Tag Archives: stein

Experience, Race, and Gender in Fiction

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Stein’s Melanctha (1909), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) all explore the relationship of class and race. Through the 38 year span in which these novels were published, the gradual expression of race relations changes drastically.  Conrad explores the racial tensions tied to imperialism through Marlow’s close observation of Mr. Kurtz.  Stein stays close to home in her interperspective novel Melanctha, yet ties gender and class together while still depicting an ethnic alternative lifestyle.  Anand, while his novel was published much later, gives the audience a sense of what life is in India’s harsh caste system.  Untouchable explores class closely, but to an English audience, which introduced them to a world other than post-WWI American society.  Finally, Hurston thoroughly captures the relations of gender and race together in Janie Stark.  The novel focuses on her tribulations, instead of a broad sociological effects, allowing the harsh scenes of domestic abuse to expose hidden inequalities other than race.  Over time, fiction writers presented more topics that were not necessarily common knowledge, bringing them to the public eye.  While tackling cultural obstacles is nothing new in writing, the modernists relied on firsthand experience,  allowing for more raw, realistic stories that related to the audience.

Social Class Disparities

Faulkner, Sayers, and Stein observe social class across their respective texts. A moment of social class disparity in Faulkner is the difference between the two doctors. Peabody is more educated than MCGowan, but Faulkner implies that social class trumps credentials when comparing the way the two characters interact with the Bundren family. In Sayers’ novel, Peter has money and can just do detective work almost for his own pleasure. Bunter is Peter’s servant, but he helps Peter in solving crimes along with taking care of his needs around the house. In Melanchtha, race seems to complicate social class by being an added level in that race is more distinctive than social class. For instance, a black person with a high prestige job such as a doctor would be lower than a working class white man in society.

Historical Context—Perspectives

In Gertrude Stein’s Melanctha, published in 1909, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man written by James Joyce, published in 1916, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, published in 1925, and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying published in 1930, all contain some type of use of perspective change. While every text does provide the reader with certain characters’ perspectives, the authors each have their own way of depicting it. Stein, Joyce, and Woolf’s texts seem to consistently change perspectives and voice without warning. They are the most similar when quickly changing perspectives, though still unique to their own texts. One sentence could be the narrator’s perspective and the next is Jeff, Stephen, or Clarissa, respectively. An example from Stein’s use of perspective is the sudden shift from Jeff’s thoughts to the narrator’s perspective: “Slowly he felt that surely they must both have this feeling. It was so important that he knew that she must have it. They both sat there, very quiet, a long time” (69). Five years after Woolf’s novel, Faulker made the perspective changes in his novel clear by giving sections for each character to use their voice and tell the story from their point of view. By doing this, the reader follows the same story, but understanding it through many different characters’ views. Inserting different perspectives throughout these texts establishes new ways of thinking, writing, and reading.

Historical Timeline

Three Lives (“Melanctha”) by Stein was published in 1909. In Our Time by Hemingway and Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf was published in 1925. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston was published in 1937. As we discussed during the beginning of the semester, these texts would be labeled under the modernist movement. However, modernism is just the umbrella; each text has its own individual way of breaking away from the “norms.” Interestingly enough, “Melanctha” and Their Eyes Were Watching God have some similarities such as the black vernacular that is used. However, the reader must keep in mind that the ethnicity of the authors are different, which may impact the analytical aspect of the stories. In Our Time and Mrs. Dalloway share more similarities than differences: 1) both texts were published the same year and 2) while Hemingway’s text possesses elements of masculinity, Woolf’s text can arguably posses elements of feminism.

Stereotype

“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty.  The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognizable in the close air of the bathroom.  The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin.  The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco” (8).

This description is clearly of a British stereotype of a Jewish man.  Even before I got to the point where the characters are explicit about it, and before reading their anti-Semitic remarks, I was pretty confident that the dead man in the tub was Jewish.  Introducing stereotype through detailed physical description is a very different tactic from the one Gertrude Stein employs in Malanctha.  Rather than take advantage of a reader’s response to physical description, Stein mostly sticks to describing behaviors and thought patterns to communicate stereotype.  Sayers and Stein use call on different parts of the reader’s probable internalization of stereotype to advance their stories.

(Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.)

Wimsey the Obvious

“The deuce you have–what an energetic devil you are! I say, Parker, I think this co-operative scheme is is an uncommonly good one. It’s much easier to work on someone else’s job than one’s own–gives one that delightful feelin’ of interferin’ and bossin’ about, combined with the glorious sensation that another fellow is takin’ all one’s own work off one’s hands. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, what? Did you find anything?” (Sayers 29).

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

This passage contains many examples of Wimsey’s dialect, characterized by unfinished present progressive verbs and the act of spouting out all of his ideas as they come into his head. This type of dialogue is different from both Stein’s “Melanctha” and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For example, Wimsey’s dialect differs from that of Melanctha because it is rather common or believable, while Melanctha’s dialect is skewed to fit into Stein’s own writing style. Rather that structuring sentences in strange ways like Stein, Sayers merely uses dialects of voice or accents. Furthermore, Whose Body? clearly lacks the free-indirect discourse of a modern novel like Joyce’s and focuses more on direct reported discourse. Because of this, Wimsey’s thoughts come to the reader clearly and easily, unlike Joyce’s style of vague and “infected” narration in which the reader is unsure of whose thoughts he receives.

A thrilling response

“I don’t tell you so,” said Winsey. “You policemen are all alike – only one idea in your skills. Blest if I can make out why you’re ever appointed. He was shaved after he was dead. Pretty, ain’t it? Uncommonly jolly little job for the barber, what? Here, sit down, man, and don’t be an ass, stumpin’ about the room like that. Worse things happen in war. This is only a blinkin’ old shillin’ shocker. But I’ll tell you what, Parker, we’re up against a criminal – the criminal – the real artist and blighter with imagination – real, artistic, finished stuff. I’m enjoyin’ this, Parker.”

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

This particular passage calls for a thrilling, adrenalizing response from the reader which differs from that of Stein’s “Melanctha”. To begin with, the varied language of Sayers’s novel allows for more things to happen and allows Sayer to fill up the reader’s imagination with vibrant images that had not been done in “Melanctha”. In “Melanctha”, the language was simple with repetitive words that did not call for the kind of exciting response Sayers’s novel is calling for. Also, in Sayers’s novel, there is a plot that is following the murder of a body which adds to thrill a reader gets when the clues unravel and the reader is given more information. In “Melanctha”, I felt as if the same ideas were being stated over and over again, causing one to get tiresome and maybe even bored of reading about the same thing.

Love? Really?

“Yes I love you Jeff, how often you want me to tell you. Oh you so stupid Jeff, but yes I love you. Now I won’t say it no more now tonight Jeff, you hear me. You just be good Jeff now to me or else I certainly get awful angry with you. Yes I love you, sure, Jeff, though you don’t any way deserve it from me.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. 104. Print

I don’t think either of them really loves the other, the way love is meant to be. They have never been what the other really wants, and it seems as though they are just trying something on for size.

 

 

Power of Relationships in Melanctha

“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.

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?