The child though it was healthy after it was born, did not live long. Rose Johnson was careless and negligent and selfish, and when Melanctha had to leave for a few days, the baby died. Rose Johnson had liked the baby well enough and perhaps she just forgot it for awhile, anyway the child was dead and Rose and Sam her husband were very sorry but then these things came so often in the negro world in Bridgepoint, that they neither of them thought about it very long.
Gertrude Stein, “Melanctha” in Three Lives, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994), 47.
“No, what I don’t like, Miss Melanctha, is this what I see so much in the colored people, their always wanting new things just to get excited.”
Gertrude Stein, “Melanctha” in Three Lives, 68.
Analysis: There is a lot of judgment surrounding Bridgepoint’s black culture, all stemming from racist beliefs. The third-person narrator makes a large claim about the “negro world in Bridgepoint” as though the belief that all black people neglected their children were true. The narrator also continues to insinuate that black people are unfeeling when it comes to the deaths of their children and that they do not “[think] about it very long.” This makes the blacks in Bridgepoint, and the entire world, seem uncaring, lazy, and selfish. Not only does the narrator say racist things, but Gertrude Stein uses Dr. Campbell, a black character, to judge black culture in Bridgepoint as well. This tactic is used to make it seem as though even some black people look down upon the black culture in Bridgepoint, which may legitimize, to some readers, the racist beliefs that black people are lazy and selfish.
“The child, though it was healthy after it was born, did not live long. Rose Johnson was careless and negligent and selfish, and when Melanctha had to leave for a few days, the baby died. Rose Johnson had liked the baby well enough and perhaps she just forgot it for awhile, anyway the child was dead and Rose and Sam her husband were very sorry but then these things came so often in the negro world in Bridgepoint, that they neither of them thought about it very long” (47).
“Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature. Rose had the simple, promiscuous unmorality of the black people” (47-48).
Stein, G. (2011). Melanctha. (2 ed., pp. 47-48). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, INC.
Notes: From early on in the novel, the reader can see that Rose is the epitome of an abhorrent mother. The narrator describes her as “careless and negligent and selfish,” which gives the reader a negative view of her character, yet still mentions how, “perhaps she just forgot about it for awhile,” (47). The former description is much more harsh than the latter, which seems as if the narrator is perhaps defending Rose: using the word “perhaps” almost softens the fact that she was cruel enough to let her own infant die, and the fact that she and her husband did not “[think] about…[[the baby’s death] very long” shows that they have absolutely no remorse for this tragedy. This shows Rose’s character very early on in the novella: again the narrator mentions she is “careless and…lazy,” but again defends that she still “need[s] decent comfort.” It will be interesting to discover why the narrator feels the need to insult this woman and very quickly soften the blow. Additionally, Stein seems to use a similar pattern when describing Rose by repeatedly using the word “and” in numerous sentences. Rose is “careless and negligent;” she is “careless and lazy.” The author writes in this manner, which seems simple and repetitive. Perhaps it is because this is the way Rose speaks, so there is continuity throughout the story. In any case, these two passages prove that there is a constant flow throughout the story with similar sentence structures.
“Oh I know all about the ways of doing Dr. Campbell, but that certainly ain’t the kind of love I mean when I am talking. I mean real strong, hot love Dr. Campbell, that makes you do anything for somebody that loves you.” Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. “Melanctha.” Dover Publications, New York, 1994. pg.70.
“One kind of loving seems to me is like one has a good quiet feeling in a family when one does his work, and is always living good and being regular, and the other way of loving is just like having it like any animal that’s low in the streets together, and that doesn’t seem to me very good.” pg 71.
Having read to page 76 ~ Stein juxtaposes two opposing definitions of love through Melanctha and Dr. Campbell. Melanctha only knows physical love from her past and feels it is what makes a real connection between two people, passion and physical intimacy. It gives her power. Campbell sees love as a mental connection, a friendship. He is disgusted by the idea of physical lust. Their budding relationship makes me thing of Marcher and May’s relationship and the different expectations and beliefs one has about what love should be, what kind of love they are capable of. Stein’s characters all have their own definitions of love and act on them in different ways. If love is the meaning of life, it is hard to find someone who shares the same definition or to classify one as right or one as wrong. Stein explores all degrees of love.