bower moves to hedger’s apartment building to pursue music. In contrast to Maggie, Eden has freedom and means to enhance her life (Harris 12). Her living conditions, as well as finances, were much better than Maggie’s. Cather depicts a woman here as someone who has same opportunities as a man. Eden’ beauty and amazing voice excite Hedger who is a paint artist. Hedger watches her through a knothole (Cather 13). Eden apartment is classier than Maggie’s.

Cather delves into the artist’s encounter with essential splendor and sexuality in the form of a woman. The two young people get attracted and start having a relationship (Cather 15). This relationship, however, is just for romance and not for social elevation since both partners are in the same social standing. They are equal partners in the relationship. It is only that Eden and Hedger have differing opinions on many aspects like Hedger is centered on the true ideal of artistry whereas Eden is more focused on achieving material success. This brings a drift in their relations, and they end up parting ways. Like Maggie, Eden had the zeal to go ahead in life. The two authors, Crane and Cather present who are determined to enhance their lives, however through different means.

Maggie uses her sexuality and relies on a man whereas Eden uses her skills. Whereas Maggie is uneducated, Eden is very talented and educated and sophisticated. In fact, Eden leaves her lover Hedger whereas Maggie is left by Pete and has to turn to prostitution as a means of survival. In some passages of the novel, Eden Bower is seen smoking the cigarette, something that is not synonymous with women in the 19th century (Harris 19). She enjoys a lot of freedom and does things for herself and not to please a man. Reflection of women in Coming Aphrodite is that of a skillful, free, educated and independent nature.

Stephen Cane and Willa Cather both represent women in the society; however, there is a huge contrast even though it was written in almost the same century. Crane depicts a woman who is uneducated and relies on a man for a social elevation whereas Cather portrays a free spirited woman who does whatever she pleases and has the skills and the finances to improve her life and her social standing. Eden owns her sexuality and does not allow Hedger to objectify her,

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. Coming, Aphrodite. Vintage, 2015.

Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A girl of the streets. Broadview Press, 2006.

Harris, Jacqueline H. "Fernand Léger and Willa Cather’s “Coming, Aphrodite!”." Willa Cather and Aestheticism: From Romanticism to Modernism (2012): 139.

Lawson, Andrew. "Class Mimicry in Stephen Crane's City." American Literary History 16.4 (2004): 596-618.

Stallman, Robert Wooster. "Stephen Crane's Revision of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets." American Literature 26.4 (1955): 528-536.

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