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.