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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. II, No. 3
January, 1979


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CRANE'S MAGGIE: A SOURCE FOR THE HAIRY APE

The influence of the writings of Stephen Crane on the plays of Eugene O'Neill has been only slightly explored. In his study Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O'Neill (Oxford University Press, 1972), Travis Bogard points out that Stephen Crane was among the naturalistic authors O'Neill read when he was a young man. Bogard discerns the possible influence of The Red Badge of Courage on the imagery of Thirst and on the anti-heroic treatment of war in Mourning Becomes Electra. Bogard informs us that in 1917 O'Neill wrote a short story entitled "The Hairy Ape," which he destroyed after it had been rejected for magazine publication. One can surmise that this short story was probably even more clearly influenced by Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets than was the play, which was written in 1921-22.

Robert "Yank" Smith is a character very much like Maggie Johnson's brother Jimmie and her seducer Pete. Jimmie and Pete are "Bowery Jays," while Yank was "dragged up" on the Brooklyn waterfront. Because of their brutal childhoods, all three men have a defiant, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. All of them speak a very similar limited dialect, filled with oaths.

Pete's account to Maggie of one of his street encounters reminds the reader of Yank's encounter with the church-goers on Fifth Avenue:

When I was a-crossin' deh street deh chump runned plump inteh me, an' den he turns aroun' an' says, "Yeh insolen' ruffin!" he says, like dat. "Oh, gee!" I says, "oh, gee! git off d'eart'!" I says, like dat. See? "Git off d'eart'!" like dat. Den deh blokie he got wild. He says I was a contempt'ble scoun'el, er somethin' like dat, an' he says I was doom' teh everlastin' pe'dition, er somethin' like dat. "Gee!" I says, "gee! Yeh joshin' me," I says. "Yeh joshin' me." An den I slugged 'im. See?

In the stage directions for The Hairy A e, O'Neill writes that a man "runs full tilt into the bending, straining Yank, who is bowled off his balance." Yank, "seeing a fight--with a roar of joy as he springs to his feet," exclaims, "I'll bust yuh," and he does, though with less satisfactory results than Pete achieves.

A comparison of the dialect spoken by the characters in Ma ie with the dialect spoken by Yank reveals significant parallels. While neither Crane's nor O'Neill's spelling of dialect is always consistent, there are enough similarities to make one think that perhaps O'Neill modeled Yank's speech at least partially on that of the characters in Crane's novel. A clear example would be that Yank several times says, "Git off de oith!"--the same expression used by Pete in the above quotation. Yank also has the habit of frequently ending his statements with a "See?" as Pete does twice in the above quotation and as he and Jimmie do throughout Maggie. A good example of Yank's speech appears in Scene 1:

Aw g'wan! I've listened to lots of guys like you, see. Yuh're all wrong. Wanter know what I t'ink? Yuh ain't got no noive, get me? Yuh're yellow, dat's what. Yellow, dat's you.... Dis is a man's job, get me? It belongs. It runs dis tub. No stiffs need apply. But yuh're a stiff, see? Yuh're yellow, dat's you.

Besides the use of "see" and similar rhetorical expressions at the ends of sentences, Pete and Yank often repeat their statements twice ("'Yer joshin' me,' I says, 'Yer joshin' me'" ; "Yuh're yellow, dat's what. Yellow, dat's you.") Both men's vocabularies are filled with "dey," "youse," "dis," "dem," "tink" or "t'ink," "den," "dere," dat s," "naw," "ting" or "t'ing," "tree" (for "three"), and such slang words as "scrappin'," "bloke," and "mug." Yank starts his above speech with "Aw g'wan!"--an expression he uses more than once. Pete sometimes uses the same expression, spelled, "Aw, go ahn!" Similarly, Pete several times uses the expression "do me dirt," and Yank says the same thing, but spelled "do me doit." I am certain that a systematic reader could discover other verbal parallels between the two works, although I believe that the ones I have found make, in themselves, a strong case for the influence of Maggie upon O'Neill's imagination.

This language, however, is not even the most striking parallel between the two works. Yank's account of his childhood is exactly the same as the childhood of Jimmie and Maggie. Yank reminisces:

Me old man and woman . . . always got too big a head on Sunday mornin', dat was dem. (With a grin) Dey was scrappers for fair, bot' of dem. On Satiday nights when dey bot' got a skinful dey could put up a bout oughter been staged at de Garden. When dey got trough dere wasn't a chair or table wit a leg under it. Or else dey bot' jumped on me for somep'n. Dat was where I loined to take punishment.

Certainly no reader of Maggie could ever forget the drunken, furniture-throwing "scrapes" between Mary Johnson, the formidable mother of Maggie and Jimmie, and her husband which periodically destroyed their tenement rooms. They also were continually beating their children, who learned to fight and take punishment as early as did Yank.

Despite this brutal upbringing, Crane suggests that Jimmie as well as Maggie had the potential to be more than they were if only their environment had been somewhat different. Crane writes that Jimmie, "on a certain star-lit evening, said wonderingly and quite reverently, 'Deh moon looks like hell, don't it?'",

Similarly, in Yank's address to the gorilla he remarks:

I seen de sun come up. Dat was pretty, too--all red and pink and green. I was lookin' at de skyscrapers--steel--and all de ships comin' in, sailin' out, all over de oith--and dey was steel, too. The sun was warm, dey wasn't no clouds, and dere was a breeze blowin'. Sure, it was great stuff.

There is even a hint of hairy ape imagery in Maggie. Yank ends his life at the Central Park Zoo, admiring the gorilla. Crane has Pete escort Maggie to the Central Park Menagerie, where he admires a monkey:

Once at the menagerie he (Pete) went into a trance of admiration before the spectacle of a very small monkey threatening to thrash a cageful because one of them had pulled his tail and he had not wheeled about quickly enough to discover who did it. Ever after Pete knew that monkey by sight, and winked at him, trying to induce him to fight with other and larger monkeys.

The implied comparison of Pete and his fellows to monkeys fighting in the menagerie may have helped to suggest O'Neill's explicit comparison in The Hairy Ape. The Marxist sailor, Long, even remarks to his fellows, "What right 'as they got to be exhibitin' us 's if we was bleedin' monkeys in a menagerie?"

The final important parallel between Maggie and The Hairy Ape lies in the manner in which Maggie and Yank are sent to their deaths by a callous society. When Maggie is debating leaving home with Pete, her drunken mother exclaims to her, "Git th' devil outa here." Crane's ironic comment is, "Maggie went."

Apparently pleased with this technique, Crane used it again. After being abandoned by Pete and her family, Maggie begs of Pete, "But where kin I go?" "'Oh, go to hell!' cried he." Again, Crane might have commented, "Maggie went."

After Yank is thrown out of the office of the IWW local, O'Neill ends the scene thusly:

Yank. (in a vague mocking tone) Say, where do I go from here?

Policeman. (giving him a push -- with a grin, indifferently) Go to hell.

The next and final scene finds Yank before the cage of the gorilla at the Central Park Zoo.

In his study of O'Neill, Travis Bogard comments, "Among the plays of the 1920's, The Hairy Ape, for all its seeming originality of style and substance, is perhaps the most derivative." I hope that this study demonstrates that some of the style and substance of The Hairy Ape was probably derived from Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

--Robert McIlvaine

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