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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lost in the Culture: A Character Analysis of Gentle Lena by Gertrude Stein

by Jill Christianae A. Rendon


Lena is described in the story as a patient, gentle, sweet and a German, one who is well liked by everybody. She lives in a very tight culture, but she remains patient. We could speculate that her patience is highly cultural. She might have assumed that every scolding is done for her good and that is why she never complains about it. Because of her naivety, the other girls who watch the other children with her like to tease her for Lena was the kind who would not easily catch the queer things they are saying. She is not easily angered and their teasing only makes a gentle stir within her. Lena is also known to be the comforting type, the kind who feels obliged to comfort someone who is in distress.

Physically, Lena is brown, not dark, but light brown. Her skin is said to match well with her hazel eyes. She has too abundant straight hair, brown hair. She is flat-chested, has a straight back and forward falling shoulders as one obviously accustomed to work. She has flat, soft featured face that shows her patience, old-world ignorance. She has thick, black eyebrows that again emphasize her being a patient, working, gentle German woman.

Lena is a peaceful person in a way that she does not bother anyone. She may be bothered by the other girls a lot of times but she does not get angry. The characteristics of these girls like Mary, who is described to be good-natured, quick and intelligent highlight even more, her opposite traits – plain, flat, slow.

In the middle of the story, in the context of family, Lena is described to be not an important daughter in the family. She is always dreamy and not there. She does her routines but never beyond that. She is also described to be still and docile and could not decide for herself or want to do things her way.

She is the type who does not speculate or rationalize. When she was brought by her aunt to Bridgepoint, somehow, she senses life will be better there; then again she does not know it is her present situation she is trying to walk away from. She does not like being teased and the worse is she does not know it. The bad feeling of being teased that she does not even reflect on becomes her motivation to go to Bridgepoint, besides the fact that she simply wants to follow her aunt and “be good.” In here, we begin to see a person who is like a leaf, that simply flies off wherever the wind takes her, one who wants to please the “natural flow of things” as if she has no life of her own, as if she owes her very life to the people around her.

She is also the type who easily accepts even tragic happenings such as death, shown when she got sick on the way to Bridgepoint and was almost sure she would die right then and there. In this part of the story, she is described this way again: “Lena who was patient, sweet and quiet had no self-control, nor any active courage.”

In this part, it is already quite noticeable that the author has been stressing a lot on Gentle Lena’s being sweet, patient and gentle. It sounds positive on the onset but when it is followed by “had no self control, nor any active courage,” the statement suddenly becomes a sarcasm. It is as if, when one is to be sweet, patient and gentle, she has to compromise losing self control or any active courage.

Gentle Lena was described this way: “… but it never came to Lena’s unexpectant and unsuffering German nature do so something different from what was expected of her, just because she would like it that way better.” Through this, we now see that her characters are indeed greatly rooted in her being German. She does not simply want to follow her desires, she does what is expected of her, according to the demands of her culture. Because of this, she unconsciously chooses to forget her real feelings and just continues to do what she thinks is “right”. Till the end of the story, she never changes and this is why she is said to be a flat character. It seems like she even produced three persons like herself: her three gentle children.


Mrs. Haydon is described to be a hard, ambitious, well-meaning, hardworking, rich German woman. Physically, she is short and stout. She has a reddish face and hardened from its early blonde. She is the kind of person who likes interfering with relatives’ lives, but could not control her own children’s life. She could not make her son and daughters behave the way she wants to. There are times she has to force them to do something, like kissing the hands of her parents (the children’s grandparents). Her inability to discipline them can also be attributed to her being busy.

She is described to be a good and generous woman. Because of her people being of the middling class of farmers, she is wealthy and important. Many people listen to her for advice on how to do things better. In short, she is a “know-it-all,” the kind who always has something to say about everything. She would criticize people’s decisions in the past and would tell them how to do them better.


He is the man version of Gentle Lena. He is a gentle soul and a little fearful. He has a sullen temper and is obedient to his parents. He is also the people pleaser type who still gets scolded by people even despite his age (He is 28) and easily accepts it. He has friends. He would spend time with them but is never really joyous in doing so. By this, his life is also like Lena’s – simply getting by, not caring for enjoyment, and not getting the most out of life. He does not like girls and had no plans of getting married. This character of his as well as Lena’s can be attributed much to the way the people in their surroundings treat them, and the culture they are in. It seems after all that in a very tight culture, one’s character becomes blended with that culture, losing one’s individuality. One tends to rather go with the flow and forget about the self. Herman Kreder appears in the story as a cold husband, yet never really a bad one, one who does not have many major conflicts with his wife, but does not have a passionate love story with her either. He is the kind of “good person” who wants to do his job well. To him, it is a job to be a father, just as it was like a job to fulfill a promise to marry Lena. He becomes a good father because that is what his culture dictates.

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