Tag Archives: gertrude stein

Melanctha’s personality

“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)

“Once she slipped and fell from a high place.” (Stein)

These two quotes made me get a sense of Melanctha’s characteristics. Every character is going to have problems, and a story but from the first quote the reader can understand she gets her attitude from her black father. The second quote is just a quote I really like. Talking it out if context, every time I read it I see it as if someone who thinks highly of themselves is going to eventually trip and stumble at least once in their life.

Real Marriage

“After she had lived some time this way, Rose thought it would be nice and very good in her position to get regularly really married.” (Stein, 49)

“…Rose stayed home in her house and sat and bragged to all her friends how nice it was to be married really to a husband.” (Stein 49)

Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.

I found these two passages interesting because of their emphasis on the reality of Rose’s marriage to Sam Johnson. Stein qualifies married with the word “real” or “really” more than these two times. It’s interesting to think that maybe Stein believes there could be fake marriage. I just thought it was interesting and kind of funny how Stein keeps asserting the validity of Rose’s marriage.

Descriptions and repetition


“Rose Johnson was a real black, tall, well built, sullen, stupid, childlike, good looking negress. She laughed when she was happy and grumbled and was sullen with everything that troubled.” (p. 84)

“James Herbert was a powerful, loose built, hard handed, black, angry negro. Herbert never was a joyous negro. (p. 91)


These passages are very similar due to the fact that they are so simple. They describe the characters of Rose and James that are almost insultingly straight-forward.Stein’s style reflects this in her simple syntax and diction. She also uses a lot of repetition, and lines like this can be found on many pages throughout the work. This redundancy makes Stein’s work a little frustrating to read.It makes the reader question why Stein is choosing to repeat these facts over and over, yet leave out others, which perhaps may be more important. Also, both of these passages bring up the idea of happiness in relation to “blackness”. Rose is referred to as “childlike” because of her happiness and presence of emotion, yet Herbert is simply described as “angry”.

wandering and mysterious and uncertain

“‘Mis’ Herbert had always been a little wandering and mysterious and uncertain in her ways” (50).

“She was always pleasant, sweet appearing, mysterious and uncertain, and a little wandering in her ways” (52).

The content that Stein provides us, and the way in which she does it, is really interesting and quite confusing. She seems to always repeat these very vaguely broad words to describe her characters, such as Melanctha’s mother’s description above. And she doesn’t offer us any new ways to describe her the second (or third or fourth) time around. This instantly made me think if she is also using the delayed gratification method like we saw from James, in that she keeps dancing around the actual idea that she wants us to get from her helpful yet roundabout way of giving us any solid information.

Stein, Gertrude, Three Lives. Dover Publications, New York, 1994.

“Careless AND Lazy,” yet Needs “Decent Comfort”

“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.