melanctha


Gertrude Stein – Melanctha
EACH ONE AS SHE MAY
This passage is the description of two feminine figures among black people living in a white universe.
[…]
Rose Johnson and Melanctha Herbert had been friends now for some years. Rose had lately married Sam Johnson a decent honest kindly fellow, a deck hand on a coasting steamer .
Melanctha Herbert had not yet been really married.
Rose Johnson was a real black, tall, well built, sullen , stupid, childlike, good looking negress. She laughed when she was happy and grumbled and was sullen with everything that troubled.
Rose Johnson was a real black negress but she had been brought up quite like their own child by white folks .
Rose laughed when she was happy but she had not the wide, abandoned laughter that makes the warm broad glow of negro sunshine. Rose was never joyous with the earth-born , boundless joy of negroes. Hers was just ordinary, any sort of woman laughter.
Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature. Rose had the simple, promiscuous immorality of the black people.
Rose Johnson and Melanctha Herbert like many of the twos with women were a curious pair to be such friends.
Melanctha Herbert was a graceful, pale yellow, intelligent, attractive negress. She had not been raised like Rose by white folks but then she had been half made with real white blood.
She and Rose Johnson were both of the better sort of negroes, there, in Bridgepoint.
“No, I ain’t no common nigger,” said Rose Johnson, “for I was raised by white folks, and Melanctha she is so bright and learned so much in school, she ain’t no common nigger either, though she ain’t got no husband to be married to like I am to Sam Johnson.”
( Melanctha, Chapter 1 )

deck hand: unskilled worker
coasting steamer: boat going along coasts
sullen: angry
grumbled: complained
folks: people
broad glow: large radiance
earth-born: simple
boundless: unlimited
made for: produced, ensured
twos: pairs
raised: brought up
I ain’t no: I am not

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