Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress resists literary classification. While some critics regard it as a novel, it may be better characterized as a daybook, containing literary sketches, reflections, and, frequently, a running commentary on the text’s own writing. The Making of Americans is the volume Gertrude Stein claimed had begun modern writing. This piece, some 550,000 words and 925 pages in its unabridged form, represents nearly eight years of work by Stein (1902-1911). Portions of the text, about 150 pages written early in the process, appeared in serial fashion in the Transatlantic, a periodical of the day. Both the text’s bulk and its literary irregularities made Stein’s efforts to publish The Making of Americans in book form an arduous task, which she finally accomplished in 1925. An abridged version, with trimming done by Stein herself, appeared in 1934. It would be many years before the full text of the work would become available in print once more.

Many readers have observed that although Stein’s The Making of Americans appears to pose as a novel, the text also defies many of the conventional expectations that readers bring to novels. It has been cast both as the Great American Novel and as that genre’s most audacious parody. It is for this reason that criticism of the text tends to dwell on Stein’s dispensing with the customs of novel-writing. The text...

(The entire section is 511 words.)