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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 294

The characters of Gertrude Stein's Three Lives (published in 1909) center around the lives of three women: Anna, Melanctha, and Lena. Though their lives to not intersect, all take place in the fictional city of Bridgeport.

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Anna is a German-born working-class woman, who spends her life working in many households. Her overly-generous nature makes it difficult for her to make ends meet. She dies while working in the household of Miss Mathilda, until the latter leaves for Europe. Only having loved one woman, the widow, Mrs. Lehntman, Anna dies during an operation.

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Latest answer posted November 30, 2014, 6:06 am (UTC)

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Melanctha is a mulatto woman. She befriends numerous people from her town, including Rose Johnson, her friend from church whose baby she helped deliver, though the baby did not live long. As a child herself, Melanctha did not like her parents, and her parents resented her. Melacntha lived a sexually promiscuous life, going out with men from the upper classes; however, she never allows them to get too close, until she meets one Jefferson Campbell, a shy, black, doctor. They split up eventually owing to very different personalities. Melanctha first enjoys her freedom, then carries on with Jem Richards, who bet on horses for a living. Melanctha, however, dies single and alone from consumption.

Lena Mainz, the final protagonist, comes to Bridgeport from Germany with her cousin. She is teased a bit as a servant girl, but eventually marries Herman Kreder, the son of two stingy parents, who force him to get married against his will. Herman doesn't like the company of women, and Lena has no interest in marrying; nevertheless, the two eventually marry. Lena bears three children whom Herman loves tenderly, though Lena feels as though her husband doesn't love her. She dies giving birth to her fourth child, a still-born.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 888

Anna Federner

Anna Federner, a middle-aged domestic servant, “the good Anna” who provides the title for the first of the three stories in the book. She is a hardworking and clean immigrant German woman who fills her life with service to others. Through caring, she exercises a measure of control over her employers, her dogs, and the young girls who are her assistants in the domestic sphere. Anna is not sophisticated or educated and is used by others because of her desire to be needed. She literally works herself to death being good to others.

Miss Mary Wadsmith

Miss Mary Wadsmith, Anna’s initial employer in Bridgeport. She is a large, fair, and helpless woman, trying to rear her brother’s orphaned children. She lets Anna make all the decisions that pertain to the family. She cannot control her niece, who, as she matures, challenges Anna’s control and drives her away.

Miss Mathilda

Miss Mathilda, Anna’s second employer. She is a large, careless woman who needs Anna because Anna’s willingness to take over the entire domestic sphere frees her to pursue other interests. She listens to Anna’s problems and offers the kind of sympathetic understanding proper to a relationship based on class difference. Her interests finally take her to Europe (as the author’s own interests did), and Anna is left behind, totally bereaved.

Mrs. Lehntman

Mrs. Lehntman, Anna’s friend and the only love of her life besides her dogs. She is Anna’s opposite in her easygoing approach to life and her failure to care about strict codes of behavior. She is a widow and a midwife who acquires an extra child without thinking about financial responsibilities. She borrows money from Anna and others that she cannot repay and appears to be involved in illegal activities with a local doctor. Although she always lands on her feet, she finally alienates Anna.

Melanctha Herbert

Melanctha Herbert, who is eighteen years old at the beginning of the second novella, which takes her name. She is somewhat older by the end of her adventures, when she dies, as do all the major female characters of these stories. Melanctha is a mulatto whose mixed race reflects her difficulty in understanding where she belongs. Melanctha is intelligent, adventuresome, and desirous of learning what life means. She lives always in the present in her fearless, apparently undirected way. She naturally accepts the life of feeling and learning as opposed to the life of fixed rules and appearances. As a result, she enters into a number of fluid relationships that bring her disillusionment and disappointment and lead to her death by tuberculosis.

Dr. Jeff Campbell

Dr. Jeff Campbell, a hardworking, serious black physician who opposes the fluidity of Melanctha’s life and wants to create a life of traditional values for his people. His love affair with Melanctha ends when the conflicts that the two of them represent overwhelm him.

Jane Harden

Jane Harden, a hard-drinking, independent, educated mulatto who teaches Melanctha much of what she learns about life. Jane’s rebellious understanding takes Melanctha only so far, however, and her influence lessens when Melanctha meets Jeff.

Rose Johnson

Rose Johnson, a careless, negligent, sullen, childlike, and selfish black woman who allows her child to die as a result of indifference. She is a friend of Melanctha and the opposite of Jane Harden. Rose does not question or seek to learn but accepts things as they are and has her place in the social fabric of the black community. She uses Melanctha until she becomes jealous of Melanctha’s friendship with her husband.

Jem Richards

Jem Richards, Melanctha’s last lover and a gambler, dashing and powerful, honest, and fast in his life. His power attracts Melanctha, but his desire for freedom is greater than hers, and he abandons her. He does not love her but fails to tell her so until she has ended her relationship with Jeff Campbell.

Lena Mainz

Lena Mainz, the title character of “The Gentle Lena.” She is brought to Bridgeport from Germany by her cousin, who is unable to understand that Lena’s gentleness is a result of her passivity. So simple is Lena that she seems to have no desires in this world or concern about autonomy of any kind. Manipulated into an unhappy marriage, she bears three children, who bring her no joy. Lena becomes increasingly lifeless in her marriage until she bears a fourth baby, a stillborn child. The birth having taken what life she has, she dies.

Herman Kreder

Herman Kreder, Lena’s husband, a German American tailor who works for his father. He is an unimaginative, spoiled mother’s boy who has no will to protect his wife from his mother’s interference until he realizes that he will be a father. As Lena becomes more lifeless with each child, Herman becomes more involved in the lives of his children, loving and caring for them because they are his. After Lena’s death, he is content not to have a woman always around, for he has his three children.

Mrs. Haydon

Mrs. Haydon, Lena’s cousin, a hard, ambitious, well-meaning German American woman married to a well-to-do-grocer. She exercises power by arranging other people’s lives for their own good, and Lena is a victim of her “goodness.”

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