Tag Archives: Tone

Delay and Confusion in “Melanctha”

“Jeff sat there this evening in his chair and was silent a long time, warming himself with the pleasant fire.  He did not look at Melanctha who was watching.  He sat there and just looked into the fire.  At first his dark, open face was smiling, and he was rubbing the back of his black-brown hand over his mouth to help him in his smiling.  Then he was thinking, and he frowned and rubbed his head hard, to help him in his thinking.  Then he smiled again, but now his smiling was not pleasant.  His smile was now wavering on the edge of scorning.  His smile changed more and more, and then he had a look as if he was bitter in his smiling, and he began, without looking from the fire, to talk to Melanctha, who was now very tense with her watching” (80).

This passage demonstrates Stein’s ability to manipulate the way in which readers perceive her narrative.  Rather than just outwardly stating that Jeff transitioned into a bitter mood as he spent that evening with Melanctha, Stein provides details of his changing facial expressions and body language so that readers are learning of his changing mood at the same time that Melanctha is within the story.  This delay adds a sense of confusion to the text and ultimately seems to work with Stein’s writing style.

Source:

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