The Ethics of Desire in Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha”: A Lacanian Reading


  • Narim Kim Yonsei University



“Melanctha”, Gertrude Stein, Lacan, Desire, Ethics


The heroine of Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha,” the centerpiece story of her Three Lives (2006), is an unconventional character whose “wandering” entails involving herself in relationships with both men and women. As her lover Jefferson, contrary to Melanctha, on the other hand sets as “ethical” goal in life and strives to be “good,” there has persisted a tendency in readings of the story to read Jefferson and his classically Aristotelian moral values as superior to Melanctha. The objective of this article is to overturn this conclusion and reinstate Melanctha as ethical, through the framework of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Specifically, I will point to how Jefferson is in fact immersed in a false belief in the wholeness of the Symbolic, which is something that Melanctha continuously doubts. Melanctha refuses Jefferson’s attempts to decipher her and instead continuously heads towards the beyond of language, towards the “evil” real thing. Unobtainable as this real thing may be, “wandering” towards it while ever questioning what it may be is what Lacan claims is “ethical.” As Melanctha remains a subject who does not know, while also inviting readers to “wander” with her, she is Lacan’s ethical subject.


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