Throughout Three Lives, in which “The Good Anna” appears, Gertrude Stein explores the heterosexual and lesbian relationships of three common women, Anna, Melanctha, and Lena. In her attempts to capture the thoughts and consciousness of these women, Stein uses a number of stylistic innovations that contributed signifi cantly to the development of modernism, infl uencing such writers as Ernest Hemingway. In “The Good Anna,” for example, Stein employs inverted grammatical patterns, repetition, and simple language to characterize Anna, the protagonist, as a stubborn, matter-of-fact, hardworking German immigrant. At the same time, the ironic and understated narration, which creates a humor that is often incongruous with the story’s events, suggests some of Stein’s larger social criticisms.
The good Anna works for numerous men and women who seemingly take advantage of her kindness. As she tries to enforce her own moral code of “good” and “bad” on the world (including her dogs Peter, Baby, and Rags), Anna struggles with her own lesbian desires for Mrs. Lehntman: “The widow Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna’s life” (30). Ironically, Anna’s attempts to gain moral and emotional control over others prevent the fulfi llment of her own emotional needs, leaving her “bitter with the world . . . for its sadness and wicked ways of doing” (65, 69). Unable to change those around her, she loses her money, friends, and health. Having defi ned herself by her work ethic, she eventually works herself to death running a boardinghouse. Stein subtly uses the story of Anna to make a powerful critique of the destructiveness of a society that locks women into restrictive, “feminine” roles even as it represses homosexuality.
DeKoven, Marianne. A Different Language: Gertrude Stein’s Experimental Writing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
Fahy, Thomas. “Iteration and Narrative Control in Gertrude Stein’s ‘The Good Anna.’ ” Style 34, no. 1 (2000).
Wagner-Martin, Linda. “Favored Strangers”: Gertrude Stein and Her Family. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.