Since its publication in 1896, Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets has generated speculation and debate over issues like censorship (Dowling 37) and class consciousness (Lawson), but what is possibly the most heated debate concerning Maggie is less about social or literary criticism and more about a plot point—the cause of death of Maggie Johnson; some critics claim that she is murdered, while others claim that she commits suicide (Dowling 36), and, while both arguments have strong cases, they seem to have neglected the most probable cause of the death of a Stephen Crane character—death by natural causes.
Robert M. Dowling and Donald Pizer present opposing cases in their article “A Cold Case File Reopened: Was Crane’s Maggie
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If the reader takes the scene in which the “huge fat man” appears without considering its later omission, the man is clearly disgusting and indicative of the extreme fall of Maggie’s circumstances, but there is no evidence to show that the man was anything more than a revolting client. The man, if taken at face value, is only a repulsive man, and any evidence that could be used to charge him with murder would be circumstantial at best; certainly he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but no legal court could convict him with so little hard evidence. One may hypothesize about Crane’s motives for cutting the scene, but that too would be conjecture and, therefore, invalid for serious consideration without further, more substantial proof. Pizer presents a strong case that the “huge fat man” scene is not a valid basis for a verdict of murder, but this argument does not in itself strengthen the claim of suicide.
Pizer continues his case by observing that the expression “‘girl of the streets’ [is] a late nineteenth-century euphemism