This essay seeks to examine vulnerabilities and the failures of compassion in Stephen Crane's Maggie. As theorists have argued since Judith Butler, vulnerability compels us to realize that all humans are wounded and precarious beings in need of mutual care. The ethics of vulnerability ultimately points to solidarity and interdependence among those suffering under the threat of systemic violence. Butler and others, however, mainly draw attention to the injurability that originates from political imbalance on the macro level, ignoring everyday violence and vulnerability. Stephen Crane's Maggie portrays the grim everyday life in which vulnerability widens the gap between the self and afflicted others. Crane sheds light on the self-deceiving world of Bowery where compassion, once invoked and embraced, quickly evaporates when forced to assume the burden of action and responsibility. Crane further captures uncanny moments when compassion articulates with parochialism, shallowness, unreliability, inequality, and misrecognition. This essay also explores how characters appropriate the false aura of invulnerability by exploiting vulnerability as a means of deflecting and suppressing their own vulnerabilities. Jimmie constructs the illusion of the invulnerable self by deploying the negative emotional capital of contempt and the symbolic capital of masculinity so as to dispel the unrevealed inferiority he feels towards the wealthy upper-class. Unlike Jimmie, Pete and Mary take ample advantage of the vulnerable Maggie to make themselves seem invulnerable. They themselves are vulnerable, subject to contempt, derision, or job insecurity, but they put on the invulnerable cloak of respectability by incarcerating Maggie in the prison of vulnerability.
- Stephen Crane
- vulnerability compassion