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Gertrude Stein, The Gentle Lena
The most obvious thing about this story was that nothing really happened. At the start, continually reading about the "patient, gentle, sweet and german" Lena and her "peaceful life" I was expecting there to be some twist to the story, perhaps with Lena snapping and becoming something other than patient, gentle and sweet. However, this twist did not come, which is probably what makes the story work so well. It is a simple and sad story about a life lived without consequence. Having Lena resolve the situation in some way, would not be true to the story, since any action would mean Lena's life did have some meaning.
Overall, it is a story of a woman accepting her life without questioning it. Lena does not appear either content or happy, instead it is more like she is numb. This is emphasized by the fact that nobody seemed to notice when she died. It also stood out that she even seemed to die peacefully.
While this peaceful life in some ways could be seen as a good thing, the overall effect is that it seems even sadder than a life of suffering. There is no point where Lena is described as happy or sad. Instead it is the constant repeating of her as being patient, gentle and sweet. While these might seem like good qualities, they are also passive qualities. This effect shows Stein has been very careful with the word choice, with the whole story having a passive quality that seems to mimic Lena's life. Just as Lena dies in the end without even struggling with her death, the reader is left wondering what the real significance of the story is.
It then became apparent to me that the whole point was that nothing happened and nothing could have happened because this is who Lena was, a woman who went through life without ever really experiencing it. Having any action occur would not have honored Lena's character.
The other aspect is that Lena never changes, she remains the same throughout the story. This is another reason why any other ending would not have been fitting. Without really experiencing life Lena did not have the experience to allow her to grow so she died the same way as she lived, without consequence. In the end, Lena just dies as if she was never really here. And in many ways, she really never was really here. She was alive in that she existed, but she left no impact on the world because she was never really part of it.
Anzia Yezierska, The Free Vacation House
The first-person narrative in this story is especially effective, Yezierska managing to maintain the strong voice of the character throughout the story. The character's narration says more about the situation for the poorer class than any other approach could have.
One of the main features, is how this poor woman sees herself compared to how society sees her. She obviously values herself by her objections to needing charity. At the same time, the rest of society seems to treat her like she is inferior. By allowing the narrator to describe the situation from her own perspective, how society treats her and how she perceives herself is made clear.
This effect also led me to consider what the society thought of the people and why they were treated this way. This led to the realization that society as a whole believes it is better than these lower class people. This is why they are treated as inferior despite their own objections to it. One of the scenes where this is apparent is when the lady comes to the house to ask the poor woman some questions. The first thing the lady does is remove the dummy from the child's mouth. Despite the fact that the woman is poor she is still the mother and this scene made it clear that the higher class look down on the lower class and believe they know better than them. This is then further emphasized by the way they are treated more like children or animals than real people while at the vacation house.
The meaning of the story is then seen where the poor woman returns home and realizes she is free. She is actually thankful to be home, this showing that her personal freedom is more important than the pleasures that richer people get to enjoy. This ending than adds a new meaning to the story especially when the meaning of the title is considered. 'The Free Vacation House' offers an irony, in that this house that costs nothing is far from being free. This illustrates that personal freedom is far more important than money.
Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine
One of the things I especially liked about the play was the way Hellman managed to express a strong and controversial view without making this the only good aspect of the play. The play deals with the struggle against Nazism and can be seen as a warning to the people. Despite, this heavy theme, the play also manages to be entertaining, relevant and even amusing.
Hellman achieves this by focusing on the characters as expressing the larger theme. The action of the play revolves around the struggle of Kurt, this human struggle one that interests the reader and makes the play understandable. This approach is beneficial in ensuring the themes do not come across so strongly that the play begins to lack entertainment value.
The entertainment value is also increased by Hellman's use of humor. Hellman seemed to know that the heavy political themes needed some humor to even the play out. It is a sign of Hellman's skill that the humor and the political themes were able to be combined, with the humor not taking away from the serious message.
A found this approach to be especially effective because as well as understanding the message, I also enjoyed the action of the play. This was not a case where the seriousness made for a long read. Instead, the play is based on action with the message underlying this action.
Tillie Olson, Yonnondio
One of the things that stood out about this story was how hard life was for the women. This was shown from the start and then seemed to be added to as the story progressed. As the story went on, it seemed not only that the women had a hard life, but that they were also unable to have any control over their life. A good example is in the part where Old Man Caldwell tries to help Mazie. He tries to educate her and help her, but Mazie is not able to be helped. He then gives her some books as a way of teaching her, but these books end up being sold by Jim. This showed that Mazie is trapped in her situation and unable to be helped.
The other thing the story communicated to me is that Mazie is trapped in her situation because of her good character and her wish to care for her family. She is not able to learn from Caldwell because she does not see education as what she needs. She seems to want to care for her family more than anything, with this good intention working against her because of the bad situation. I think if Mazie had of cared less about her family, she might have focused on herself and not them, and been able to see how to overcome the situation. I thought that this gave the story a hint of the tragic, where a good person is haunted by their own good nature.
This aspect of Mazie was also seen after she was raped by her husband. It is after this rape that she begins to be obsessed with cleaning and obsessive about her children being in contact with germs and disease. I saw this compulsion as her way of dealing with her complete lack of control. While she is desperately trying to keep the family functioning, the rape seems like the ultimate sign that her husband has no respect for her. Mazie reacts by trying to control her life, with completing that tasks of a housewife and mother a way of trying to cope and value herself. This obsession also shows that despite the terrible circumstances for her, she remains focused on her family.
I saw this also as suggesting that Mazie could be seen as a hero. While Mazie is treated terribly as a female, I did not see the main theme as being about women being trapped in a role. Mazie's role as housewife and mother seems like the role that is right for her and, while it has been forced upon her, I believe Mazie would have chose that role even if it wasn't forced upon her. Otherwise, I think she would have dealt with the situation differently and not remained focused on the family. I…[continue]
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Gentle Lena I find it particularly interesting to research the circumstances in which authors conduct their literary works. In conducting my critical review of Gertrude Stein's "The Gentle Lena," the circumstances prevailing during this period become immediate. In particular, the role of women in society becomes immediately apparent when reading this shirt story. When comparing the context of this work with the women's rights movement in recent memory, society has come