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 Murdered or a Suicide?” in which Dowling presents the death by murder while Pizer claims death by suicide (Dowling 37).
Donald Pizer bases his argument on textual, historical, and critical evidence. In a textual context Pizer claims that the debate over the cause of death only began after the release of the second, edited version of the story. The key factor leading to the debate is the omission of a section of the original text that includes a “huge fat man” (Dowling 37) who is depicted menacingly in the scene just prior to the revelation of Maggie’s death. Pizer contends that the reason many claim Maggie is murdered by the fat man is not because of his inclusion in the story, but because of the attention drawn to him because of his omission. Pizer supports this assertion saying:
The possibility that Maggie is murdered did not enter criticism of the novel
until the mid-1960s, following R. W. Stallman’s and Joseph Katz’s discussions
(in 1955 and 1966 respectively) of the significant difference between the
close of chapter XVII in the 1893 and 1896 editions of Maggie. (Dowling 37)
Pizer insists that the only reason the cause of death issue has come up is because of this otherwise unwarranted attention on the “huge fat man.” Pizer feels that since the fat man has become a significant source of conflict in the debate, his part should be addressed, but, since he only appears in the 1893 version, his significance should be addressed “entirely by reference to that text rather than to Crane’s motive in cutting the passage” (Dowling 38). 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...