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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.

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.

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.