Contrast, color, and melancholy

“Sometimes the thought of how all her world was made, filled the complex, desiring Melanctha with despair. She wondered, often, how she could go on living when she was so blue.

Melanctha told Rose one day how a woman whom she knew had killed herself because she was so blue. Melanctha said, sometimes, she thought this was the best thing for herself to do” (Stein 48).

“Melanctha was pale yellow and mysterious and a little pleasant like her mother, but the real power in Melanctha’s nature came through her robust and unpleasant and very unendurable black father” (Stein 50).

What struck me the most about these two passages, and Stein’s style in general throughout the novella, was the competition of simplistic syntax and grave subject material. The sentence structure of the first passage conveys an unnerving sense of simplicity, even while the topic is so complex.

Stein’s attention to color shows a pervasive melancholy concerning race: “blue” and “pale yellow”, while the former is figurative and the latter literal, both serve to portray a ceaseless consciousness of color. “Blue” and “pale yellow” provide emotional insight into the stratification of “black”, “white”, and “mulatto” (Stein 62).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. 1909. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1994.  (48-62).

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