Maggie Johnson is born into poverty and degradation, a life without hope of escape from her circumstances, and without the education or resources to do anything to better her life. It is her innate desire for a better life that drives the rest of the story. Maggie attempts to elevate her lifestyle through a relationship with Pete, a man whom she believes will help her break away from her present circumstances, but in doing so she brings about her downfall.
Written in the gossiping tone of a bystander, Crane reports life in the slums, where people are hardened until their humanity is almost unrecognizable. These people are trapped by the world they were born into and slowly assimilated into the culture so as to obstruct them from any escape. After the story’s tragic ending, Crane makes no editorial comments, preaches no possible solutions. He doesn’t have to, because if there is any remaining empathy within Crane’s readers, the story’s message speaks for itself.