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Zola and Stephen Crane compared

mercredi 27 juillet 2005

critics claimed that Stephen Crane owed so much to Zola in writing Maggie a Girl of the Streets on the model of L’Assommoir.

Crane And Zola Limits Of Influence

While the aim of the previous chapters was to discuss the issue of the indigenous nature of American naturalism through the analysis of the major American works of the second half of the nineteenth century, the purpose of the present chapter is to show, by way of a comparative study of Zola’s L’Assommoir and Crane’s Maggie a Girl of The Street, the extent of Zola’s influence on Stephen Crane.
The study will be divided into three parts. The first part will introduce the novels and show the circumstances surrounding their publication. The second part is devoted to the critical reception of the two novels as well as their relationship. The third one, which is the most important, focuses on the comparison of the two novels in order to illustrate the assumptions dealt with in the previous chapter as far as themes, characters and style are concerned.

Emile Zola had for a long time in mind the idea of writing a novel on the people when he tackled L’Assommoir. In 1869, seven years before its publication, when he had a list of novel projects to publisher Lacroix, he wrote about his "novel on the people " :
Un roman qui aura pour cadre le monde ouvrier, et pour héros Louis Duval, marié à Laure, fille de Bergasse. Peinture d’un ménage d’ouvriers à notre époque. Drame intime et profond de la déchéance du travailleur Parisien sous la déplorable influence du milieu des barrières et des cabarets. [...] Ce serait faire œuvre de courage que de dire la vérité et de réclamer, par l’exposition franche des faits, de l’air, de la lumière et de l’instruction pour les basses classes .
Although little developed and left aside for some years, this project foreshadows, to a large extent, L’Assommoir. During the years that separated him from the writing of this novel, Zola gatherd the articles and testimonies on the people’s lives. One recognizes in the last sentence the attitude of Zola and his goal while writing "the truth" to make change things. The idea of the novel goes back to the first years of Zola’s life in Paris. Zola selected his heroine after having noticed Degas’s picture which describes a laundress in 1873. He recognized the influence of Degas and stated openly that : " J’ai tout bonnement décrit, en plus d’un endroit dans mes pages, quelques-uns de vos tableaux " . It is in this context that the novelist conceived his novel. The core of the work was already in La Fortune des Rougons in which Gervaise Macquart fell in love with Lantier who leaves with her for Paris. In 1874, Zola added to the preparatory file a news item entitled "la petite mere ". the person described in the news item will serve as model to the character of Lalie Bijard. So a set of real facts supplied this project. L’Assommoir is a novel that would serve as a scientific survey of a given society of Paris that is limited in time and space and conditioned by heredity and alcohol. It is a novel to prove a theory in which Zola wanted to show
le milieu peuple et expliquer par ce milieu les mœurs de peuple ; comme quoi, à Paris, la soûlerie, la débandade de la famille, les coups, l’acceptation de toutes les hontes et de toutes les misères vient des conditions même de l’existence ouvrière….En un mot…Un effroyable tableau qui porte sa morale en soi. "
In L’Assommoir, Zola tells the rise then the decadence of Gervaise Macquart who is a washer in la rue Goutte-d’Or in Paris. Gervaise and her lover Lantier came to Paris with their two sons Claude and Etienne. Later, Lantier betrays Gervaise and leaves her for Adèle, the sister of Virginie with whom Gervaise disputed while she was working, as a washerwoman, in a laundry in one of the dirty areas of the city. Gervaise, in turn, meets Coupeau, a moderate roofing engineer, in the bar of Père Colombe. They marry in the municipality then in the church. Their life is bettered thanks to their hard work and savings, and the family witnesses a period of happiness Through a combination of happy circumstances Gervaise is able to gather enough money to open her own laundry, and the couple’s happiness appears to be complete with the birth of a daughter, Anna, nicknamed Nana (the heroine of Zola’s later novel of the same title). In this period of happiness, Gervaise is able to make friends, among whom Goujet, who lives with his mother near the Coupeaus and helps Gervaise in opening her own washer.
The second half of the novel deals with the downward trajectory of Gervaise’s life. Coupeau is injured in a fall from a roof. During his lengthy and painful convalescence he starts drinking. He becomes a vindictive alcoholic, with no intention of trying to find more work. Gervaise struggles to keep her home together, but her excessive pride leads her to a number of embarrassing failures. The home is further disrupted by the return of Lantier, warmly welcomed by Coupeau who gets seriously ill. Hence, the ensuing chaos and financial strain is too much for Gervaise, who loses her laundry-shop and is sucked into debt. She decides to join Coupeau in drinking and soon slides into heavy alcoholism causing Nana, her daughter, to run away to Paris for good. Events follow this unhappy vein and the novel ends with the death of Gervaise in a miserable way.

The importance of L’Assommoir to the present study stems from the fact that it is certainly the novel of Les Rougon-Macquarts, that illustrates best the naturalism of Zola. It is a naturalistic novel by its modernity, and one which reflects the inherent contradictions that characterize the theories of Zola. It caused the favorable appreciation of Mallarmé as well that of Huysmans and became the first bestseller of the century. Finally, L’Assommoir brought to its author fame and enough money to buy a villa in Médan, where he was able to receive and gather together authors who appreciated this work.

As for Stephen Crane, he shows in Maggie a Girl of the Streets, how environment can affect people and change their lives. Crane wrote that the novel "tries to show that environment is a tremendous thing in the world and frequently shapes lives regardless." But he went on to write that, "if one proves that theory, one makes room in heaven for all sorts of souls who are not confidently expected to be there by many excellent people."
As the novel opens, Maggie’s brother Jimmie is leading a street fight against a troop of youngsters from another part of New York City’s impoverished Bowery neighborhood. Jimmie is rescued by Pete, a teenager who seems to be a casual acquaintance of his. They encounter Jimmie’s offhandedly brutal father, who brings Jimmie home, where we are introduced to his timid older sister Maggie and little brother Tommie, and to Mary, the family’s drunken, vicious matriarch.
As time passes, both the father and Tommie die. Jimmie hardens into a sneering, aggressive, cynical youth. He gets a job as a teamster. Maggie, by contrast, seems somehow immune to the corrupting influence of abject poverty ; underneath the grime, she is physically beautiful and, even more surprising, both hopeful and naïve. When Pete, now a bartender, makes his return to the scene, he entrances Maggie with his bravado and show of bourgeois trappings. Pete senses easy prey, and they begin dating. She sees in him the promise of wealth and culture, an escape from the misery of her childhood.
There comes a night when the drunk and combative Mary accuses Maggie of disgracing the family ; Maggie runs into Pete’s arms, and we are given to understand that the two are, indeed, sleeping together. Jimmie is furious that Pete has "ruined" his sister, and he gets very drunk with a friend and gets into a brawl with Pete. After this, Maggie leaves home and goes to live with Pete. Jimmie and Mary affect sorrow and bewilderment at Maggie’s fall from grace, and her behavior becomes a neighborhood scandal. A scant few weeks after Maggie leaves home, she is in a bar with Pete when they meet Nellie, a scheming woman with a veneer of sophistication who has no trouble convincing Pete to leave Maggie. Abandoned, Maggie tries to return home, but her family rejects her.
The linear narrative now ceases, and we are given a series of scenes, arranged in chronological order but separated by passages of time. There is an interlude in which we see that Jimmie, who acts horrified at Maggie’s actions, has in fact himself seduced and then abandoned at least one girl. In another brief scene, Maggie visits Pete at work, and he, too, refuses to acknowledge her legitimate claims on him. Months later, we are shown a prostitute,presumably Maggie, but unnamed,walking the streets of New York, pathetic and rejected, bound for trouble. There is a scene with Pete in a bar, badly drunk and surrounded by women ; he collapses on the floor and, in his turn, is abandoned by the scornful and manipulative Nellie. Finally, the novel ends with Jimmie giving Mary the news that Maggie’s dead body has been found. Mary stages a scene of melodramatic mourning for her ruined child, which ends with her deeply hypocritical and bitterly ironic concession : "I’ll fergive her !"
Under the pseudonym Johnston Smith, Crane published his novel at his personal expense because in 1893, Maggie : a Girl of the Streets was so shocking that publishers refused to print it. An official publishing company would not publish the novel until Crane achieved success with The Red Badge of Courage (1895). Maggie shocked readers because of a disturbing and realistic picture of life in the Lower East Side tenements of New York City. According to Gullason, Crane’s novel "made the city with its slum dwellers and social problems, a fit subject for serious literary study." In a letter to Hamlin Garland Crane also wrote :
"It is inevitable that you will be greatly shocked by this book but continue please with all possible courage to the end. For it tries to show that environment is a tremendous thing in the world and frequently shapes lives regardless.
Hamlin Garland read Crane’s novel and reviewed it in The Arena in 1893. He praised Crane for his "truthful and unhackneyed study of the slums." and showed his admiration for the "astonishingly good style". He also believed that while it is "pictorial, graphic, terrible in its directness," the novel is amazing for such a young man of only twenty-one years of age.
However, what is striking is that Stephen Crane began writing Maggie with "little relatively knowledge about the characters as individuals" though he " had a clear notion of the plot and of his heroine’s inevitable downward slide" . This view is also supported by the fact that Crane started writing Maggie before settling in New York.The novel, then, became the centre of debate over its literary value and raised many questions about its author. Lars Åhnebrink, among other critics, claimed that :
Some of the parallels … may have been accidental, but taken together they confirm the assumption that Crane was indebted to L’Assommoir in his first novel as to plot, characterization, technique, episode, and particulars. Despite the borrowings, almost always used with restraint, Maggie bears the unmistakable stamp of Crane’s individual temperament, his conciseness, brevity, and artistry.
In fact, Crane always denied any direct influence of Zola on his writing. He even pretended not to know most of the great French naturalists though Spiller argued that "there is no doubt that he [Crane, J.S.] took direct inspiration from these French realists [Maupassant and Flaubert], and even more certainly from Zola, for L′Assommoir probably provided the plot for Maggie" . However, critics such as Marcus Cunliffe and Percy Stein, believed that Crane wrote Maggie because he knew well his heroine. Cunliffe finds it more convincing that the starting place of Crane’s inspiration are the collection of writings on the harms of slum-life, which had been produced and available in periodicals like The Arena. In his essay "Stephen Crane and the American Background of Maggie" , Cunliffe stated that "the most obvious place to search is not Europe but America : not Zola’s Paris but Crane’s New York " . Cunliffe claimed that New York and its slums are able to provide a writer such as Crane with the vital information for the construction of his novel. He backs up his view with the argument that the tradition of denouncing the evils of the city can be traced back to the 1830s with the writings of reformers Edwin Chapin, John R. McDowall, and Charles Loring Brace . Brace’s The Dangerous Classes of New York, published in 1872, includes a chapter on street-girls and is illustrated with an engraving called The Street-Girl′s End, "in which a dejected prostitute stands at the end of a quay, peering down into the river-waters below, literally and metaphorically on the brink" .
Moreover, some critics have suggested that instances of Stephen Crane’s life can be traced in Maggie a Girl of the Streets. For example, the mysterious and sudden death of Maggie’s father and younger brother may recall the early death of Crane’s parents. The fact that Crane’s family practiced Christianity also may shed light on why Crane made his characters react the way they did in this story. With the occupations and activities of his parents, Crane was brought up with a the same kind of religious morals treated in Maggie. A prime example of this is when Maggie is rejected by her mother and neighbors after she had pre-marital sex with Pete. Finally, the choice of denouement in Maggie reflects an important aspect of Crane’s background.
"Crane is affected by the American religious heritage. To some extent, despite himself, he belongs to [it]. Against the logic of his novel, Crane . . . makes Maggie commit suicide. It could be said that this is a naturalistic convention. Possibly ; but is it not, even more, a moralist’s convention ?"
Marcus Cunliffe detects in Crane’s fiction a "moral didactic motive, a slight preachiness," and suggests that Crane could conceivably have drawn material for Maggie from popular religious writing of the day because for any preacher of Crane’s time, the wages of sin would be death, and that seems to hold true for Crane as well.
These remarks over the writing of Maggie led critics such as Percy Stein to observe that the rigid naturalistic interpretations of Maggie are inadequate because they invariably obscure the universal implications of Crane’s dramatic recreation of Bowery existence . Crane is by no means objective and aloof from the reality he is observing. It is not enough, for instance, to say that the novel is the sum of "innocence thwarted and betrayed by environment." Such a categorical statement implies that Crane’s view of reality is unalterably objective, concerned only with the transcription of calculable sociological data. Actually his creative imagination is deeply stirred by the religious aspects of the setting. This is not surprising given the fact that Crane was reared in a strict religious atmosphere, and was, in all likelihood, trained to think in the ideological framework of Protestantism, and more specifically within the puritanical parameters of American ethical and religious thought.
Given the controversial debate over Zola’s influence on Crane, the aim of this third part is the comparison between L’Assommoir and Maggie a Girl of the Streets in order to analyse their differences as well as their similarities through the study of their themes, characters and style.
To begin with, the titles are quite important since they are the first elements of fiction that challenge the reader and fixe for him a horizon of waiting. they indicate also to what extent the writers abide to the naturalistic tradition as they encompasse the themes of the novels
In this respect, the title of Crane’s novel is far from providing the reader with any information about the themes. Many critics, such as Thomas A. Gullason, blamed Crane for not admitting enough room to the main protagonist of his novel, which within the given framework does not appear to be correct, when already the title of the novel, Maggie - A Girl of the Streets (A Story of New York), suggests that Crane did not intend to picture Maggie’s tale of woe, but to show the physical environment in which Maggie lives. Crane describes the neighbours and the Johnson family in a detailed way. Likewise, he described the heroine’s way to the dark river. Hence, when the reader first comes across the title Maggie : A Girl of the Streets, the first thing he/she might think of is that the story is about a homeless girl who does not have any family or a job and who ends up as a prostitute. But as the reader begins to read the story he/she finds that it is not just about a girl whose name is Maggie, but about a girl, her poor family, and about their life in the Bowery. Maggie : A Girl of the Streets shows that there is little hope of success when facing the hardships of being poor and living in a large city. The story starts off by providing the reader with a description of the Bowery where Maggie and her poor family live, after describing a battle between children.
"In the street infants played or fought with other infants or sat stupidly in the way of vehicles. Formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dress … Withered persons, in curious postures of submission to something, sat smoking pipes in obscure corners…. The building quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels."(Maggie.p.6.)
This setting is described in such a way as to give a clear insight into the kind of environment the characters evolve.
Unlike Crane, Zola decides to give his novel a ’polysémique’ title. The reader comes across a first meaning of the title with the ’assommoir’ of Père Colombe, the presentation of which is being used in the second chapter through the eyes of Gervaise :
Gervaise s’amusa à suivre trois ouvriers (...) qui se retournaient tous les dix pas ; ils finirent par descendre la rue, ils vinrent droit à l’Assommoir du père Colombe. - Ah bien ! Murmura-t-elle, en voilà trois qui ont un fameux poil dans la main ! On parlait très fort, avec des éclats de voix qui déchiraient le murmure gras des enrouements. (L’Assommoir .p.53)
This setting forms with the Rue de la Goutte d’Or the two privileged places of the novel, : a place of work and of residence on one hand, and a place of dissolute living and of wandering on the other. The characters of the novel keep going from one place to another, to be assigned to one rather than to the other. However, readers may be confused if they interpret the title according to its meaning in Zola’s time . In the second half of the nineteenth century ’assommoir’ means, according to the Littré of 1878,"an instrument that stuns", as it means figuratively a "sudden event that stuns, that carries a deathblow " . The two meanings challenge the reader, in the sense that the first refers in general to moral violence, and to alcohol that represents metaphorically the instrument of "assommer’. But the novel also exploits, on the narrative plan, the second meaning of the term. L’Assommoir is a succession of events that comes to overwhelm the heroine and bring her the deathblow. The two meanings are up to this point of the discussion united around the use of the word in the following passage "La mauvaise société, disait-elle, c’était comme un coup d’assommoir, ça vous cassait le crâne, ça vous aplatissait une femme en moins de rien."(L’Assommoir.p.68)
This passage announces both meanings of the term "assommoir " : the text starts with an assommoir, an event that stuns Gervaise when Lantier left her " elle entendait sa tête craquer " (L’Assommoir p.40). Chapter two introduces us into the world of the ’assommoir’ where the spectacle of ’l’alambic’ frightens Gervaise. "L’assommoir" of Pere Colombe surrounds all characters among whom Gervaise, who sits around the table with the "cheulards "(L’Assommoir,p.411), she is henceforth part of "La mauvaise société" that she disgusted before. The term "assommoir" subsumes several themes of the novel that develop with the progression of the narration ; it besieges and stuns the heroine with these different meanings. It is therefore the direct nature of the title, that already refers to a degrading space and to the ambiguity of its intention, that denotes the scientific spirit of its writer, as it stands as a hypothesis to be proved.
Both titles announce a naturalistic approach since Crane wanted to show the effect of environment on the characters, while Zola wanted to demonstrate both the bad effects of alcohol and the milieu. In this sense both authors used titles that reflect the major themes of their novels. For convenience in analyzing the naturalistic themes of both novels, critics often place them in three categories that encompass the naturalistic tradition. The first prevalent theme is the degradation and haplessness of the characters because of the effects of alcohol, second, determinism and its effect on the life of the characters and finally the role of heredity as a destructive force that would lead to the degradation of all characters.
In L’Assommoir, the role of alcoholism in degrading the lives of the characters is apparent from the very beginning of the novel through the description of L’alambic. The description of l’alambic suggests that industrialisation and its bad effects on people, in general, and workers, in particular, are the causes of people’s leaning towards alcohol because of laziness and joblessness. This view is sustained by the fact that the first characters who are associated with ’assommoir’ are workers. Zola does not only show the effects of ’l’alambic’ but he demonstrates his fascination with this instrument :
"L’alambic ourdement, sans une flamme, sans une gaieté dans les reflets éteints de ses cuivres, continuait, laissait couler sa sueur d’alcool, pareil à une source lente et entêtée, qui à la longue devait envahir la salle, se répandre sur les boulevards extérieurs, inonder le trou immense de Paris"(L’Assommoir.p. 61) .
The machine leads to the decadence of the Coupeaus, by the end of the novel, where its effects are concretized through the disintegration of the family tides. In the subsequent passage clashes started to be a characteristic feature of this family only because of alcohol.
Justement, la veille, au moment où Nana émerveillée regardait les cadeaux étalés sur la commode, Coupeau rentra dans un état abominable. L’air de Paris le reprenait. Et il attrapa sa femme et l’enfant, avec des raisons d’ivrogne, des mots dégoûtants qui n’étaient pas à dire dans la situation. D’ailleurs, Nana elle-même devenait mal embouchée, au milieu des conversations sales quelle entendait continuellement. Les jours de dispute, elle traitait très bien sa mère de chameau et de vache.
- Et du pain ! Gueulait le zingueur. Je veux ma soupe, tas de rosses !… En voilà des femelles avec leurs chiffons ! Je m’assois sur les affûtiaux, vous savez, si je n’ai pas ma soupe !
- Quel lavement, quand il est paf ! murmura Gervaise impatientée."(L’Assommoir .p.416)
At this point, the beginning of the degradation, that ends by the death of Coupeau in an asylum and the miserable end of Gervaise under the staircase, is clearly stated. In it the decadence started and no way to reverse its effects because Zola believed in the scientific necessity. In other words decadence because of dreadful conditions like alcohol is something inevitable.
Decadence because of alcohol is also a main theme in Maggie. In fact, it is the effect of alcohol that leads to the heroine’s fall. The process is similar to L’Assommoir. Maggie’s father, for example, ruined his family because he is a drunkard. As for her mother she is worse than the father since not only is she a drunkard but she also frequently gets arrested by the police. Moreover, like l’Assommoir, the community in Maggie is described as ruined because of alcohol since, like ’l’assommoir de pére Colombe’, the bar in Maggie is the favorite place for all characters. It is described with gloomy colors "The rate at which the piano, cornet and violins were going, seemed to impart wildness to the half-drunken crowd. Beer glasses were emptied at a gulp and conversation became a rapid chatter" (Maggie.p.45)

As it is reflected in both novels it is not only alcoholism that emerges as a major theme. The close relationship between alcoholism and heredity is another striking feature in Maggie and L’Assommoir. In Maggie, Crane shows how Jimmie acquires the characteristics of his drunken parent through heritage. He acquires both his mother’s and his father’s characteristics as far as alcoholism and violence are concerned.
Jimmie grew large enough to take the vague position of head of the family... he stumbled up-stairs late at night, as his father had done before him. He reeled about the room, swearing at his relations, or went to sleep on the floor" (Maggie.p.17)
Jimmie has been brought up in a violent milieu characterised by alcoholism. Most of the days when the children come home they find their mother lying on the floor drunk, looking sick and in a terrible state. Jimmie imitated both his father and mother ; he is also described to have inherited from his mother her macular body and from his father his sense of authority. As for Maggie, she is portrayed to have acquired her mother’s features. At the beginning, she is not spoiled but later when she attends the bar she became part of the ruined society. Family relations are the first reason of Maggie’s way towards prostitution after having been a drunkard like her mother. Therefore, heredity is not the real cause of Maggie’s ruin but it is alcohol. The element of heredity marks in fact Crane’s inability to be scientific in linking this theme as a determinant factor in the dissolution of all his characters.
Contrary to Maggie, heredity and its relation to alcoholism is reflected in L’Assommoir in a detailed and clear way. Gervaise and Coupeau are of alcoholic parents, Nana is like her mother a prostitute. In fact, Zola aimed to study the hereditary effect through the whole series and L’Assommoir is a part of the Rougon Maquarts cycle and most of its characters are introduced in previous novels. Zola wanted to portray a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available.
Being an element of naturalism, heredity leads to determinism because it is itself a determinant factor that controls and shapes individuals’ lives. Determinism is of two kinds one is biologic and is linked to heredity and the other is social that is closely linked to the environment or the milieu. As has been suggested in the previous section, biologic determinism is not well treated In Maggie though the Johnsons form a cycle imitating the same actions . However, social determinism is very important in Maggie. It is shown as the primary factor that caused to the decadence of the characters. Maggie is driven to corruption and fall by the cruelty, neglect, and selfishness of her family and acquaintances in the street. Hatred and violence dominated her childhood ; she and her brother Jimmie are victims of a brutal and alcoholic mother who cares for nothing but for what the neighbors would say. Furthermore, Crane wants to show, through the relation between Mary and her children that the first element that shapes the character’s lives is the family. It is then the first constructive factor of social determinism. In addition, Crane describes the death of Tommie in detail, if compared to the death of other characters in the novel, inciting the reader to understand that alcohol and the family may shape characters’ lives. In the following passage, "The babe, Tommie, died. He went away in a white, insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian. She and Jimmie lived" (Maggie.p.13), the last sentence suggests that Maggie and her brother managed to survive. This means that the Bowery people are in a constant fight for survival.

Social Determinism’s effects on the characters is reflected through some characters’ fall into prostitution as a new refuge from the moral constraints of both the family and the society. Both Maggie and L’Assommoir illustrate that aspect of determinism through the characters of Maggie and Nana. Maggie and Nana become prostitutes because they wanted to change their lives and to flee their homes. Many passages in the novels describe the houses of both girls and how it becomes impossible for them to remain there. Hence, the street becomes the house and the shelter of both girls as it becomes for Gervaise who loses her house because of alcoholism. In Maggie, Crane describes the state of the home which led Maggie to consider her relation with Pete as a refuge :
"Maggie, standing in the middle of the room, gazed about her…The mother in the corner upreared her head and shook her tangled locks."Teh hell wid him and you," she said…Her eyes seemed to burn balefully. "Yeh’ve gone teh deh devil, Mag Johnson, yehs knows yehs have gone teh deh devil. Yer a disgrace teh yer people, damn yeh. …Go teh hell now, an’ see how yeh likes it. Git out. I won’t have sech as yehs in me house ! Get out, d’yeh hear ! Damn yeh, git out !"… The woman on the floor cursed… The girl cast a glance about the room filled with a chaotic mass of debris, and at the red, writhing body of her mother."Go teh hell an’ good riddance."She went.( Maggie.p.32)

What is recognizable in Maggie is that Crane describes his heroine as a girl who preserves her internal cleanliness regardless of her physical environment even though she is not able to prevail over it. She functions as a symbol of inner purity, unaffected by outside corruption. The idea that she was different from the people of the Rum Alley reflects her inner cleanliness that she preserves in a degraded miserable milieu. At the beginning of the novel, it seems that, Crane wants to use Maggie as a symbol of hope and purity in order to make the reader aware that milieu can not determine one’s life . However, the end of the novel brings back the story into its naturalistic limits in the sense that it was environment that controls maggie’s life leading her to suicide. Eventually, Crane’s description of Maggie through the eyes of the neighbors at the beginning incites the reader to think about the role of the society in the fate of Maggie.
The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl.None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins. The philosophers up-stairs, down-stairs and on the same floor, puzzled over it.When a child, playing and fighting with gamins in the street, dirt disguised her. Attired in tatters and grime, she went unseen.( Maggie .p.17)
While Crane was not clear enough about his heroine’s fall into prostitution, Zola describes Nana’s development as a prostitute in a scientific process based on observing the link between Nana’s age and her deeds. In L’Assommoir, Nana is drawn into prostitution by her own choice. The description that Zola associates with her is an evidence that Nana is not innocent. Early in her youth, she is described as a girl who knows the vices of the societym " Nana, vers la fin de l’été, bouleversa la maison. Elle avait six ans, elle s’annonçait comme une vaurienne finie"(L’Assommoir p.199). Then when she became adolescent " Nana apparut à la porte vitrée …Elle avait de grands yeux d’enfant vicieuse, allumés d’une curiosité sensuelle "( L’Assommoir p.355). Finally, she is described to be really involved
" Pendant le premier mois, Nana s’amusa joliment de son vieux (...). Plus de mousse sur le caillou, quatre cheveux frisant à plat dans le cou, si bien qu’elle était toujours tentée de lui demander l’adresse du merlan qui lui faisait la raie.( L’Assommoir.p.479).
Through this analysis of determinism and prostitution as a facet of degradation, it is vital to note that both mothers refused their daughters’ course. For Maggie, both her brother and her mother reject her actions as they seem to harm the position of the family in Rum Alley. For Jimmie it is a question of honour because his friend failed to protect his sister.
Jimmie gave vent to a sardonic curse and then laughed heavily."Well, Maggie’s gone teh deh devil ! Dat’s what ! See ?
" "Eh ?" said his mother.
"Maggie’s gone teh deh devil ! Are yehs deaf ?" roared Jimmie, impatiently. "Deh hell she has," murmured the mother, astounded. Jimmie grunted… "May Gawd curse her forever," she shrieked. "May she eat nothin’ but stones and deh dirt in deh street. May she sleep in deh gutter an’ never see deh sun shine agin. Deh damn-" "Here, now," said her son. "Take a drop on yourself."…. An’ after all her bringin’ up an’ what I tol’ her and talked wid her, she goes teh deh bad, like a duck teh water."(Maggie.p.34)
Unlike Maggie’s mother, Gervaise emerges as a good mother for Nana, especially in the first chapters. For Gervaise, her reaction against her daughter is due to Nana’s conduct rather than a concern with the society’s moral values.
Chaque soir, Nana recevait sa raclée. Quand le père était las de la battre, la mère lui envoyait des torgnoles, pour lui apprendre à bien se conduire … Une seule chose mettait Gervaise hors d’elle. C’était lorsque sa fille reparaissait avec des robes à queue et des chapeaux couverts de plumes » (L’Assommoir p.480)
Despite the fact that prostitution indicates the first step in the downfall of the heroines, determinism emerges to be a destructive force when both authors decide to make an end to their heroine’s sufferings. Therefore determinism is better illustrated as a naturalistic feature with the death of both heroines. As naturalistic, death marks the similarity between both novels but the process of describing this death is different. First, Gervaise dies of starvation, whereas Maggie commits suicide. Second, the description of the death of Gervaise follows a scientific process based on observation and experimentation, while Crane does not even describe his heroine’s suicide. We are just told that she is dead "a soiled ; unshaved man pushed open the door and entered." Well said he ; ’mag’s dead’…"(Maggie.p.57).
While, it seems that both writers are within the frames of naturalism as far as the death of the heroines is concerned, Crane’s focus on social determinism is far from being an acceptance of a thoroughgoing scientific approach without opinion or prejudice in his treatment of life in the slums of New York. This assumption becomes evident through the treatment of hypocrisy as an attribute of the bad moral values of the milieu that shapes the individuals’ lives. In Maggie, many of the main characters display t hypocrisy. This evil trait is reflected at the beginning of the novel when Jimmie gets into a fight with his street peers. After the fight has progressed for some time, Mr. Johnson says, "Here, you Jim, git up, now, while I belt yer life out, you damned disorderly brat" (Maggie.p.5). This passage illustrates from the very beginning the moral values of Rum Alley . As a disciplinary action against further fighting, Mr. Johnson threatens to beat Jimmie. To stop his son from fighting, Mr. Johnson does what he tells Jimmie not to do. Moreover, He asks his son not to fight while he is all the time fighting. As a consequence, Jimmie becomes himself a hypocrite who treated other girls with cruelty but when it comes to his sister he considers that the hypocrisy of Pete is unforgiving.
Suddenly, however, he began to swear.
"But he was me frien’ ! I brought ’im here ! Dat’s deh hell of it !"
He fumed about the room, his anger gradually rising to the furious pitch.
"I’ll kill deh jay ! Dat’s what I’ll do ! I’ll kill deh jay !" (Maggie.p.34)
Many passages describe pete’s harsh treatment of girls.At one point in the novel, Pete is sitting with his "girlfriend," Nell, talking about how kind he is to her and all her friends. He says, "An’body treats me right, I allus trea’s zem right !" (Maggie. p.56). In truth, Pete does not treat his girlfriends with any respect at all. Earlier in the novel, he left Maggie, for Nell. Pete also expects kindness and respect, when he is actually cruel and uncaring. Hypocrisy is better embodied by Maggie’s mother, Mrs. Johnson. Not only is she a symbol of decadence and carelessness, but she is also a hypocrite.
"She’s deh devil’s own chil’, Jimmie," she whispered. "Ah, who would t’ink such a bad girl could grow up in our family …. Many deh hour I’ve spent in talk wid dat girl an’ tol’ her if she ever went on deh streets I’d see her damned. An’ after all her bringin’ up an’ what I tol’ her and talked wid her, she goes teh deh bad, like a duck teh water.""An’ den when dat Sadie MacMallister next door to us was sent teh deh devil by dat feller what worked in deh soapfactory, didn’t I tell our Mag dat if she-" (Maggie. p.34)

Crane deals with moral hypocrisy of the Bowery in an extensive manner because his aim is to show that not only alcohol and heredity can affect people’s lives but rather it is the bad moral code of the society that controls the destiny of the characters as they appear powerless and degraded. Hypocrisy, as an element that illustrates Crane’s look to society violates, to a certain extent, the naturalistic creed. Strikingly, Zola avoided dealing with hypocrisy, as a determinant factor of people’s fate, because it is more human and abstract and can not be scientifically proved. Moreover, the treatment of hypocrisy makes the writer violate his position as an observer who should be objective in his description.
Rather than merely evaluating the effects of the milieu on the characters, one might consider characters just as a scaffolding which allows both authors to construct a far more elaborate structure. Indeed, if naturalism, in theory, reduces extensively the central place that a character can have in a fiction, it is not true that the structure of the novels of the Rougon-Macquart, rely largely on the notion of the character as motor of the action, and as a ’noyau’ around of which the story itself develops. The naturalist experiment can not be fulfilled without the characters. The Rougon-Macquarts are a set of characters of the same family who seems to be real. This is not a contradiction because characters to Zola are mere experimental animals on whom the experiment shall be led and without whom the scientific theory would not be right. These ’animals’, according to the naturalist terminology, are not simple fictional and imaginary characters, rather they are real or they shall convey the feeling of the real because the realist novel aims first to depict reality in a scientific way.
From the beginning of L’Assommoir the narrator endeavors to create the effect of the real by the description of a young woman. The fact that she is named without prelude constitutes a narrative artifact sufficient to put Gervaise as a real character. The first sentence in the novel begins " Gervaise avait attendu Lantier"(L’Assommoir.p.1). This nomination works as a mimetic function . The novel essentially introduces her as occupant of this function. The reader feels that he is included in the narration because of this technique of presenting Gervaise without any introduction as if the reader knows her.
Zola’s zeal to create the effect of real does not stop at the level of the mimetic function ; rather the characters in L’Assommoir occupy also a narrative function that aims to carry Zola’s ideology. This narrative function helps Zola to be included in the narration without harming the naturalistic doctrine. The description of the crowd in "il y avait là un piétinement de troupeau, une foule que de brusque arrêts …et la cohue s’engouffrait dans Paris ou elle noyait continuellement "(L’Assommoir p.21), is a feature of its capacity to mean symbolically a state or to designate a condition in the sense that "un piétinement de troupeau, mare", and the verb "se noyer ", are terms that weave a metaphorical network that describes the human as animal, as a beast. In this context of naturalism, the characters symbolize and represent the decadence that the capitalistic economy inflicts to the human. The verb "se noyer" shows how the men are thrown in pasture to a merciless machine of a different kind. This machine is the one of money and the capital. The terms "brusque arrêts " and "continuellement " show how the era of the mechanization conferred mechanical features to the men.
An analysis of a similar passage from Maggie would reveal that Crane’s "crowd", occupy a mimetic function but not a narrative one because the crowd does not carry any ideological standing of its author. The crowd in Crane’s passage is a symbol of urban characters as being part of the city.
"the vast crowd had an air throughout of having just quitted labor. Men with calloused hands and attired in garments that showed the wear of an endless trudge for a living, smoked their pipe contentedly and spent five, ten, or perhaps fifteen cents for beer…the great body of the crowd was composed of people who showed that all day they stove with their hands… sat listening to the music, with the expressions of happy cows " (Maggie.p.22).
While it is difficult to make a clear distinction between this passage about the crowd and the previous passage, in L’Assommoir, especially with such words as "troupeau" and "cows", the effect is quite clear. The direct description of Zola through adjectives gives to his ’troupeau’ a kind of judgement and ssubjectivity as well as a direct expression of the author’s ideology, that is his being against the French regime at the time of Napoleon.
However, a strict social criticism of L’Assommoir shows that Zola described his characters especially the workers in terms of unawareness. Gervaise Macquart’s downfall basically boils down to her ignorance. This very lack of culture is the reason for the alcohol addiction and other vices portrayed in L’Assommoir. It also explains the absence of the class-consciousness. Likewise, the workers in Crane’s passage are happy because of their ignorance and political unawareness. Crane shows them as helpless victims because they they lack the necessary means to confront the machine that gradually crushes them.
Far from a strict social interpretation of the role of characters in the novels, the characters in Maggie as in L’Assommoir are driven by a bestial desire. This supremacy of the desire over the action places the characters on the line of a narration that leads them towards the realization of their dreams. In other words, since these characters are led by their desires they are like animals following their instincts, that is why the reader feels that it is the narrator who shapes their fate. The narration puts them also on the line of a paradigm where the desires are known but never materialized. If they are concretized, for one instant, they are to be usurped quickly by other characters’ desires. It is in this line of narration that probably resides a character’s function like Virginie who belongs to that class of characters featured by their libido sentiendi. In " Virginie lui ayant dit [à Lantier] son désir de s’établir marchande de quelque chose"(L’Assommoir .p.378) the narrator states clearly that Virginie is unable to fulfill her dream because she is put in a line of narration where the desire trespass the action. As for Maggie the following example reflects the same idea of libido sentiendi that characterized Maggie :
"Maggie perceived that here was the beau ideal of a man. Her dim thoughts were often searching for far away lands where, as God says, the little hills sing together in the morning. Under the trees of her dream-gardens there had always walked a lover."(Maggie. p.20)
As prisoners of their desires, the characters of Maggie and L’Assommoir are all struck by an "original or occasional disqualification" . Gervaise and Coupeau, for instance, inherit from their ancestors their blemishes. The other characters are reduced to shapes of meanness by their milieu, or by their temperament. All the characters of L’Assommoir do not have an existence if deprived of their desire. In other words they are like animals in the sense that they are the beings wanting (libido sentiendi) and not subjects acting (libido dominandi). It is worth noting that Lantier and Goujet do not belong to this kind of characters. Philip Hamon noted that Goujet has a desire to dominate the world "par son travail tandis que l’autre figure le parasite qui vit au dépens des autres, illustrant donc une forme de libido dominandi déviée" . These two characters form the exception which shows that Zola failed to form a totally scientific theory about the idea of bestiality of human beings. Zola falls into a state of contradiction since he fails to make Lantier and Goujet fall into the misery of the other characters and he has not given a convincing explanation of their being untouched by the milieu, particularly by alcohol.
Moreover, with the exception of the heroine of L’Assommoir in the first part of the novel, and of her husband, almost all the characters of the novel are described as carnivelsque characters whose features are exaggerated. The Lorilleux, for example, are described in a very detailed manner that illustrates Zola’s perception of the working class. "Mme Lorilleux petite, rousse, assez forte, tirant de toute la vigueur de ses bras courts… Lorilleux, aussi petit de taille, mais d’épaules plus grêles, travaillait, du bout de ses pinces, avec une vivacité de singe…"(L’Assommoir.p.73). Mes-Bottes is also described in an exaggerated way in order to create a kind of carnivaleque " Mes-Bottes, dont les mâchoires, lentement, roulaient comme des meules " (L’Assommoir p.113). The novel is also full of passages that are similar to the description of Mes - Bottes.
Another element in the treatment of the characters as animals, in both novels, is their ability to connect the two pleasures of food and sexuality. In L’Assommoir the reader can find many examples that reflect this connection :
" Cependant, Clémence achevait son croupion, le suçait avec un gloussement des lèvres, en se tordant de rire sur sa chaise, à cause de Boche qui lui disait tout bas des indécences. Ah ! nom de Dieu ! oui, on s’en flanqua une bosse ! Quand on y est, on y est, n’est-ce pas ? et si l’on ne se paie qu’un gueuleton par-ci, par-là, on serait joliment godiche de ne pas s’en fourrer jusqu’aux oreilles. Vrai, on voyait les bedons se gonfler à mesure " (L’Assommoir p.281)
The significance of this passage resides in the alliance that is expressed between the pleasure of food and body. The expression "le suçait avec un gloussement des lèvres" sets the characters of L’Assommoir in a position equal to that of animals. For this reason Zola associates the pleasure of food and body with the lower register of the language characterizing a debased society. Conversely, Crane associated this pleasure with a romantic and symbolic description. At this point, the naturalistic treatment of the milieu where these pleasures are allied is violated since both authors failed to be objective and outside the narration. The author’s leaning towards charging their novels with their own view of society is clear through Zola’s perception of the lower class as uneducated and lacking sufficient culture. As for Crane the bad moral codes of the society are illustrated through the contradiction in the of the characters as animals while at the same time expressing a romantic stance in such treatment. This contradiction is apparent in the following passage where the concert hall stands as a romantic setting.
Pete aggressively walked up a side aisle and took seats with Maggie at a table beneath the balcony. "Two beehs !"
Leaning back he regarded with eyes of superiority the scene before them. This attitude affected Maggie strongly. A man who could regard such a sight with indifference must be accustomed to very great things. It was obvious that Pete had been to this place many times before, and was very familiar with it. A knowledge of this fact made Maggie feel little and new." (Maggie.p.24)
In this setting, Crane associated statements like "aggressively, eyes of superiority" with Pete. It is by no means accepted, in the naturalistic tradition, that the violence of characters can be linked with romantic standpoint which means that, like Zola, Crane overcharged his characters with his own ideology or look to the bad social morals of the city. The following passage illustrates this view :
This violence that characterizes the characters in relation to the animalistic desires leads to a disastrous and tragic ending. This tragic end of all characters in both novels links them to the general precepts of the famous ’démarche critique’ of Taine where the heredity and milieu control the lives of people. However, this demarche is not complete if the relation between the time and space is not studied. It is striking to find that Zola, along with Crane, is applying Taine’s theory ’a la lettre’. In L’Assommoir, as in Maggie, the happiness and sorrow of the heroines is linked throughout the whole story to the notions of space and time.
In the first chapter of L’Assommoir the departure of Lantier, announces a tragic moment. In the third chapter, however, the meeting of Gervaise and Coupeau announces a promising and euphoric time. Therefore, the ’dispensateur’ of Gervaise’s new life is Coupeau, replaced thereafter by Goujet. The text is full of indications that announce this new life. So the end of the second chapter, transforms the departure of Gervaise from the big house into a mythical adventure that is expressed through the repetition of the term "ténèbres". This term creates a fantastic atmosphere from which emerges a sudden ray of hope. The following example "Ce jour-là, la mare était bleue, d’un azur profond de ciel d’été, où la petite lampe de nuit du concierge allumait des étoiles " (L’Assommoir p.85) declares the end of this darkness and ’ténèbre’ is replaced by ’allumait’.
This first promise of happiness is not only linked to time but is also linked to space. It becomes visible, some years after the marriage of Gervaise and Coupeau, by the renting of the boutique where Gervaise opens a laundry. Gervaise becomes happy because she is the owner of a new boutique that belongs neither to the Lorilleux nor to Lantier with whom Gervaise is described to be miserable. Starting from that moment, the tone of the narration changes as all the ’dark’ expressions associated with the first house are replaced by new ’happy’ expressions. This argument can be illustrated through the comparisons of the two following passages where , it appears clearly that the notion of space and time shape really the destiny and fate of the characters. One can find in the second chapter passages like :
Gervaise se retourna, regarda une dernière fois la maison…Les façades grises, comme nettoyées de leur lèpre et badigeonnées d’ombre, s’étendaient…déshabillées des loques séchant le jour au soleil. Les fenêtres closes dormaient. … Un rayon de lampe, tombé de l’atelier de cartonnage, au second, mettait une traînée jaune sur le pavé de la cour, trouant les ténèbres qui noyaient les ateliers des rez-de- chaussée. Et, du fond de ces ténèbres, dans le coin humide, des gouttes d’eau, sonores au milieu du silence, tombaient une à une du robinet mal tourné de la fontaine. Alors, il sembla à Gervaise que la maison était sur elle, écrasante, glaciale à ses épaules". "(L’Assommoir.p.72).
This excerpt is full of expressions that show the degradation of the space and its effects on Gervaise. These effects are clearly expressed in the subsequent extract where the situation of the heroine changed according to changing the space :"elle trouvait sa boutique jolie, couleur du ciel. Dedans, on entrait encore dans du bleu ; le papier, qui imitait une perse Pompadour, représentait une treille où couraient des liserons"(L’Assommoir.p.170). Zola does not fail to describe this period that witnesses the birth of Nana, and the love of Goujet to be idyllic "ce fut une idylle dans une besogne de géant "(L’Assommoir.p.232). He gives much importance to this description of the heroine’s happiness, as well as the members of her family through the detailed description of the wedding and the party as well as the many times Gervaise invited the neighbors. However, deterioration comes when Coupeau falls and lantier becomes an inhabitant of the same house. At the beginning of chapter five, the young woman contemplates the big house, and the report is dramatic when the heroine remembers her first visit :
In the same manner Crane associates the happiness of his heroine with the same space which is the house and with the same element of time that is the romantic relation with Pete. The coming of Pete with Jimmie to the Johnsons’ house declares the first step towards Maggie’s happiness.
" when Pete arrived, Maggie, in black worn dress, was waiting for him in the midst of a floor strewn with wreckage. The curtain at the window had been pulled by a heavy hand…the knots of blue ribbons appeared like violated flowers." (Maggie.p.21)
A striking resemblance between the two novels is that the color blue is associated with both moments of happiness. However, the color yellow is linked with all the tragic scenes that characterize the the novels.
In both novels the characters are stereotypes of a naturalistic novel. While Crane’s characters are urban symbols treated as animals and affected by the life in the slums, Zola’s are totally deprived of soul and controlled by circumstances. In both novels everything the characters think, say, and do, is reflected through their surroundings and the details of their daily existence. This existence is set up as being alien to most of the rest of the world. Alienation is one key to the problems both authors highlight. The people of la Rue Goutte D’Or as well as the people of the Bowery are portrayed as both separating themselves and being effectively alienated from any world beyond the limits of the slums. They have no understanding of the larger world and are shown as isolated, dissatisfied, and ignorant of other possibilities.
However, the aims of both authors differ in essence. Crane employs this isolation to form a setting for examining the moral dealings of individual people as well as social and religious institutions. A major importance is the continually growing separation of people living in the Bowery from the rest of the world and the consequential decline of morals. While societal isolation is shown in the relationship of the Bowery to the more prosperous areas of New York, personal isolation is illustrated by Maggie’s separation from her family. Unlike Crane, Zola isolated his characters in a setting that is announced from the very beginning. In fact, Rue Goutte D’Or is limited by a hospital and a slaughtering house. In addition, Gervaise’s first view of the setting is limited to ’l’assommoir’ of Père Colombe. The aim of this isolation is to study scientifically the effects of heredity, alcohol and social circumstances.
Finally, in both novels, all the characters are representative of a special social or moral type. In L’Assommoir, Gervaise stands for the working woman who is ruined by her lack of experience in a world ruled by men. Coupeau and Goujet represent the workers world. While the first is subject to the bad effects of alcohol, the second is described as ’bon-dieu’. Lantier is the genius of the society who lives as ’les hyènes’. The other characters are ridiculed and stand for nothing important but they are all of them representative of a lower social class. With a slight difference, Crane uses each of his five main characters to represent, not a social class, but a type of common moral problem. The mother (Mary Johnson) represents self indulgent pity and domestic violence. The unnamed father (Mary’s husband) is also physically violent, but he closely represents cowardice and abandonment. He cannot stand up to his wife and usually leaves the house when she is angry. He thus leaves the children open to her physical and verbal abuse and abandons the family. Their son Jimmie represents cynicism and ignorance. Jimmie has chosen to be cynical, to refuse to believe in anything, trust anyone, or in any way let down his guard ; hence he is repeatedly deceived. When Jimmie becomes hypocritical Crane uses him as a representative of the Bowery as a whole. Pete (Jimmie’s friend) represents a deceitful user. Like Lantier in L’Assommoir, He will put up whatever front is necessary to gain his ends.
Maggie is the single character typecast positively. She represents hope, concern for others, and a desire to improve. Crane presents her suicide as a positive moral act. She is injured by all of humanity through rejection and is pushed into an immoral life. Once she becomes a ’fallen woman’, she is not allowed any opportunity to marry or even work at a regular job. Believing that she is living an immoral life, and having been rejected by family, friends, and the pious community, she looks to the only way out of her immorality. By committing suicide, she demonstrates that she refuses to be a sinner. The irony and tragedy, of course, is that the hypocritical world has forced her to a death that she probably did not deserve. This world is the city with its evils. Indeed the characters in Maggie are representative not only of a social class but they are, also, symbols of city life.
In Maggie, the reader comes to understand the inner life of a community in terms of the perception of its people. The authority behind the narrative language is not the author, but the idealism of the characters who are meant to stand as symbolic representatives of their surrounding and the circumstances in which they live. In that sense Crane uses urban symbolism where physical elements in the setting are equated with social or psychological characteristics of city life.
A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him. His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.(Maggie. p.1)
The boy is an urban symbol that introduces the reader to the physical setting which is Rum Alley or the slum in which the story takes place. Maggie is also an urban symbol. She is an experience in alienation and solitude in modern city life. Her personal relationships with the neighbourhood are merely fakes as explicitly shown in the scene after Maggie’s mother got informed about her daughter’s death
The neighbors began to gather in the hall, staring in at the weeping woman as if atching the contortions of a dying dog. A dozen women entered and lamented with her …. Suddenly the door opened and a woman in a black gown rushed in with outstretched arms. "Ah, poor Mary," she cried, and tenderly embraced the moaning one.
"Ah, what ter’ble affliction is dis," continued she. Her vocabulary was derived from mission churches. "Me poor Mary, how I feel fer yehs ! Ah, what a ter’ble affliction is a disobed’ent chil’."(Maggie. p.59)
This is the final step in Maggie’s alienation because it denotes dissociation .If dissociation is the main topic in city life and city fiction, it means, also, the lack of social unanimity. It indicates that the community has failed to provide a consistent tradition that could guide the individual in his or her choice of goals and moral alternatives. In this respect, the reader can easily understand that Crane has put his heroine in a state of dissociation. She is led astray because she had not been given any guidance, apart from false romanticism and lower class ethics, which did not apply to her situation. Even. It is not only her lack of personal vision, which wrecks her life, but also the lack of other chances, "The pathos and tragedy of urban fiction lie in the inner defeat that man suffers as he becomes self-divided and perhaps self-destructive." Maggie’s tragedy derives from her romantic perception of herself, and especially of Pete.
" to her the earth was composed of hardships and insults. She felt instant admiration for a man who openly defied it…she anticipated that would come again shortly. She spent some of her weeks pay in the purchase of flowered cretonne for a lambrequin". (Maggie. p.20)
Characters of urban fiction typically feel estranged from the world in which they live . Maggie is pictured at the beginning of the novel as some sort of alien and her alienation becomes clear by the end when she asks in a low voice : "But where kin I go ?"(Maggie.p.55) Her being thrown out of her home makes her feel a certain freedom, a freedom from the moral constraints of her family and community, which she cannot handle.
Although dissociation takes form as a personal failure, it has been related in both literary and sociological pictures of the city to the social context of urbanism as a way of life. Maggie reflects the situation in the city and its influence on people. The main protagonist of the novel is just as much Maggie as the environment which shapes her life and makes her end up in moral despair and commit suicide. Crane does not merely describe the way this happens, but he questions the moral codes that govern people’s lives. In a sense, Maggie’s mother illustrates the whole community because she is living under false moral codes that caused the total dissolution of her own family that she is supposed to protect and to unite.
It is worth mentioning that both authors succeeded, to a certain extent, in creating real characters. In both novels, the characters seem to be real through the language they use. Zola and Crane link their characters to a language proper to their social status. They are concerned with creating the effect of the real using vernacular language in order to denote the social class of the characters. For example, one finds in Maggie a language that fits the setting of the slums :
"Ah, what deh hell," he said, and smote the deeply-engaged one on the back of the head. The little boy fell to the ground and gave a hoarse, tremendous howl... They came to a stand a short distance away and yelled taunting oaths at the boy with the chronic sneer. The latter, momentarily, paid no attention to them.
"What deh hell, Jimmie ?" he asked of the small champion. Jimmie wiped his blood-wet features with his sleeve. "Well, it was dis way, Pete, see ! I was goin’ teh lick dat Riley kid and dey all pitched on me."(Maggie. p3)

Likewise, the language of L’Assommoir reveals Zola’s intention to be objective. In fact Zola follows a degradation process for the language he uses. the language of L’Assommoir follows a kind of collapse as characters get ruined and. In fact, it is the mimetic function of the speech that fits the naturalistic ideal and the decadent language. Zola uses the fight in the washer to introduce the reader to the setting and characters of la rue Goutte D’Or. The following passage illustrates clearly the language of the lower class :
Gervaise ôta ses mains, regarda. Quand elle aperçut devant elle Virginie,...
- Chameau, va ! cria la grande Virginie. …
- Ah ! le chameau ! répétait la grande Virginie. Qu’est-ce qui lui prend, à cette enragée-là !
- Hein ! avance un peu, pour voir, que je te fasse ton affaire ! …Si elle m’avait attrapée, je lui aurais joliment retroussé ses jupons …Dis, Rouchie, qu’est-ce qu’on t’a fait ? …comme si on avait des maris avec cette dégaine !
Et ce fut elle qui revint, après avoir donné cinq ou six coups de battoir, grisée par les injures, emportée. Elle se tut et recommença ainsi trois fois :
- Eh bien ! oui, c’est ma sœur. Là, es-tu contente ?… Ils s’adorent tous les deux. Il faut les voir se bécoter !… Et il t’a lâchée avec tes bâtards ! De jolis mômes qui ont des croûtes plein la figure !
- Salope ! salope ! salope ! hurla Gervaise, hors d’elle, reprise par un tremblement furieux.
- Rosse ! elle m’a perdu ma robe ! Attends, gadoue !
A son tour, elle saisit un seau, le vida sur la jeune femme. Alors, une bataille formidable s’engagea. Elles couraient toutes (L’Assommoir .p.30)

It is worth noting that Zola’s attitude towards using a lower register that goes in a debased way is known before the publication of L’Assommoir. Zola said in 1865 that "son goût, si l’on veut, est dépravé ; il aime les ragoûts littéraires fortement épicés, les œuvres de décadence où une sorte de sensibilité maladive remplace la santé plantureuse des époques classiques." L’Assommoir is therefore by its style and its language a reaction against the idealism that has veiled the social realities. The "contamination" of the narrator’s speech by a low-register speech confers to the novel the status of an oral narration, where the narrator’s function is to be redefined. The effect of concealing the author’s attitude behind the narrator resides in the erasing of this authority of designating the good and the bad. In other words, Zola succeeded in being objective since he had managed to limit his narrator to a status of observer, like the scientist. He is not able to judge or to comment, though Zola sometimes fails to fulfill this function.
Zola insists upon the direct style, in the naturalistic description, in order to include his reader in the story line . Examples of the direct style are to be found in passages like "Elle tourna son roux, en piétinant devant le fourneau, aveuglée par de grosses larmes. Si elle accouchait, n’est-ce pas ? ce n’était point une raison pour laisser Coupeau sans manger."( L’Assommoir.p.116). in this passage the last statement is in fact a comment but its effect does not harm the role of the narrator as it is just a description of the feeling of a woman towards her husband. Therefore, the direct style has as effect the real description of the events. However, L’Assommoir is not formed only of a direct style , sometimes Zola uses the indirect style to convey his ideas and to judge. The aim of the indirect style is to carry the author’s ideology. In the following passage the narrator adds a comment that seems not to be his own but the writer’s comment :
Mais sa pétaudière de cambuse lui trottait par la tête. M. Marescot, le propriétaire, était venu lui-même la veille, leur dire qu’il les expulserait [...], ils ne seraient certainement pas plus mal sur le pavé ! Voyez-vous ce sagouin qui montait leur parler des termes, comme s’ils avaient eu un boursicot caché quelque part ! ». (L’Assommoir .p. 443).
The effect of " ils ne seraient certainement pas plus mal sur le pavé" is a judgment that is intended to comment over the character’s helplessness to react. The importance of the indirect style lies in the fact that it is a direct style with a comment aimed for judgment. The indirect style is an intelligent way of being totally objective and hide behind the narrator’s speech. Zola, surly avoided any kind of interference in the narration lest he would violate the naturalist tradition based on objectivity and clarity in the sense that a naturalist writer shall make of his novel accessible to all reader. The indirect style then is by its function different from irony which indicates the position of the writer towards the subjects he is studying. It is worth noting that many passages show that sometimes the ideology of the writer is reflected through his direct style. " cette crapule de Bonapart", " le peuple se lassait de payer aux bourgeois les marrons qu’il tirait des cendres, en se brûlant les pattes" (L’Assommoir .p.125).
However, what marks the difference between Zola and Crane is the fact that Crane failed to be totally outside the narration and to hide after his narrator’s speech. Joseph X. Brennan, among other critics believed that "Crane’s work is a riot of irony of nearly every kind" . The style of Crane is believed to be far from naturalism not because one of the most important appeals of naturalism is its guarantee, first, of a reality unmediated by a language which is directly accessible to the reader and, second, a direct description of ’real’ events in which style shall remain transparent. In other words Crane’s style in Maggie is neither directly accessible to the reader nor totally clear. Crane’s style in Maggie is Symbolic and the most apparent example of this symbolism is shown through religious and moral symbolism that overwhelmed the novel.
In Maggie Crane tells us of the girl’s suicide in very depressing terms and ends the novel with religious sharpness. Crane’s powerlessness to describe Maggie’s suicide is not understandable, as if he is not convinced that she shall die. We read in Maggie this passage that precedes Maggie’s suicide but we do not know what happened, as we do not know whether Maggie has premarital sex with Pete or not.
The girl went into gloomy districts near the river, where the tall black factories shut in the street. . . . She went into the blackness of the final block. The shutters of the tall buildings were closed like grim lips. . . . At feet the river appeared a deathly black hue. (Maggie. p. 61)
In this passage, one can understand that this is a description of the place where Maggie would commit suicide later but a close reading of the novel shows that this is the only passage available in the novel that indicates the suicide. Hence this passage betrays the naturalistic style that shall be direct and open to all readers since it is far from providing the reader with any information about the death of the heroine let alone her suicide. The naturalistic description of the suicide would have been in a direct real way not through statements like "gloomy districts, black factories, blackness of the final block, a deathly black hue" which are more symbols than simple direct statement that are aimed to create the effect of the real. This passage introduce us to the verbal irony that characterizes Crane’s style based on symbols.
Therefore we can not read the death of Maggie as a naturalistic feature but rather as a failure of a romantic relationship. Here the description of Pete as "beau ideal of a man" is clearly not Crane’s serious impression of his character, but rather the romantic feeling of Maggie. As Donald Pizer comments upon the depth of Maggie :
Perhaps, then, Maggie can be best discussed by assuming from the first that Crane’s fictional techniques imply that the theme of the novel is somewhat more complex than the truism that young girls in the slums are more apt to go bad than young girls elsewhere .
Moreover, Pizer points out that the first sentence of the novel is quite striking, because there are words that do not fit the context of the narrative. The novel opens with a sentence that is very revealing "A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley." (Maggie, page 3). This sentence is quite ironic because there is no link between "honor" and the fighting. The reality of the little boy living in such a terrible place has nothing to do with such concept, and gives us the idea of the false values of the people who live in the Bowery. As Pizer states in his essay :
Crane’s irony emerges out of the difference between a value which one imposes on experience and the nature of experience itself. His ironic method is to project into the scene the values of its participants in order to underline the difference between their values and reality. Like that, Crane does not want only to show the physical reality of those places but how the beliefs of people living in the slums do not correspond to the reality of their lives but it affects them as a destructive force. They become prisoners of the environment and of their own way of thinking.
Crane distinguishes the veracity and discernment of Jimmie’s fight on the summit of the exasperate heap to show that, thanks to the frame of mind of the slums based on the idea of "survival of the fittest", he, without reason, undergoes the attack because he values power. The rock fight in the opening of the book is portrayed as a medieval quarrel where Jimmie secures Rum Alley’s honor. The attacking children have the "grin of true assassins" (Maggie. p.3), Jimmie is depicted as "the little champion" (Maggie. p.3), and terms like "valor" and "barbaric" characterizes the kids and the clash. There exists, nonetheless, a great inappropriateness between the fight’s portrayal and what accurately happened.
This verbal irony associated with symbolism put critics in crossing roads. To the naturalist tradition, Crane appears to be a sort of enfant terrible, somebody whose writings cannot be classified as naturalistic, neither as symbolist. Perhaps he is the leading edge between both, paving the way for modernism by passing through his own borders between being the sturdy gentleman and war reporter and the aware, perceptive writer .
Hence, while the style marks Crane’s own perception of a naturalistic style, the structure of Maggie deepened this feeling as it illustrate Crane’s eagerness towards a new naturalistic structure. This structure is based upon the way the description of events is taking place in both novels. In fact, description, to Zola, is a necessity of a scientist and not an exercise of an artist in the sense that the description shall be aimed for creating the effect of the real as well as surrounding all elements of the experiment in a simple direct way. For this reason, L’Assommoir seems to be written by Gervaise since Zola wants his narration and description to be simple as the character is. Her voice interferes each time in the narration making it difficult for the reader to understand whose judgment is it. In other words Zola’s concern is to be objective. In the following passage, the last statement is a comment over the working class. As it seems, we are unable to accuse Zola of hatred of the workers because this is not his own view.
"Des ouvriers sortaient toujours (...) Il y en avait de rigolos, sautant d’un bond dans la rue, pressés de courir béquiller (manger, dépenser) leur quinzaine avec les amis. Il y en avait aussi de lugubres (...) serrant dans leur poing crispé les trois ou quatre journées sur quinze qu’ils avaient faites, se traitant de feignants et faisant des serments d’ivrogne.. (L’Assommoir.p.465)
This look at the working world is seen through the eyes of Gervaise. Zola abides to a scientific description while being away from the narration process. The description of the Lerilleux, for example links their morphology with their psychology. It is a kind of judgment which is not direct.
Elle (Gervaise) trouvait la femme très vieille pour ses trente ans, l’air revêche, malpropre avec ses cheveux queue de vache, roulés sur sa camisole défaite. Le mari, d’une année plus age seulement, lui semblait un vieillard, aux minces lèvres méchantes, en manches de chemise, les pieds nus dans des pantoufles écules….Il faisait terriblement chaud. Des gouttes de sueur perlaient sur la face verdie de Lorilleux ; tandis que madame Lorilleux se décidait à retirer sa camisole, les bras nus, la chemise plaquant sur les seins tombés. (L’Assommoir. p 60)
The Lorilleux are, as their appearance would reveal, bad and cupid people. Lantier "très bon, d’une jolie figure, avec des minces moustache" represents the character of the seducer. Coupeau who stands for the honest and hard working " très propre, de beaux yeux marron, la face d’un chien joyeux et bon enfant, la peau encore tendre". All these characters, among other, are described through the look of Gervaise and not Zola. Zola reveals, also, the reality by means of the association between the characters and the places where they live. For this, he uses special vocabulary that fits the scientific description. The Lorilleux, are like their workshop " et ce qui consternait surtout ( Gervaise), c’était la petitesse de l’atelier, les murs barbouilles, la ferraille ternie des outils, toute la saleté noire traînant la dans un bric-à-brac de marchand de vieux clous" (L’Assommoir.p.60).
Moreover, what characterizes L’Assommoir is its detailed description. The passage below reveals this eagerness to detail.
Virgine, elle aimait la peau, quand elle était rissolée, et chaque convive lui passait sa peau, par galanterie ; si bien que Poissson jetait à sa femme des regards sévères, en lui ordonnant de s’arrêter, parce qu’elle en avait assez comme ça : une fois déjà, pour avoir trop mangé d’oie rôtie, elle était restée quinze jours au lit, le ventre enflé. Mais Coupeau se fâcha et servit un haut de cuisse à Virginie, criant que, tonnerre de Dieu ! si elle ne décrottait pas, elle n’était pas une femme. Est-ce que l’oie avait jamais fait du mal à quelqu’un ? Au contraire, l’oie guérissait les maladies de rate. On croquait ça sans pain, comme un dessert. Lui, en aurait bouffé toute la nuit, sans être incommodé ; et, pour crâner, il s’enfonçait un pilon entier dans la bouche. Cependant, Clémence achevait son croupion, le suçait avec un gloussement des lèvres, en se tordant de rire sur sa chaise, à cause de Boche qui lui disait tout bas des indécences (L’Assommoir.p. 240)
This passage illustrates Zola’s tendency towards detailed description. It can be generalized over the entire novel because the process is the same as it is one of the basic principles of naturalism.
Unlike Zola, Crane based his description on a very complex style. Maggie’s lack of knowledge of the incongruity between the morally-wrong audience at the melodrama and their regard for decency prefigures her ruin and directs readers to believe that, in the slums, purity is a handicap . Crane notifies how characters that made the most restrained division between right and wrong are disparaged because the audience takes for granted that they are iniquitous. This image is ironic because the society consists of the same people who were unresponsive to Jimmie’s fight. The society is formed of people like Maggie’s aggressive parents, and the men walking the streets in the hunt for prostitutes and the priest who did not know that "there was a soul before him that needed saving" (Maggie.p.50). As Walcutt states, "these people are victimized by their ideas of moral propriety which are so utterly inapplicable to their lives that they constitute a social insanity" .Their insincerity is so deep as to make one question whether they’re unaware or fanatical. Incongruously, the misapprehension of Maggie is brought on by people completely missing social status. Maggie too is part of that society. Maggie considers that Pete is a man of classiness who possesses "lordly characteristics" (Maggie.p.55), that the spectators values desirable quality, and that she has a happy future with Pete. Given that her ideas are consequent from misperception, her conclusions are wrong from the very beginning. Her purity lies possibly in her unawareness and proves to be devastating. Maggie’s misperceptions foretell her ruin, and with this, Crane emphasizes that purity is trodden in deprived conditions.
At the beginning Crane describes Maggie as unharmed by her surroundings to affirm that negative environment will ultimately steal from individuals their significance. Early in the novel, Crane describes Maggie as pure and that she is untouched by her environment (Maggie.p.20). First, the perception regarding the images of her intact beauty indicates that she will run away from the slums. This would be, however, impracticable in view of the fact that it is tricky to believe that the slums would have no consequence on her nature. Yet, Maggie starts to be aware of the effects of her society on her after she becomes a worker in a collar-and-cuff establishment. The starting point of her awareness begins when she notices the other women deprived of youth by the collar-and-cuff establishment and begins to "see the bloom upon her cheeks as something of value"(Maggie.p. 33). Afterwards it becomes obvious, following Maggie’s running away from her house and Pete tells her "Oh, go t’ hell !" (Maggie.p..55) that she is in disagreement with her environment, and beauty is her one and only possession. Accordingly, Maggie perceives, because of her environment, her beauty as an advantage, when it is in point of fact a blessing and a nuisance. The good thing being that she possesses it, the annoyance being that, after she’s detested by both Pete and her family, beauty gives her significance as a prostitute. After having been a prostitute for some months, she is referred to as "old girl" and "old lady" . This stands for a loss of beauty, as she is elderly looking. Ironically, her milieu interweaves her prettiness into the prospective to be a prostitute. Crane permits Maggie’s environment to grant and invalidate her beauty to show that, in environments such as Maggie’s, one is never away from infectivity.
In having Mrs. Johnson excuse her daughter, Crane simply compares her attitude and the reality of the circumstances. Even more, he persuades readers to conclude that children with mothers like Maggie’s have predestined lives. Mrs. Johnson says, "I bringed ’er up deh way a daughter oughta be bringed up, an’ dis is how she served me ! She went the deh devil deh first chance she got !" (Maggie. p.57) her perception of herself as a nurturing mother challenges all logic ; on the same page, she exclaims, "She kin cry ’er two eyes out on deh stones of deh street before I’ll dirty d’ place wid her" (Maggie. p.57) the contradiction and the hypocrisy is apparent here. If she’s such a nurturing mother, why is she unwilling to help her daughter ? Ironically, Mrs. Johnson is angry because of Maggie and Pete’s relationship. However, it is the mother who is eventually responsible for Maggie’s relation with Pete. Mrs. Johnson forces Maggie into Pete’s arms and refuses to help her after he tells her to "go t’ hell" (Maggie.p.55). After being pushed away by Pete and her family, Maggie’s alternatives, as stated by Jimmie, are to "go on d’ toif er go t’ work !" (Maggie.p.20). in fact, Maggie has not many options since she disgusted working in the collar-and-cuff establishment, her environment provides only one other option which is prostitution. Mrs. Johnson, who lacks any value as a mother whatsoever, is the personification of hypocrisy for forcing her daughter into the streets, causing her death, lamenting her loss, and then forgiving her. throughout the irony of Mrs. Johnson forgiving her daughter, Crane exposes the way offered to slum children and directs readers to believe that Maggie’s life, like the lives of many others, has a preset path to annihilation. The following passage would illustrate Mrs.Johnsons hypocrisy. In it, Mrs. Johnson pictures herself as the miserable and bereaved mother mourning her daughter’s death.
In a room a woman sat at a table eating like a fat monk in a picture. A soiled, unshaven man pushed open the door and entered.
- "Well," said he, "Mag’s dead."
- "What ?" said the woman, her mouth filled with bread.
- "Mag’s dead," repeated the man.
- "Deh hell she is," said the woman. She continued her meal. When she finished her coffee she began to weep. "I kin remember when her two feet was no bigger dan yer t’umb, and she weared worsted boots," moaned she.
- "Well, whata dat ?" said the man.
"I kin remember when she weared worsted boots," she cried. (Maggie. P63)
in this passage, the reader distinguishes the disjunction between what really happened and what she says. There is a great difference between throwing the daughter out and saying that she is raised in a morally erect home. However, the sadness of the novel frustrates this ironic tone at significant points. The reader is brought to understanding Maggie and regards her death as a disgusting calamity. Crane describes the sorrow ironically when he decides to link the sorrow with Mrs. Johnson who is in fact the source of Maggie’s sorrow.
Devoid of moralizing, Crane employs irony as a the only suitable means to contrast truth and perception. In effect, Crane is unable to use the direct style because it does not suit the description of the Bowery’s hypocrisy. Each piece of irony, from Jimmie’s ’noble’ battle to Mrs. Johnson’s forgiving Maggie, is aimed to reveal a society devoid of moral values and one whose inhabitants’ beliefs are paradoxical to their social interests. As Crane demonstrates, such attitudes are unavoidable in economically deprived populations such as the Bowery.
Therefore, Crane uses the technique of expressionistic symbolism which is characterized by the use of suggestions instead of explicit statements. Unlike naturalist authors, Crane sought to give the readers a hazy image of the events in the book as opposed to seeking to tell the readers the events exactly as they happened. In other words, Crane solicits the reader to look further than the simple meaning. Through this technique of expressionistic symbolism, Crane has accomplished the connection between Naturalism and Symbolism, which far and wide seem as antipodeans.
In summary, Despite the previous arguments concerning the resemblance between Maggie and L’Assommoir, it becomes clear through the last part of this chapter, that there are many reasons to think that Maggie’s style and structure are by no means naturalistic. In other words maggie’s style illustrates clearly that no conclusive evidence exists that Crane imitated Zola in writing his novel.