One theme that runs through some of the books we’ve read is acceptance by normalcy; who is publicly accepted and not judged for what they are. This them is present within “Heart of Darkness”, “Melanctha”, “Mrs. Dalloway”, and “Their Eyes were Watching God”.
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” (Conrad 5)
“Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature” (Stein 1)
” ‘Let us go on, Septimus,’ … People must notice; people must see.” (Woolf 15).
“‘What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?t'” (Hurston)
In Heart of Darkness and Melanctha, which were published in 1899 and 1909, people that don’t measure up to the ideas of public acceptance are people of color; Rose’s “white training” elevates her, and in Heart of Darkness, it’s made clear that conquest once required taking from those with a different complexion. Later in 1925, Septimus Warren Smith of Mrs. Dalloway, is having shell shock while his wife worries that people are watching him, because even as a veteran, having any kind of problem in public is considered unacceptable. By the time we reach Hurston’s work in 1937, he main character Janie is judged by the public simply because they do not know things about her.
In Melanctha, both the vocabulary and syntax are undoubtedly simple. The repetition of names, specific terms, and explanations are tedious, however they offer an unusual argument. Without heavy description of the setting or characters, we rely on the narration to find feeling through several perspectives.
The Cubist movement was known for its use of simultaneous perspective in painting, much like Stein’s Melanctha. To someone oblivious of a painting that is done by Picasso, they may immediately conclude that the painting’s shapes, colors, and overall execution is simple. However, the communication being transmitted through the art is carries a larger message. Although Stein uses elementary words and childish repetition, she is able to convey complicated ideas using each character’s view.
“Melanctha Herbert never really lost her sense that it was Jane Harden who had taught her, but Jane did many things that Melanctha now no longer needed. And then, too, Melanctha never could remember right when it came to what she had done and what had happened. Melanctha now sometimes quarreled with Jane, and they no longer went about together, and sometimes Melanctha really forgot how much she owned to Jane Harden’s teaching.”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/threelivesstorie00steirich.
“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.”
Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. N.p.: Bedford Cultural Edition, n.d. Print.
Stein’s choice to not use the characters full names, as she does in most of the book, but pronouns instead adds to the mystique of this theme of wandering and interpersonal experience.
“But Melanctha Herbert was ready now herself to do teaching. Melanctha could could do anything now that she wanted. Melanctha knew now what everybody wanted.”
I like this paragraph because it so concisely conveys what it’s like to feel knowledgeable and powerful. It also demonstrates something that is a recurring theme in the story, the power of relationships to change a person and to help them develop.
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. 61. Print.
“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. ”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. p 110. Print.
This passage is interesting because everyone suffers at one point in life. Some may have suffered in some sort of way all their lives and to some, it is a fairly new concept. Through suffering, people become stronger and they get passionate. However, what effect will that have on people who were never passionate to begin with? For those, they lose a part of themselves and it kills them to even bear with their pain. This experience still play a big part in molding a person to better themselves and develop even the smallest passion for something.
“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?
“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.
“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.
“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.
” ‘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.