By telling her own story through the persona of someone close to her, Stein implicitly suggests that a person’s identity can only ever be provisionally known. She adopts Toklas’s voice and draws on her memories for her ventriloquist’s trick, effectively creating an identity that is part Toklas, part Stein. Experiments with point of view in literature and painting were popular during Stein’s time, and the idea of objectivity was giving way to the notion that reality was subjective and plural. Stein experiments with point of view in other books as well, most notably, Three Lives.
Stein describes her unconventional and lesbian relationship with Toklas as if there were nothing unusual about it. However, by presenting their partnership unapologetically and as entirely natural, Stein, intentionally or not, holds herself up as a model for what women can accomplish, both in the personal and professional sphere. The art world was a notoriously male province in the early twentieth century, and Stein’s influence, financially, emotionally, and ideologically, showed that strong women could shape the direction of industries such as art and literature. Her influence on writers and painters such as Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway, Anderson, and others was profound.
Stein’s stream of consciousness narration, her use of repetition, her disregard for conventional...
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