Tag Archives: three lives

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.

Is Jeff Campbell the answer to Melanctha’s wandering in life?

“He always found life very easy did Jeff Campbell, and everybody liked to have him with them. He was so good and sympathetic, and he was so earnest and so joyous. He sang when he was happy, and he laughed, and his was the free abandoned laughter that gives the warm broad glow to negro sunshine.”

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 63. Print.

In this particular passage, I noticed that Jeff Campbell was strikingly different from Melanctha. All throughout Melanctha’s childhood and adolescence, Melanctha strives to understand and gain wordly knowledge. While the book does not let us know what she specifically wants (I’m not sure if Melanctha even knows it herself), it is apparent that she strongly desires to understand “the secret of the world” (that is how I read it). Therefore, she wanders from guy to guy or from place to place in search of that thing she desires (whatever it may be). This passage, however, introduces a new man who finds life very easy. It made me think how different he is from Melanctha who is constantly in search of the thing that will satisfy her desire. I’m not sure if this man has already found it but it was interesting to come across a character so different from her. Also, in this last part of the passage, it describes Jeff Campbell as having this “free abandoned laughter that gives the warm broad glow to negro sunshine”. This particular description was mentioned twice before this passage and the two people (Rose and Melanctha’s father) did not have this smile. And they are two people who are no longer in Melanctha’s life. Was Melanctha searching for a person with this feature? Why this particular feature?

Whose Thoughts Are These?

“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?

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 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.