James Herbert and Melanctha Herbert

“James Herbert was a powerful, loose built, hard handed, black, angry negro. Herbert never was a joyous negro. Even when he drank with other men, and he did that very often, he was never really joyous. In the days when he had bee most young and free and open, he had never had the wide abandoned laughter that gives the broad glow to negro sunshine” (77).

“His daughter, Melanctha Herbert, later always made a hard forced laughter. She was only strong and sweet and in her nature when she was really deep in trouble, when she was fighting so with all she really had, that she did not use her laughter. This was always true of poor Melanctha who was so certain that she hated trouble. Melanctha Herbert was always seeking peace and quiet, and she could always only find her new ways to get excited”(77).

Stein is genius with her use of syntax. The way each word builds up to the image of character is quite striking, but in a way it too gives the character voice. Although the story is written in third person, one is hard pressed, not to hear James’s voice break through as the narrator concludes the first sentence of the passage, “black, angry negro”. This bitterness is not missed and it is probably due to the rhythm that is constructed through Stein’s syntax. And it is even more interesting how the voice of each character, or the narration’s rhythm, continues into the next paragraph with Melanctha. When the content is telling one that she is fighting for her belief, and that it too sounds like she is fighting to persuade. Finally, the last element that ties both passages together is the specific vocabulary. Words that are either synonymous or heavily associated such as power, strength, force; joyous, free, peace, etc., are littered through these two passages, all the while juxtaposing the related but opposite characters.

 

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