Gertrude Stein's 'Melanctha' : a feminist and deconstructive approach
This dissertation provides specific feminist and deconstructive approaches to Gertrude Stein's 'Melanctha', the second and longest story of Three Lives. These approaches outline the contradictions of a text caught between nineteenth-century conventions about sex and race and twentieth-century preoccupations with aesthetics. The individual readings of the text in four chapters are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they are united by a discussion of gender, identity and female sexuality. Each chapter is concerned with demonstrating how Stein's attempts to write her radical views about identity and sexuality are undermined by he difficulty of finding an appropriate space for these views in this early text. Moreover, the final chapter demonstrates that Stein's use of race, which is politically naive and racist, has profound implications for critics who want to claim this story as Stein's first modern text. Chapter One provides a reading of Stein's challenge to dominant discourses of gendered identity and mimesis through the trope of the marginal and the "metaphoric lesbian". Chapter Two extends Chapter One into the realms of deconstruction and Jacques Derrida, showing how Stein's concepts of gender and identity prefigure those ofDerrida. Chapter Three moves on to a cultural materialist discussion of'Melanctha' through the trope ofthejlaneuse, and discusses Melanctha's positional challenge to discourses of public and private spaces for men and women at the tum-of-the-century. Finally, Chapter Four continues the cultural materialist reading through an analysis of'Melanctha' against two African-American texts in order to bring to the reader's attention the problems of a text which Stein claims was her 'negro' story. These readings are diverse, but brought together, as I have said, through a discussion of gender and identity. More importantly, the final reading of this story, in Chapter Four, draws together the assumptions made in Chapters One, Two and Three in order to demonstrate that this text cannot be read innocently. Stein's bigoted views about race must be addressed if we are to come to a more definitive conclusion about where we place this text ethically, and if we can really accord it the place it has so far occupied in the Canon.