Monthly Archives: September 2014

Child-like wanderings of Jeff and Melanctha

“They were very happy all that day in their wandering. They had taken things along to eat together. They sat in the bright fields and they were happy; they wandered in the woods and they were happy. Jeff always in this way loved to wander. Jeff always loved to watch everything as it was growing, and he loved all the colors in the trees and on the ground, and the little, new, bright colored bugs he found in the moist ground and in the grass he loved to lie on and in which he was always so busy searching.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Internet Archive. 149.

Could Stein’s roundabout way of writing scenes be also a way of composing images like paintings?

Jeff and The Reader trying to understand Melanctha

“‘Sometimes I certainly don’t rightly see Melanctha, how much more game that is than just the ordinary kind of holler.’ ‘No, Jeff Campbell, and made the way you is you certainly ain’t likely ever to be much more understanding.’ ‘No, Melanctha, nor you neither. You think always, you are the only one who ever can do any way to really suffer.'”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1994. 106. Print.

The first thing that is worth noticing about this section of dialogue between Melanctha and Jeff is Stein’s emphasis on their inability to understand each other. Stein constantly portrays Melanctha as stubbornly insisting that she is right, yet we never know what she is truly feeling. On the other hand, the reader actually does hear Jeff’s thoughts, and we can understand his own doubts and assurances as they come and go. Therefore, the lack of understanding between Jeff and Melanctha is actually more focused on the reader’s inability to understand Melanctha and what Melanctha wants–we have the same struggle as Jeff.
This specific portion of dialogue, Jeff is expressing to Melanctha how he has very little reverence for her type of “bravery” or “suffering,” in which she constantly allows herself to be hurt and then “hollers” about it. He calls it the “ordinary kind of holler,” trying to show her that she is no more brave or understanding than people who provoke fights and trouble, only to later regret it. These sentiments seem to attack the core of what Melanctha wants: “excitement,” something Jeff believes blacks should stay away from. However, Melanctha refuses to accept these sentiments, insisting that Jeff is just of a different “way” and therefore he can’t be “understanding.” This idea that one must be a certain “way” to really understand and to really suffer is one of the tensions between Jeff and Melanctha: Jeff, while living his regular life, did not know how to suffer until he comes into contact with Melanctha, whose strong emotional ways teach him to suffer. While the reader can see the harsh effects of Melanctha’s ways on Jefferson, we are not sure if Melanctha is changed by Jeff.

Changing Points of View

“Jeff Campbell then began again on the old papers. He sat there on the steps just above where Melanctha was sitting, and he went on with his reading, and his head went moving up and down, and sometimes he was reading, and sometimes he was thinking about all the things he wanted to be doing, and then he would rub the back of his dark hand over his mouth, and in between he would be frowning with his thinking, and sometimes he would be rubbing his head hard to help his thinking. And Melanctha just sat still and watched the lamp burning, and sometimes she turned it down a little, when the wind caught it and it would begin to get to smoking” (Stein 119).

The beginning of the passage starts off by telling the reader only the physical aspects of Jeff and what he is doing. The narrator tells you where he sits in relation to Melanctha, what he is doing, and the movements of his body. Then the narrator begins to tell you what he is thinking about and although it may not go into great detail, you find out more about what Jeff is thinking about that Melanctha. All you ever find out about her is that she watched the lamp burning and sometimes she would turn it down. This is a symbol of the characters as a whole because as the story goes on, you tend to find out more about Jeff than Melanctha, even though the story is about her. You read the whole novel on Melanctha thinking you understand her character and her actions but by the end you realize that you know very little about her, what she thinks, or the psychology behind her actions. In fact, you hardly know anything besides what she herself says. The author stresses this subtly through the narration of the novel because even then, you know very little about Melanctha but more about the other characters.


Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Ebook.

Delay and Confusion in “Melanctha”

“Jeff sat there this evening in his chair and was silent a long time, warming himself with the pleasant fire.  He did not look at Melanctha who was watching.  He sat there and just looked into the fire.  At first his dark, open face was smiling, and he was rubbing the back of his black-brown hand over his mouth to help him in his smiling.  Then he was thinking, and he frowned and rubbed his head hard, to help him in his thinking.  Then he smiled again, but now his smiling was not pleasant.  His smile was now wavering on the edge of scorning.  His smile changed more and more, and then he had a look as if he was bitter in his smiling, and he began, without looking from the fire, to talk to Melanctha, who was now very tense with her watching” (80).

This passage demonstrates Stein’s ability to manipulate the way in which readers perceive her narrative.  Rather than just outwardly stating that Jeff transitioned into a bitter mood as he spent that evening with Melanctha, Stein provides details of his changing facial expressions and body language so that readers are learning of his changing mood at the same time that Melanctha is within the story.  This delay adds a sense of confusion to the text and ultimately seems to work with Stein’s writing style.


Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Changing Moments in Melanctha

“Jeff learned every day now, more and more, how much it was that he could really suffer. Sometimes it hurt so in him, when he was alone, it would force some slow tears from him, he lost his feelings of deep awe that he once always had for Melanctha’s feeling. Suffering was not so much after all, thought Jeff Campbell, if even he could feel it so it hurt him. It hurt him so bad that he knew he once had hurt Melanctha, and yet he too could have it and  not make any loud kind of a loud holler with it.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. p 110. Print.

This quote echoes the repetition throughout the text in a way that shows a structure of changing moments of feeling for Jeff. The quote proceeds by explaining the same concept throughout three different sentences. The concept being repeated pertains to the moments of “hurt” and “suffering” Jeff feels throughout the quote. For instance, in one moment, Jeff feels the extent to which he can handle suffering, and in the next moment, he feels effects of his hurting to the point of physical manifestation, otherwise tears. Then Jeff Campbell’s “suffering” turns empathetic where he feels empathetic for Melanctha’s hurting.

Is Jeff Campbell the answer to Melanctha’s wandering in life?

“He always found life very easy did Jeff Campbell, and everybody liked to have him with them. He was so good and sympathetic, and he was so earnest and so joyous. He sang when he was happy, and he laughed, and his was the free abandoned laughter that gives the warm broad glow to negro sunshine.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 63. Print.

In this particular passage, I noticed that Jeff Campbell was strikingly different from Melanctha. All throughout Melanctha’s childhood and adolescence, Melanctha strives to understand and gain wordly knowledge. While the book does not let us know what she specifically wants (I’m not sure if Melanctha even knows it herself), it is apparent that she strongly desires to understand “the secret of the world” (that is how I read it). Therefore, she wanders from guy to guy or from place to place in search of that thing she desires (whatever it may be). This passage, however, introduces a new man who finds life very easy. It made me think how different he is from Melanctha who is constantly in search of the thing that will satisfy her desire. I’m not sure if this man has already found it but it was interesting to come across a character so different from her. Also, in this last part of the passage, it describes Jeff Campbell as having this “free abandoned laughter that gives the warm broad glow to negro sunshine”. This particular description was mentioned twice before this passage and the two people (Rose and Melanctha’s father) did not have this smile. And they are two people who are no longer in Melanctha’s life. Was Melanctha searching for a person with this feature? Why this particular feature?

Whose Thoughts Are These?

“In tender hearted natures, those that mostly never feel strong passion, suffering often comes to make them harder. When these do not know in themselves what it is to suffer, suffering is then very awful to them and they badly want to help everyone who ever has to suffer, and they have a deep reverence for anybody who knows really how to always suffer. But when it comes to them to really suffer, they soon begin to lose their fear and tenderness and wonder. Why it isn’t so very much to suffer, when even I can bear to do it. It isn’t very pleasant to be having all the time, to stand it, but they are not so much wiser after all, all the others just because they know too how to bear it” (page 110).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. 1909. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1994.

Throughout the story there tends to be passages of free indirect discourse various times, however this passage does not necessarily provide free indirect discourse. It is doing quite the opposite. This passage is fairly different & unique to the story. It’s almost as if the narrator is giving some form of insight to the reader. However, the main element that makes this passage so idiosyncratic or distinctive is due to the fact that “I” is used. It is not in quotes, so it cannot be dialogue & it doesn’t seem to reflect a character’s thought process. Can this be the narrator putting their two cents within the story?


“Jeff Campbell never knew very well these days what it was that was going on inside him. All he knew was, he was uneasy now always to be with Melanchta. All he knew was, that he was alway uneasy when he was with Melanchta, not the way he used to be from just not being very understanding, but now, because he never could be honest with her, because he was now always feeling her strong suffering, in her, but he knew now he was having a straight, good feeling with her, but she was so fast, and he was so slow to her; Jeff knew his right feeling never got a chance to show itself strong, to her.”

Stein, Gertrude, “Melanchta” in Three Lives, Dover Publication, 1994, p96.

After several paragraphs on the confused thoughts of Jeff Campbell, the repetition of the verb know is used to show how the character tries to assure his feelings to himself even though we can see that he’s still very confused and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The Mind of Melanctha

“I certainly never did see no man like you, Jeff. You always wanting to have it all clear out in words always, what everybody is always feeling. I certainly don’t see a reason, why I should always be explaining to you what I mean by what I am saying. And you ain’t got no feeling ever for me, to ask me what I meant, by what I was saying when I was so tired, that night. I never know anything right I was saying.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 101. Print.

Stein here says what she’s being showing. The knowledge of what is in our head is not amenable to a simple outright explanation. This dialog gives a small glimpse into mind of Melanctha.

Commonplace #4

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Edited by Jeri Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

I chose the passage that begins the whole novel because it being a fictional story puts emphasis on how important Joyce thinks stories are. It points out the significance a story can have on anyone, even a little boy like Stephen and how he relates to baby tuckoo.