Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292
Gertrude Stein's Three Lives (1909) showcase the lives of three women. Their lives are distinct from one another (and described in three separate parts), but all share the setting of the fictional city of Bridgeport.
The first part, "The Good Anna," describes the life of a working woman who was brought to America with her mother, who dies of consumption (tuberculosis). She then spends her life as a nanny to a family in Bridgeport (having moved there to be near her brother). When her charge, Jane, grows up and gets married, Anna works for Doctor Shonjen, but this ends when he marries a disagreeable woman. Anna then goes to work for one Miss Mathilda, where she becomes head housekeeper. Anna's best friend is a widow and mother, Mrs. Lehntman, to whom she lends money. Anna, overly generous and overworked, dies during an operation.
The second part, "Melanctha," describes the life of the titular woman, born to mixed-race parents. She was abused as a child by her father and lives a sexually promiscuous life before settling down with a shy black doctor, Jeff Campbell. When the two part owing to their disparate personalities, Melanctha chases the other extreme and finds herself with a gambler, Jem Richards. When this relationship also fails, Melanctha, who has spent her life struggling with mental illness, dies—alone—of tuberculosis.
The third part, "The Gentle Lena," describes the life of another German immigrant, Lena, who came to America with her family as a child. Lena is forced into marriage to Herman (himself also forced) and lives a quiet, domestic life in a loveless marriage. She dies in childbirth, having given birth to three live children (whom she thinks her husband loves more than he loves her) and one stillborn.