Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, a trilogy of character sketches, is remarkable for its experimental style, its lower-class characters, and its naturalistic themes. Stein uses a deceptively simple, repetitive style, sometimes reminding the reader of previously made points. For example, in the section of the novel titled “The Good Anna,” Stein writes, “Anna never liked her brother’s wife.” Two lines later, she writes, “Anna never liked her half brother’s wife.” After describing Anna’s nieces, Stein writes, “Our good Anna loved them not, nor their mother.” The reader begins to realize that Stein means more than she says; Anna’s half brother’s wife does not deserve to be liked. Each repetition gets the reader closer to this truth. The repetitions also mirror the thinking of Anna, whose dislike for her sister-in-law is constant and annoying.
Stein also eschews most punctuation because, in her opinion, it interrupts the flow of language. The sparsity of punctuation marks makes Stein’s writing read more like thought than like written ideas.
The simple language of Three Lives reflects the simplicity of the women whose lives the novel portrays. Anna Federner and Lena Mainz are German American servants. Melanctha Herbert is a young, relatively uneducated African American woman. The language in the first and third parts of the book, the ones about the servants, is less sophisticated than that of the middle piece, partly because “Melanctha” includes conversations between a physician and the young woman, who is fairly intelligent. In the second character sketch, paragraphs are longer and more fully developed. The characters use simple words and repeat their ideas, however, a hallmark of Gertrude Stein’s...
(The entire section is 721 words.)