(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Making of Americans explores typologies of human character. This characterological interest may have carried over from Stein’s college laboratory research in psychology. What accounts for the gap between person and persona? What types of people could be said to populate the United States? Is there such a thing as a national character? How do people’s personalities shape their interactions and relationships? How do the structures of the traditional family help create character? How do people encounter difference? These are the questions underlying Stein’s text, charging her writing with an energy that comes not from the fulfillment of the novel’s generic form but from efforts to dislodge harmful literary and cultural assumptions.

Although various elements in The Making of Americans correspond closely (on many points) to events in Stein’s and her family’s history, the novel does more than chronicle the author’s family history, for it also tells the more general story of “old people in a new world.” Issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion all play a part. Stein not only represents the experience of the transplanted business-class family, as suggested by her own origin, but also depicts the lives of the working class and of service professionals. Therefore, although the lived perspective of the author is that of one accustomed to privilege, Stein makes an effort to include the lives of seamstresses, governesses, servants, and their families. As a result, The Making of Americans is rich with the social relations of class.


(The entire section is 657 words.)