Included below is a character analysis about Stevie Taggert from the Alienist books. For basic information about Stevie Taggert, quotes made by Stevie Taggert, or character testimonials about Stevie Taggert, please use the side menu.
Stevie Taggert Character Analysis
Stevie Taggert, commonly known to criminals and law enforcement officials alike as “the Stevepipe”, is the clever and resourceful ward of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, and gains a prominent place in the Alienist book series by narrating The Angel of Darkness. Although young in years during the main events of both The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, Stevie has seen more of the world than most of the adults in the investigative team, and is intimately familiar with life on the streets of New York City, having spent his early years prior to becoming Dr. Kreizler’s ward fending for himself in the poverty stricken Lower East Side. Unlike John Schuyler Moore who narrated The Alienist out of a desire to shed light on the darker side of American society and to acquaint the general public with the psychological theories of Dr. Kreizler, Stevie only takes up narration of The Angel of Darkness in order to win a bet with John. This gambling spirit is characteristic of Stevie’s entire personality, and plays a critical role in the team’s ability to solve the crimes they are faced with in both Alienist novels.
Childhood & Upbringing
Stevie Taggert spent his early years in a one-room rear tenement flat with his mother on the Lower East Side near the Five Points district. From the tender age of three, he began to learn how to pickpocket and break and enter in order to support his mother’s drinking habits. Stevie never mentions who his father is, and it is unclear what other means his mother may have employed to support herself and her son. Nevertheless, he does mention her having a “string of men” at the flat, so it’s possible that she may have resorted to prostitution as either an occasional or primary means of support. Despite this, Stevie doesn’t mention having any siblings, so it appears that he is an only child.
By the time Stevie reached the age of eight, his mother’s addictive habits had extended to opium and she began frequenting a den in Chinatown run by a dealer known as You Fat (whose real name Stevie claims is unpronounceable). Stevie cites his mother’s turn to opium as “the final straw” in their relationship, prompting him to break ties with her completely. Their final confrontation was described in violent terms, with his mother calling him an “ungrateful little wretch” and giving him a “good beating around the head” for voicing his opposition to thieving in order to support her alcohol and drug habits. Once Stevie finally did cut ties with her, he explains that she “moved in with You Fat, using her body instead of my larceny to secure an endless supply of her drug” (AoD 58).
Although Stevie describes his relationship with his mother in fairly unemotional terms, his inability to influence her to change her ways clearly had a lasting impact on him. As with Dr. Kreizler’s attempt as a young man to involve himself romantically with a woman who reminded him of his mother in order to prove that their failed relationship was not his own fault, Stevie faced a similar situation in his relationship with Kat Devlin, his love interest during The Angel of Darkness. Within the novel, Kat developed a cocaine addiction and, like Stevie’s mother, resorted to using her body as a means of securing her supply of the drug. Even though Dr. Kreizler shares his story with Stevie in order to shed light on Stevie’s attraction to Kat, tragically Kat’s life was cut short before their relationship was properly resolved, and when writing as an adult at the novel’s conclusion, Stevie still clearly retains the hope that their relationship may have eventually been successful.
Following Stevie’s parting with his mother at the age of eight, he spent the next two years sleeping on the streets with a gang of street arabs. Even though this was an even starker period of his life than his early years with his mother, Stevie clearly valued the friendships he established with the other boys in his gang and explains that they watched out for each other by “huddling together over steam vents on winter nights and making sure we didn’t drown when we cooled down in the city’s rivers during the summer” (AoD 58). It was also during this time that Stevie started to refine his thieving skills, and began to make a name for himself “as a banco feeler, pickpocket, and general criminal handyman” (AoD 58). Although strongly discouraged by Dr. Kreizler, these skills would come in handy again during The Angel of Darkness when Sara Howard needed to break into John Moore’s apartment, and when the team needed to break and enter Libby Hatch’s house in order to search for Ana Linares. During the early years, however, these skills got him into a considerable amount of trouble with the law, and the frequency of his dealings with police even influenced his choice of weapon for self-protection–a piece of lead pipe–as he found that law enforcement officials were less harsh if you weren’t carrying a knife or gun.
By the age of ten, Stevie’s reputation was such that Crazy Butch from Monk Eastman’s gang approached him to work for the kids auxiliary of the gang. While working for Crazy Butch, he was involved in activities that included pickpocketing entire crowds with the other young members of the gang, as well as ambushing and robbing delivery vans of their goods. Although Stevie was typically released when apprehended for these crimes given that it was difficult for the prosecution to make charges stick to any one member of the gang, at approximately the age of eleven he was tried for breaking a store owner’s leg with his trademark piece of pipe. It was during this court hearing at Jefferson Market that Dr. Kreizler discovered Stevie due to the judge’s use of a psychological term during sentencing, as the following quote describes.
The Angel of Darkness, 59:
The old windbag on the bench called me everything from a nicotine fiend (I’d been smoking since I was five) to a drunkard (which showed how much he knew–I never touched the stuff) to a “congenitally destructive menace,” a phrase which, at the time, meant a whole lot of nothing to me–but which was, it turned out, destined to be the key to my salvation. You see, it happened that a certain crusading mental specialist with a particular interest in children was just outside the courtroom that day, waiting to testify in another case; and when the judge let out with that “congenital” phrase and then went on to sentence me to two years on Randalls Island, I suddenly heard a voice rise from somewhere behind me.
Although Dr. Kreizler belligerently questioned the judge’s qualifications for his use of the term “congenital” and demanded that Stevie be given an assessment by a competent alienist or psychologist, the judge was not sympathetic to his arguments and upheld the sentence, threatening to hold the Doctor in contempt if he continued to interrupt proceedings. Even though Dr. Kreizler was not able to talk to Stevie that day, when Stevie returned to court three months into his incarceration for attacking a guard who had attempted to molest him, the Doctor heard news of the upcoming hearing and was able to convince a different judge on that occasion to allow him to conduct a psychological assessment.
After spending two days conducting an intensive consultation on Randalls Island, the Doctor argued at Stevie’s sanity hearing that his actions and motivations had been driven by his early experiences, and went on to propose that Stevie be enrolled at his Institute. Although the board that day were receptive to the Doctor’s theory of “context”, they were less inclined to allow Stevie to be placed in an environment such as the Institute where he would not be kept under the level of strict surveillance that they deemed necessary for a youth with such a violent record. After considering alternative options “for some two minutes”, the Doctor displayed his confidence in Stevie’s ability to be reformed by offering to take him into his employ as his driver and to care for him as his ward, consequently taking full responsibility for all of Stevie’s future actions. The board, while surprised at the Doctor’s offer, were agreeable with the arrangement, and Stevie was released into the care of Dr. Kreizler.
Character & Personality
The faith that Dr. Kreizler demonstrated in Stevie by taking him under his roof as ward and employee clearly had a profound effect on the youth. Stevie recounts in The Angel of Darkness that upon hearing that he would be taken in by the Doctor, for the first time he felt apprehension; not due to any lack of trust in his new employer and carer, but due to uncertainty that he would ever be able to truly change his ways. However, it was precisely the Doctor’s confidence in his new young charge that ultimately ensured Stevie’s loyalty and was responsible for his reformation. Stevie’s description in The Angel of Darkness, 60, of how he had felt when he had first witnessed Dr. Kreizler barging into the courtroom on his behalf during their first brief meeting goes some way to explaining why Stevie was influenced so profoundly by the Doctor’s trust in him:
All in a rush and for the first time, I felt like someone over the age of fifteen truly gave a goddamn about my existence. You don’t really know that you’ve been living without that commodity until someone makes you aware of the possibility of it; and when they do, it’s a very peculiar sensation.
Although Dr. Kreizler earned Stevie’s loyalty through his early demonstrations of faith and confidence, it took Stevie several more years to become fully accustomed to holding a place of importance in an adult’s life after his years on the street fending for himself. Even during the events of The Angel of Darkness, which took place just over two years after he had entered the employ of the Doctor, Stevie was surprised and deeply moved when the Doctor told him that his reluctance to become involved in the Libby Hatch affair was due to concern over his safety. Upon witnessing Stevie’s surprise, the Doctor told him, “You haven’t had many years of believing that you’re important, Stevie. But you are” (AoD 80). Nevertheless, the bond that developed between ward and caretaker was clearly just as important to the Doctor, who went on to tell Stevie during the same talk, “I–do not expect to have children. Of my own, I mean. But if I were to have a son–I could only wish that he would have your courage. In all ways” (AoD 80-1).
Stevie Taggert’s naturally bright and inquisitive temperament also played a large role in his unusually quick reformation from street hellion to faithful ward. Despite having no formal training before arriving at Dr. Kreizler’s house, Stevie seems to have coped well with the study the Doctor required from him on subjects ranging from history and literature (Jules Verne proved to be a favourite author) to maths and science. Only one year after entering the employ of Dr. Kreizler, Stevie even managed to get through William James’ dense and difficult tome, The Principles of Psychology, with the rest of the team during the events of The Alienist. Stevie also frequently demonstrates a highly unusual perceptiveness and emotional maturity for a boy of his age during both The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, frequently providing insights into aspects of the killers’ actions and motivations that the other investigators overlook. This emotional maturity is also responsible for the friendships he develops over the course of the novels with the rest of the team, and he is particularly close to Sara Howard who treats him as a confidante and reveals personal details of her life that she doesn’t entrust to anyone else on the team.
Related to these traits, although Stevie continues to display the toughness and resilience that he developed as a means of coping with his early years on the street during both Alienist novels, it is clear that he also has a softer side and is very warm-hearted. He has a particular affinity for animals, and enjoys spending time with the Doctor’s two horses, Frederick and Gwendolyn, who John Moore observes during The Alienist were always treated “with complete kindness” by the youth. He also takes full responsibility for training and caring for a ferret called Mike who he borrows from a street friend, Hickie the Hun, during The Angel of Darkness when the team requires an animal to scent the missing Ana Linares in Libby Hatch’s house, and describes the time he spent with the ferret in warm terms: “Mike became the center of my attention and–given his lively, affectionate manner–my joy and amusement, too. […] I spent most of that time either romping around my room with Mike, trying to locate mice in our basement for him, or chatting away to the animal as if I expected answers” (AoD 212). Stevie even goes against the advice of Hickie the Hun during training by feeding the ferret prime cuts of meat from the local butcher.
Stevie’s warm-heartedness is also evident in his relationship with Kat Devlin during The Angel of Darkness. Although clearly hurt by Kat’s reluctance to return his feelings or change her lifestyle, he continues to support her throughout the course of the novel and is clearly heartbroken when she passes away. In a further display of sentimentality, when writing as an adult at the conclusion of the novel, he reveals that twenty-two years later he is still continuing to take the subway out to Calvary Cemetery to place flowers on her grave once a week and, knowing that he may not have long to live due to a terminal lung condition, he confides in the final pages of the novel that his hope for when he does pass away is to “find her again, all grown up and free of her cravings for burny and the high life” (AoD 625). Showing some insight into this side of Stevie’s character early in The Angel of Darkness, Sara Howard describes Stevie as “one of the good ones” to Cecilia Beaux who makes a cameo appearance in the novel.
In addition to these softer aspects of his character, Stevie is also unusually open-minded for the time period in which he lives, and repeatedly displays a liking for “the odd ones”, as Cyrus Montrose observes in The Angel of Darkness. He enjoys visiting Dr. Kreizler’s more unusual friends such as the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder (“Pinkie”), and he retains a large number of street contacts while living with the Doctor, many of whom also have some rather atypical habits, such as his aforementioned friend Hickie the Hun who lives with a wide collection of different animals. Once again displaying his remarkable perceptiveness, Stevie cares a great deal more about the motivations of such individuals rather than being bothered by any oddities that may form part of their characters. This open-mindedness even allows him to accept El Niño as a member of the investigative team during The Angel of Darkness, and the bond that he develops with the Filipino aborigine pygmy proves essential in the final stages of the investigation.
Finally, despite Stevie’s relatively fast reformation during his time with Dr. Kreizler, he does retain a penchant for trouble and mischief that appears to stay with him well into adulthood. This tendency towards mischief leads him to commit harmless offenses such as as climbing the fence of the Vanderbilt mansion to spy on the Doctor and John Moore during The Angel of Darkness. It also leads him to secretly gamble on “the ponies” at the racetrack with John, as well as continuing to smoke even though the Doctor forbade the habit when he went to live with him. Perhaps demonstrating that such tendencies are not all bad, it is Stevie’s gambling spirit that leads him, with the help of El Niño, to be able to assist the team in invaluable ways during the latter stages of The Angel of Darkness by returning back to New York City ahead of the rest of the team even though he lacks the approval of anyone except John. Moreover, as indicated earlier, it is also this gambling spirit that leads him to take up narration of The Angel of Darkness in the first place.
Stevie’s smoking habit, on the other hand, while providing a source of income in later years through his opening of a successful tobacco shop on the ground floor of the Flatiron building, has more negative consequences, as touched on earlier, by being responsible for the development of a lung condition that has reached a terminal stage by the time Stevie takes up narration of The Angel of Darkness in his mid-thirties. Nevertheless, demonstrating his usual philosophical attitude and kindness of spirit, Stevie does not blame the Doctor for never having rid him of his smoking habits, and instead remains thankful that he simply persisted in trying.
The Angel of Darkness, 625:
I get the feeling, sometimes, that the Doctor feels guilty about never getting me to give up the smokes; but I was a nicotine fiend long before I ever met the man, and, caring and patient as he always was, there were just some things about my early life what even his kindness and wisdom couldn’t undo. I don’t hold him responsible, of course, or love him any the less for it, and it makes me sad to think that my physical predicament only gives him one more reason to vex himself; but again, I guess it’s that very vexing, and the ability to keep working through it toward a better sort of life for our mostly miserable species, what makes him such a very unusual man.