“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.
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.
Melanchtha needed to badly to have it, this love which she had always wanted, she did not know what she should do to save it. Melanchta saw now, Jem Richards always had something wrong inside him. Melanchta soon dared not ask him. Jem was busy now, he had to sell things and see men to raise money. Jem could not meet Melanchta now so often.
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. 132. Print
The way this paragraph is written captured my attention because it is an excellent example of what I’ve noticed through the entire story. It’s very clear that this story is being narrated but it’s almost as if a child is narrating it. Each sentence starts off with a name and a brief sentence almost like a child’s game where they would talk in third person.
“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.
You certainly never can learn no way Melanctha ever with all I certainly been telling to you, ever since I know you good, that it ain’t never no way like you do always is the right way you be acting ever and talking, the way I certainly always have seen you do so Melanctha always. I certainly am right Melanctha about them ways you have to do it, and I knows it; but you certainly never can noways learn to act right Melanctha, I certainly do know that, I certainly do my best Melanctha to help you with it only you certainly never do act right Melanctha, not to nobody ever, I can see it. You never act right by me Melanctha no more than by everybody. I never say nothing to you Melanctha when you do so, for I certainly never do like it when I just got to say it to you, but you just certainly done with that Jem Richards you always say wanted real bad to be married to you, just like I always said to Sam you certainly was going to do it.
–Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
“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.
“I certainly never do say any more you ain’t always right, Melanctha,” Jeff answered and he was very read now with cheerful laughing, “I certainly never do say that any more, Melanctha, if I know it, but still, really, Melanctha, honest, I think perhaps I wasn’t real bad to you any more than you just needed from me.”
Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. N.p.: Heritage Illustrated, 2014. Electronic.
This passage is unique in that it shows consistency in the repetition pattern of the narrator and the character dialogue. Repetition is common throughout “Melanctha” and the simple phrases combined with the repetition give the story a feel of innocence and unsophistication. When Stein uses this same style of repetition not only in the narration but also in the dialogue, the characters are then given these same characteristics of being child-like and unrefined. It brings about questions regarding the role of race in Melanctha and whether Stein’s writing is equally as racist as Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”?
“Always Jeff knew, sure, Melanctha was wrong in what she had said that night to him, but always Melanctha had had deep feeling with him, always he was poor and slow in the only way he know how to have any feeling. Jeff knew Melanctha was wrong, and yet he always had a deep doubt in him.”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. p 102. Print.
By hearing Jeff (through the narrator) repeat that he knew “Melanctha was wrong,” we can better grasp his doubt.
“You certainly never can learn no way Melanctha ever with all I certainly been telling to you, ever since I know you good, that it ain’t never no way like you do always is the right way you be acting ever and talking, the way I certainly always have seen you do so Melanctha always. I certainly am right Melanctha about them ways you have to do it, and I knows it; but you certainly never can noways learn to act right Melanctha, I certainly do know that, I certainly do my best Melanctha to help you with it only you certainly never do act right Melanctha, not to nobody ever, I can see it. You never act right by me Melanctha no more than by everybody” (227 online version).
This is part of Rose’s monologue to Melanctha. This passage is one that I believe to be representative of the general style of the book. It has the almost annoying repetition that is constant throughout the book and the sentences are choppy with the over use of commas. Although the word choice is quite simple, the sentence structure is more complicated and the commas create somewhat of a chanting feeling. This passage displays the style of the rest of the book in relation to structure and diction.