In Their Eyes Were Watching God, men and women have very different roles. The role of women is defined by men. Women are left with stereotypical positions in society and marriage is important because women are defined by their relationship to men. Intelligence and authority are considered masculine qualities. If a woman were to display these characteristics, she would be considered too manly. Women are also treated as the lesser gender in As I Lay Dying. They are expected only to reproduce and care for the child. Cora believes that “A woman’s place is wither her husband and children…” Also important to note, female sexuality is not to be discussed. Again in Heart of Darkness, women are ignored. Marlow seems to believe that women exist separately from men. The men have a dark world and they must protect the women from it. Marlow works to protect The Intended’s idealism and her opinion of Kurtz. Finally, in Melanctha, we see a woman’s rebellion against the expected. She does not desire to be a mother or housewife. She wants to be an individual, which is not what is expected of women in these works. These authors address the problem of gender roles. In these works women are treated as the lesser gender and expected to perform defined roles. If they do not conform they are often shamed or considered too masculine.
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.
“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.
“Jeff learned every day now, more and more, how much it was that he could really suffer. Sometimes it hurt so in him, when he was alone, it would force some slow tears from him, he lost his feelings of deep awe that he once always had for Melanctha’s feeling. Suffering was not so much after all, thought Jeff Campbell, if even he could feel it so it hurt him. It hurt him so bad that he knew he once had hurt Melanctha, and yet he too could have it and not make any loud kind of a loud holler with it.”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. p 110. Print.
This quote echoes the repetition throughout the text in a way that shows a structure of changing moments of feeling for Jeff. The quote proceeds by explaining the same concept throughout three different sentences. The concept being repeated pertains to the moments of “hurt” and “suffering” Jeff feels throughout the quote. For instance, in one moment, Jeff feels the extent to which he can handle suffering, and in the next moment, he feels effects of his hurting to the point of physical manifestation, otherwise tears. Then Jeff Campbell’s “suffering” turns empathetic where he feels empathetic for Melanctha’s hurting.
“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.
“Melanctha Herbert was always seeking rest and quiet, and always she could only find new ways to be in trouble.”
“Melanctha was all ready now to find new ways to be in trouble. And yet Melanctha Herbert never wanted not to do right. Always Melanctha Herbert wanted peace and quiet, and always she could only find new ways to get excited. ”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. pp 50, 123. Print.
These two quotes come from opposite ends of the story perhaps to emphasize the direct point that Melanctha always wants peace and quiet but is always running into trouble and excitement. However, there seems to be greater meaning to certain passages that tend to get repeated, such as this one, when they appear later on within the story after the reader has learned more of the character of Melanctha. As the character grows and develops throughout the story; as more about her is revealed to the reader, more can be ascertained to be true within that repeated statement. Even with the narration that seems to have a staggering timeline suggests that when this statement is made in the beginning, not much is known beyond the face value of the statement itself despite it describing Melanctha after the fact of most of the events to be told later in the story. However, when the statement is reiterated again later, with some alterations, it is evident Stein is attempting to portray the same character, only under a different light from realizing more information from the telling of Melanctha’s life.
“I certainly am always right Melanctha Herbert, the way I certainly always have been when I knows it, to you. No Melanctha, it just is you never can have no kind of a way to act right, the way a decent girl has to do, and I done my best always to be telling it to you Melanctha Herbert, but it don’t never do no good to tell nobody how to act right; they certainly never can learn when they ain’t got no sense right to know it, and you never have no sense right Melanctha to be honest, and I ain’t never wishing you no harm to you ever Melanctha Herbert, only I don’t never want any more to see you come here” (69).
Stein, Gertrude. Melanctha. Three Lives. 1909 p. 69. http://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html
Melanctha and Rose represents two different social groups. Although Rose is far from being a housewife, she sees herself play the traditional safe role which is to be the perfect housewife and mother. She also conforms to the typical black stereotypes. They are not supposed to be educated like the white folks etc. Melanctha on the other hand plays the rebellious side. She is sexually liberated, does not conform to the traditional stereotypes that are pinned on women and the African Americans. She struggles to fulfill this liberation for women and colored people. She does not want to be the perfect housewife or mother. She wants to live her own life and be her own person. Rose sees this side rebellious side of Melanctha as a negative thought and freaks out since she does not want to conform. She believes women should fulfill the traditional role. That is why she keeps telling Melanctha what to do and how to act. Rose believes that women and African Americans should remain in their places and let the white people stereotype each race and gender.
“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.
“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.
“But Melanctha Herbert never really killed herself because she was so blue, though often she thought this would be really the best way for her to do. Melanctha never killed herself, she only got a bad fever and went into the hospital where they took good care of her and cured her” (Stein 141).
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. 64-65. Print.
The use of the color “blue” to define one’s emotion and feelings is interesting because in the novel “blue” is known to refer to depression and it foreshadows the death that will overcome Melanctha due to the accumulation of stress and emotional turmoil within her. The color “blue” also reminds me of one of the pictures we saw in class. To be specific the Seated Harlequin picture as the person was wearing a blue and black checkered pattern clothing and the person had no emotions and we mentioned in class that on the surface it is unclear to know what the person is feeling unless we look in depth and Melanctha’s character is so hard to figure out without closely examining her. In the start she does not seem to be one filled with depression but as the novel progresses one can realize how emotionally burdened she is and the Seated Harlequin picture has the same result as I continue to look at the portrait the person sitting looks more and more emotionally burdened and depressed.