Layers and masks

“Melanctha Herbert was always losing what she had in all the things she saw. Melanctha was always being left when she was not leaving others.

Melanctha Herbert always loved too hard and much too often. She was always full with 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 then she would suffer and be strong in her repression.

Melanctha Herbert was always seeking rest and quiet and always she could only find new ways to be in trouble” (89).


“It was never Melanctha’s way, even in the midst of her worst trouble to complain to any one of what happened to her, but nevertheless somehow every one who knew Melanctha always knew how much she suffered. It was only while one really loved Melanctha that one understood how to forgive her, that she never once complained nor looked unhappy, and was always handsome and in spirits, and yet one always knew how much she suffered” (92).


The development of Melanctha is intricate and complex, as demonstrated through these two passages. She is not a character that can be explained in a few sentences, a stark contrast to her friend Rose Johnson, who the author describes in blunt statements. Melanctha is painted in layers, making her an enigma that the reader is encouraged to understand. She seems to possess an inescapable sadness, which she refers to as being “blue”, that impacts her much more deeply than what is initially seen. One can assume it is depression, but what makes this intriguing is how her suffering is masked by the persona she chooses to put on.


Gertrude Stein, “Melanctha,” in Three Lives (New York: The Grafton Press, 1909). Web.


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