Melanctha’s relationship with desire is complicated and out of the ordinary. Despite the fact that she hails from a black and white origin, her lifestyle is seen as a total breakaway from the discreet nature of white man behavior. In this regard, she is seen as identifying more with her black side as can be witnessed from her vulgar and vernacular attitude towards common issues about life and desire in particular.
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Jeff and Melanctha’s interaction in their domestic setup is evidence of Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire, in the sense that, her interaction with Jeff is not a conventional one, or of a woman befitting her position in society.
In other words, Melanctha’s relationship with Jeff is more of a competitive nature, and as Wilson (171) notes, “their argumentative and competitive nature is a representation of the author’s radical and stylistic representation of modernism”. When we analyze her arguments with Jeff, we realize that Melanctha tries to show her desire for a more flexible but particular relationship with Jeff.
Wilson further affirms that “Melanctha initially imagines Jeff as desiring inside knowledge, or unconventional insight, just as she hopes, because he ‘aint’ never ashamed to be with queer folks” (171). This analogy explains Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire, especially from the basis of her unconventional desire to compete with Jeff.
After further analyzing Melanctha’s “out of the ordinary” attitude with life, we observe that she is excluded from domesticity and marriage, because her desires did not fall into the conventional behavioral patterns expected of women in her time.
In reference to Melanctha’s seclusion from marriage, the above sentiments are also supported by Mathews who says that Jeff abandons Melanctha “because of her way of not ever being equal in feeling to anybody real” (79). Jeff is also quoted in Matthews (79) as writing to Melanctha saying, “you can never be equal to me”, meaning that Melanctha had a strong desire of being equal to her husband; an attribute which was quite unacceptable of her (both on the side of Jeff and the society).
Jeff further exposes Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire in the sense that he equates her desire as incomparable to the laws of property that existed at the time. In other words, he notes that her desire is too profuse and its surplus is bound to shift towards other unprecedented objects implying that her desire is a subversion of Jeff’s (and the society’s) requirements of women.
From the context of the three lives, we not only realize that Melanctha is a counter-cultural rebel but she also desires for a “right position” in the society (which would allow full female circulation), but as we observe from subsequent developments in Stein’s story, Melanctha’s desire becomes out of control, and contrary to her expectations, her wild desire locks her out of right positions (which she envisioned herself to hold). Matthews (79) affirms that:
“Melanctha’s desire is often uncontrollable and frankly, does not know when to stop or where it rightfully belongs. The main consequence of Melanctha’s “too complex” desire for Jeff Campbell is that, it stands in the way of his own class aspirations”.
As a consequence to Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire, we further note that Melanctha’s friend, Rose, declines to accommodate her as a domestic worker (in her home) because of the complicated nature Melanctha wants her work arrangements to be.
Melanctha’s complicated relationship with desire is also envisioned in her out of the ordinary sexual desire, representative of her lesbian relationship with Jane Harden. This relationship is eye opening, in the sense that, lesbianism was an unconventional desire for people of her time, since conventional sexual desires were to be accommodated within a man and woman context.
Melanchtha also exhibits a complicated desire for power, in the way she interacts with her peers and all the important people in her life. This desire for power is exhibited from her complicated and unclear relationship with her father. It becomes extremely complicated to understand Melanctha’s desire for power because she draws it from a father she never knew.
In fact, her father is represented as a “force of things” and an ultimate object for desire, even if it is difficult to establish the fact that one can have a desire for an object that is unknown (Stein 79). However, some authors establish that often as human beings we search for that symbol or identity of desire and purpose and that is what primarily defines our desires (Matthews).
In Melanctha’s case, this symbol of identity is the father. It is ironical that Melanctha’s father is an uneducated person, yet he exudes a lot of strength in Melanctha’s life. In this analysis, we therefore see that the power her father has is not of a materialistic nature but rather of language and ideas.
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Melantha’s complicated relationship with desire is based on the fact that she has a very strong will, sourced from her life desires. This fact is affirmed by Stein who notes that:
“Sometimes she would almost go over, and then the strength in her, of not really knowing, would stop the average man in his endeavor. It was a strange experience of ignorance and power and desire. Melanctha did not know what it was that she so badly wanted. She was afraid, and yet she did not understand that here she really was a coward” (77).
Often, we are able to see that Melanctha fails to draw a clear line between her objects of desire and desire in itself. In fact, this is how she exposes her complicated relationship with desire; her father (as an object) and her strong will to pursue her desires.
Even though she experiences some significant setbacks in her quest to fulfill her desires (to imply that there is no strong will which is immune to life’s disappointments); she draws a strong consciousness from her white side that her strong will to follow her desires is unique to herself and is quite natural and essential in her existence.
In the analysis of Melanctha’s sourcing of desire and will; her desires can still be witnessed in her pursuit for peace, which actually stems from her white ancestry, because peace has often been attributed with the white peoples’ way of life. Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire is also exposed through her constant mental conflict between her spiritual self and her worldly desires.
Even though the first line of the story shows a rather straightforward manner in which Melanctha’s exposes her spiritual conflict with the world; in the second sentence we learn of Melanctha’s complex relationship with desire from the sentence “how can I go on living with myself if I am so blue?” (Stein 73).
This sentence is a melodramatic representation of any literary heroine who has her hands clasped to brow (meaning that Melanctha was a representation of a woman harboring intense social appalling attitudes representing an unarticulated depth in character).
Matthews, John. A Companion to the Modern American Novel 1900-1950. London: John Wiley and Sons, 2009. Print.
Stein, Gertrude. (1909). Melanctha. 1909. 7 February. 2011. <https://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html> Web. Wilson, Sarah. Melting-Pot Modernism. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2010. Print.