The Gentle Lena Essay
Lena’s gentle, sweet, servant-like behavior was a commentary on the way on the way society saw and treated women in the early 20th century - The Gentle Lena Essay introduction. Lena did not have an opinion of her own, she did not know how to make decisions on her own; she was told what to think, where to work, what to do with her money, her free time and her future; her life was designed by someone else because she was a women and unable to make decisions for herself.
In the early 20th century society treated women as though they were not important, their duties were to have children, cook and clean for their husbands and much like children of this timeperiod, women were to be were to be seen but their voices not heard with regards to anything outside of the family. It is also important to note that at this time in the 20th century women were not allowed to vote, their opinions of such important matters had little to no consequence. “Lena was the second girl in her large family. She was at this time just seventeen years old.
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Lena was not an important daughter in the family. She was always sort of dreamy and not there” (Stein 146). Lena was german born and came to America at the behest of her aunt, Mrs. Hoydon, “who thought it would be a fine thing to take one of these girls back with her to Bridgeport and get her well started…Lena did not really know what it was that had happened to her” (Stein 146) she was just expected to follow along and do what what planned for her by others; “Lena was so still and docile, she would never want to do things her own way” (Stein 146).
Women in 1909 were ‘owned’ by their husbands much like material possessions and therefore were expected to do what they were told by the male member (or dominant member) of their household, Lena was no exception. On the ship to America, Lena became sea sick, she was put in her room and there is where she stayed throughout the voyage, she did not venture out to get fresh air, she was “pale, and scared, and weak, and sick and sure that she was going to die” (Stein 147) and yet Lena did not stand up for herself, she just took the passive route and laid there in bed ill without complaint to anyone, just as women were expected to do.
Upon arrival in America Lena was made to work as a servant, while her Aunt searched for a good husband for her. There was not one moment where Lena questioned why: why did she have to leave Germany and go to America, why did she have to work as a servant, why did she have to go to her Aunt’s house every Sunday, why couldn’t she spend the money she worked hard to make, why did she have to get married when she enjoyed working as a servant for the family, why did she have to marry Herman Kreder when he obviously did not want to marry her.
Lena was just expected, as women in that timeperiod were, to just submit to the whims of the dominent member of her family. Lena was so dutiful throughout the story, dutiful to the point where modern day readers may actually get frustrated or angry with this character. Lena lived her life passively and took what came her way without complaint; the cook “who scolded Lena a great deal but Lena’s german patience held no suffering and the good incessant woman really only scolded for Lena’s good” (Stein 143). Her cousins (Mrs.
Hoydon’s children) were mean, rude and ridiculed her horribly, and yet she continued to go to their home every other Sunday as required by Mrs. Hoydon “…but it never came to Lena’s unexpectant and unsuffering german nature to do something different from what was expected of her, just because she would like it that way better” (Stein 147). Lena never expressed to others what she wanted, or liked, she was so yielding to those around her, that there was never a time where she did what she wanted to do; one wonders if she ever had a thought of her own?
The other girls that Lena sat with at the park when she took the little girl there to play, “…did tease her, but then that only made a gentle stir within her. ”(Stein 143) Lena never got mad about the way she was treated, she accepted the treatment and moved on. After four years of searching for the right husband for Lena, the son of a tailor, Herman Kreder, a german-american was choosen. Mrs. Hoydon told Lena that she would marry Herman Kreder, she did not ask ask Lena whether or not she wanted to get married; in fact Mrs. Hoydon rarely asked Lena anything, she always told Lena. When Mrs. Hoyden at last asked Lena about her thoughts about Herman, it is done with anger, disdain and ridicule: Why don’t you answer with some sense, Lena, when I ask you if you don’t like Herman Kreder. You stand there so stupid and don’t answer like you ain’t heard a word what I been saying to you…Lena, when you stand there so stupid and don’t make no answer. (Stein 149) When finally you hear Lena speak about her upcoming marriage, she does not express what she wants she just acquieses to her Aunt’s demand: Why, I do anything you say, Aunt Mathilda…I didn’t hear you say you wanted I should say anything to you.
I didn’t know you wanted me to say nothing. I do whatever you tell me it’s right for me to do. I marry Herman Kreder, if you want me (Stein 150). Lena marries Herman and moves in with her in-laws where she is made to live in a home where being stingy with money and working hard were valued and being clean in the home or of person was not. Lena’s marriage and home life were not filled with love, which isn’t a surprise, since arranged marriage during this time were little more than business arrangements, and for procreation.
Lena’s mother-in-law constantly scolded her without intervention from her husband until she became pregnant, when he finally intervened and became the go-between his mother and his wife and it seemed the one and only time that someone actually cared for Lena, however, it was short lived. Eventually Lena bore three children for Herman, she did so without complaint although with the passing of time and each child she lost more of herself. Lena always was more and more lifeless and Herman now mostly never thought about her. ” (Stein 162). Lena died giving birth to their fourth child; her job was done. I believe that Gertrude Stein was commenting on the foolish way that society saw and treated women, she wanted readers to become angry with Lena for being so passive; to see the outrageousness of being such a meek, mild and unopinionated woman. Ms. Stein wanted readers to realize that there was much more in life for women to become.
Stein, Gertrude. “The Gentle Lena.” 1909.