Article Expert: Gendered Space, Racialized Space: Nativism, the Immigrant Woman, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie”

“Gendered Space, Racialized Space: Nativism, the Immigrant Woman, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie” by Katrina Irving

Main Argument

Irving locates the immigrant woman to draw connections between the engendering of a feminine gender and racism; she notes that “when articulated together, threw into relief specific issues that directly affected Americans’ conception of the nation state and the ‘threat’ that aliens appeared to pose to it” (32). Although she does not argue that Crane himself is a nativist, she utilizes Maggie to illustrate how his text “deploys specific discourses and rhetorical strategies circulating contemporaneously within the culture at large, and which can be identified as nativist” (33).


Key Points

  1. Racism, Prostitution, and Gender
    1. Three positions on immigration: nativists (xenophobic, biological racism, genetic superiority), Americanizers (cultural/environmental racism, immigrants unassimilable), and cultural pluralists (pro-immigration; American needs diverse culture.)
    2. Nativist connection between the image of the “grotesque” and “unruly” female prostitute in bridging gender and race in conversations about the “problem” of immigration
    3. “In the paranoiac narrative of this nativist vision, the body itself becomes the site at which a territorial struggle occurs: the racial struggle is displaced from the space of the Republic to the internal space of the racial struggle is displaced from the space of the Republic to the internal space of the body” (34).
    4. “Escaping that sequestration in the home that served to contain the sexually saturated female body, the immigrant woman’s free movement from the tenement to the larger urban space was seen as a refusal of the woman’s organic connection with the family space/life of the children, a flouting of the gendered division of space” (35).
    5. Immigrant woman “is constructed as the bearer of inferior, but potentially triumphant, genes” (36). They pose a threat to the stability of the gendered and racialized Anglo-Saxon space.
    6. There were also anxieties about a connection between immigrants and prostitution and increased immigration leading to increased prostitution
  2. Textual Evidence in Maggie
    1. Invasion of fecundity in the streets through the numerous children, which she describes as “Crane’s excremental vision of the mindlessly proliferating alien female” (36)
    2. Maggie’s mother is “monstrous and beastial” with a “degenerate nature” (37) – she also argues that “Crane displaces the physique of the prostitute onto the immigrant mother as though to suggest that the mother confirms the daughter’s inevitable future” (39).
    3. Maggie, however, conforms to many archetypes of a traditional heroine making her seem out of place in comparison to her mother, but she goes on to explore spaces where “sexes mix freely” and “sexes and races interact,” which makes her a threat to systemic stability
    4. Maggie’s existence “compounds her sexual threat by invoking fears of miscegenation” and her ability to move across the boarders of sex and race “exemplifies the threat of Anglo-Saxon race suicide” and her suicide, thus, demonstrates “a reassertion of control and a recontainment . . . of the threat Maggie has embodied in her efforts to do so. Hence, the tragedy of Maggie is that she can only ever redeem herself—and the country to which she has come—by ceasing to be” (40).

My Thoughts (in brief)

Irving raises a lot of fascinating points about how gender and race become entangled through the immigrant woman and prostitute tropes in American society at this time. It might have been helpful to see her do more close reading on the moments where race and prostitution are directly referenced to further explore those ideas.

Discussion Questions


  1. Last week we had a detailed discussion regarding Edna’s suicide. In what ways is Maggie’s death different in Crane’s story? Do you agree with Irvin’s assessment?
  2. Given this framework of the immigrant woman, do you think this text is harsher in its representation of women than men?

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