Monthly Archives: September 2014

Free Indirect Discourse

And yet, perhaps Melanctha really loved him. And then she would know how much it hurt him never any more, any way, to see her, and perhaps she would write a line to tell him. But that was a foolish way for Jeff ever to be thinking. Of course Melanctha never would write a word to him” (114).

Free indirect discourse is used in this passage when the narrator channels Jefferson’s thought process and says, “and perhaps she would write a line to tell him.” This line expresses Jefferson’s hope that Melanctha would write him back. The narrative voice then switches back to the omnicent narrator when he/she states, “But that was a foolish way for Jefff ever to be thinking.”

Consistency of Character

“Melanctha Herbert was always seeking rest and quiet, and always she could only find new ways to be in trouble.”

“Melanctha was all ready now to find new ways to be in trouble. And yet Melanctha Herbert never wanted not to do right. Always Melanctha Herbert wanted peace and quiet, and always she could only find new ways to get excited. ”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. pp 50, 123. Print.

These two quotes come from opposite ends of the story perhaps to emphasize the direct point that Melanctha always wants peace and quiet but is always running into trouble and excitement. However, there seems to be greater meaning to certain passages that tend to get repeated, such as this one, when they appear later on within the story after the reader has learned more of the character of Melanctha. As the character grows and develops throughout the story; as more about her is revealed to the reader, more can be ascertained to be true within that repeated statement. Even with the narration that seems to have a staggering timeline suggests that when this statement is made in the beginning, not much is known beyond the face value of the statement itself despite it describing Melanctha after the fact of most of the events to be told later in the story. However, when the statement is reiterated again later, with some alterations, it is evident Stein is attempting to portray the same character, only under a different light from realizing more information from the telling of Melanctha’s life.

Scared of the Rebellious Side ….Melanctha

“I certainly am always right Melanctha Herbert, the way I certainly always have been when I knows it, to you. No Melanctha, it just is you never can have no kind of a way to act right, the way a decent girl has to do, and I done my best always to be telling it to you Melanctha Herbert, but it don’t never do no good to tell nobody how to act right; they certainly never can learn when they ain’t got no sense right to know it, and you never have no sense right Melanctha to be honest, and I ain’t never wishing you no harm to you ever Melanctha Herbert, only I don’t never want any more to see you come here” (69).

Stein, Gertrude. Melanctha. Three Lives. 1909 p. 69. http://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html

Melanctha and Rose represents two different social groups. Although Rose is far from being a housewife, she sees herself play the traditional safe role which is to be the perfect housewife and mother. She also conforms to the typical black stereotypes. They are not supposed to be educated like the white folks etc. Melanctha on the other hand plays the rebellious side. She is sexually liberated, does not conform to the traditional stereotypes that are pinned on women and the African Americans. She struggles to fulfill this liberation for women and colored people. She does not want to be the perfect housewife or mother. She wants to live her own life and be her own person. Rose sees this side rebellious side of Melanctha as a negative thought and freaks out since she does not want to conform. She believes women should fulfill the traditional role. That is why she keeps telling Melanctha what to do and how to act. Rose believes that women and African Americans should remain in their places and let the white people stereotype each race and gender.

Stein’s use of repetition

“Melanchtha had not loved her father and her mother and they had found it very troublesome to have her.”

“The young Melanctha did not love her father and her mother, and she had a break neck courage, and a tongue that could be very nasty. Then, too, Melanctha went to school and was very quick in all the learning, and she knew very well how to use this knowledge to annoy her parents who knew nothing, Melanctha Herbert had always had a break neck courage.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 50-51. Print.

These two passages are very similar, and as I read through Melanctha, it was very easy to notice the repetitive style that Stein uses. I wondered, and still wonder why repeating the same information to reader was important. I think that a reason Stein repeats things so often is to make sure the reader is paying attention. If you missed it the first time, you will get the same information again. Repetition is used for emphasis, so maybe Stein wanted to stress certain details that the reader should not forget. These lines tell us more about Melanctha and how she feels about her parents, and also gives us insight into the kind of person she is.

Emotion and Attraction

“Melanctha Herbet always loved too hard and much too often She was always full of mystery and subtle movements and denials and vague distrusts and complicated disillusions. Then Melanctha would be sudden and impulsive and unbounded in some faith and unbounded in some faith, and then would suffer and be strong in her repression”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 50. Print

 

During an era where Victorian values dominated women, Melanctha was different and free. She was sexually liberated and assertive regardless of the repression she faced. Melanctha’s emotions are so vivid during these sentences we get the notion that Melanctha is complicated and different than other women. We get the thought that she is a little off the walls, yet so sexual that she can barely contain it. This is ground breaking for Stein’s writing because the subject of a black woman, let alone being a sexual being, is something that did not enter the world until this very moment. We finally get a glimpse at the feelings of a woman, who may or may not be a little crazy.

Language Detracts from Emotion

“Jeff Cambell staid till the last moment, with Melanctha, to make her mother’s dying easy for her. When it was over he sent in the colored woman from next door to help Melanctha fix things, and then he went away to take care of his other patients. He came back very soon for Melanctha. He helped her to have a funeral for her mother. Melanctha then went to live with the good natured woman, who had been her neighbor. Melanctha still saw Jeff very often. Things began to be very strong between them.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994. 77. Print.

Stein’s sentence construction is very “telling;” by only revealing the nature in which things and events are occurring, and not the characters’ inter most thoughts preceding these moments, readers are likely to be emotionally detached from Jeff Cambell, Melanctha, and even the poor, deceased elder Herbert.

 

The Color “Blue”

“But Melanctha Herbert never really killed herself because she was so blue, though often she thought this would be really the best way for her to do. Melanctha never killed herself, she only got a bad fever and went into the hospital where they took good care of her and cured her” (Stein 141).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 64-65. Print.

The use of the color “blue” to define one’s emotion and feelings is interesting because in the novel “blue” is known to refer to depression and it foreshadows the death that will overcome Melanctha due to the accumulation of stress and emotional turmoil within her. The color “blue” also reminds me of one of the pictures we saw in class. To be specific the Seated Harlequin picture as the person was wearing a blue and black checkered pattern clothing and the person had no emotions and we mentioned in class that on the surface it is unclear to know what the person is feeling unless we look in depth and Melanctha’s character is so hard to figure out without closely examining her. In the start she does not seem to be one filled with depression but as the novel progresses one can realize how emotionally burdened she is and the Seated Harlequin picture has the same result as I continue to look at the portrait the person sitting looks more and more emotionally burdened and depressed.

Irony in Jane Harden’s Character

“But what could you expect when Melanctha had such a brute of a black nigger father, and Melanctha was always abusing her father and yet she was just like him, and really she admired him so much and he never had any sense of what he owed to anybody, and Melanctha was just like him and she was proud of it too, and it made Jane so tired to hear Melanctha talk all the time as if she wasn’t(p. 64).”

“Jeff Campbell did everything he could for Jane Harden. He did not care much to hear about Melanctha. He had no feeling, much, about her. He did not find that he took any interest in her. Jane Hardin was so much a stronger woman, and Jane really had had a good mind, and she has used it to do things with it, before this drinking business had taken such a hold upon her(p 65).”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 64-65. Print.

The shifts in perspective within Stein’s writing allow characterizations of certain characters over multiple pages and in completely different paragraphs. In this passage that spans from page 64 to page 65 captures this irony in Jane Harden’s thinking. From Jane Harden’s point of view, we see Jane’s thoughts on Melanctha that she has a good mind but does not put it to good use. On the other hand, Jeff Campbell feels that same about Melanctha, but we also are reminded that Jane is a college educated woman that did have a good mind by Jeff Campbell. We see the irony in her thinking that a good mind is wasted if not put to use, while she does not recognize this about herself. This is only possible through Stein’s repetition of this same scenario while changing perspective of the character’s in her story.

Language Enforces Segregation

” ‘No Melanctha, I ain’t no common nigger to do so, for I was raised by white folks.  You know very well Melanctha that I’se always been engaged to them.’ “(Stein 49)

I am fascinated with the labeling between black and white communities in this book.  Just in the first few pages, the text provides examples such as “negro world” and “negro sunshine”(47).  It seems to continues as far as I’ve read with other examples such as “negro fashion”(53).  For the sentence I quoted, it’s interesting to see that Rose Johnson validates her actions by claiming having been raised by “white folks”.  The language lends itself to the idea of segregation by providing these crudely blunt labels.

Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. New York: The Grafton Press, 2011. Print.