Three Lives, Stein’s collection of three biographical portraits of lower-class women, combines French literary realism with American psychological theory. Two stories describe the monotonous lives of Anna and Lena, two German servant girls in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Williams James’s psychological theories inspired Stein’s episodic style, which transports the reader directly into the characters’ consciousness, especially in “Melanctha,” the longest of the three stories. The psychological drama of Three Lives consists in the protagonists’ search for the right words to express their identities. Trapped in their socially realistic, simplistic vocabulary and in perpetually repetitive speech patterns, these women fail to communicate their dreams of love and emotional fulfillment.
Anna, of “The Good Anna,” is a soft tyrant with a firm Old World sense of “the appropriate ugliness” of things. Her “hard and arduous life” rests on her overdeveloped sense of mothering others: Miss Mathilda, her friends, and the maids, whom she perpetually “scolds” to improve their characters. Her friend Mrs. Lehntman—“the only romance Anna ever knew”—exploits Anna’s desire to give money and affection but then leaves her. Shortly afterward, Miss Mathilda moves from the town into the country. Thus abandoned by the women who had governed her life, Anna opens a boardinghouse but charges her guests too little to cover her...
(The entire section is 501 words.)