"Survival of the fittest" is a phrase most commonly associated with Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution that was published in 1859. An English philosopher by the name of Herbert Spencer, applied Darwin's theory to society, hence creating Social Darwinism. Spencer believed that a person such as an artisan, who is poor and suffering, should not have to exist and they should not be helped. In fact, he believed that if a wealthy person were to help a poor artisan, the wealthy person would be "messing up" the whole system. In other words it would be the survival of the fittest. Stephen Crane, the author of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets feels that Social Darwinism is wrong, and he thinks that people like Maggie should not be saved.
Maggie's family could be categorized as a poor Irish family, who eat only potatoes for dinner, have no luxuries, and use alcohol to forget their problems. In the beginning of the book there were five family members, the mother and the father, Jimmy, Maggie and the baby Tommie. The most neglected child was Tommie, who was abused and not cared for at all. "A small ragged girl dragged a red, bawling infant along the crowded ways. He was hanging back, baby-like, bracing his wrinkled, bare legs. The little girl cried out: ‘Ah, Tommie, come ahn. Dere's Jimmie and fader. Don't be a-pullin' me back.' She jerked the baby's arm impatiently . He fell on his face, roaring." (Crane 15) Early on Crane reveals the neglect that Tommie receives, as seen in the above excerpt. After Jimmy's brawl the mother scolds Jimmy and hits him, the father says, "Let the kid alone for a minute, will yeh, Mary? Yer allus poudin' ‘im. When I come home nights I can't get no rest ‘cause yer allus poundin' a kid." (17) The fittest do survive, and Tommie was not one of the fittest, he dies on the fourteenth page of the book. Spencer's idea that those who tried to help the suffering would mess up the system, applies to Maggie's family. The father, who although was not a good man, told the mother to stop abusing the children, so he takes the role of the fittest person who helps and creates problems. The trait of helping, contributes to not being one of the fittest people, so the father dies.
Spencer believed that the people that were not the fittest, the poor would live their life suffering and being angry and then would eventually die, because they are not the fittest, and they should not be helped. Jimmy fits into this category. Ever since he was a young boy, he was getting into fights around the neighborhood. He and the other kids from his neighborhood would get into brawls with the kids from the surrounding neighborhoods, and every time the father would have to come and bring Jimmy home. The neglect that Jimmy received at home, and the number of fights that he was in as a child caused him to grow up and do nothing except drink and fight. He never had the chance to get out of the poverty status and would stay there while the rich prospered. Jimmie always aspired to be a firetruck driver, because he knew that the firetrucks were omnipotent because they could go anywhere they wanted to, therefore whoever drove them were upper class. Crane's portrayal of Jimmie shows the reader the common poor man who will never be the fittest and won't survive.
Maggie is the most important character in the book, she is portrayed as a loving, caring and lonely girl, which are characteristic that Spencer would say comprise the non-fit. She works in a sweat shop and she is anxious to find someone with whom she can share her feelings with. Pete who is a childhood friend of Jimmy, comes over to see Jimmy and notices how beautiful Maggie is. To Maggie, Pete appears to be an upper class gentleman, as he owns two suits, and he takes her to Central Park, the museum and the dime show, which are ironically all either free or cheap. She hopes that Pete will rescue her from poverty. As Spencer believes, and Crane agree, this cannot happen. Pete "ruins" Maggie, in that