The Makng of Americans
Chaos is diminished for the reader and writer of poetry, when something is defined and understood that was formerly unknown. Frost says that the delight of poetry comes when the poem causes the reader to remember something that they did not know they knew. Millay says of Chaos, “He’s nothing more nor less/ Than something simple not yet understood.” In The Making of Americans
Gertrude Stein claims that confusion and pain in the human world is a result of a failure to understand completely. She argues that humans see themselves and their sins in other human beings. Consequently “mostly everyone” is “irritated” by the continual repeating of our sins and lives in other people: “it is often irritating to listen to the repeating they are doing.” But this repeating of being only causes pain and confusion for those who have not yet learned to love the repetitive pattern of existence: “As I was saying often for many years some one is baffling.” Therefore Stein sets out to reveal to the reader what they did not know they knew. She does this by composing a poem that reflects, and draws one into, a meaningful life.
Stein argues that through “listening to repeating” one can come to realize that the repeating is “interesting.” A person who begins to see this repeating as interesting may also see themselves in others (and others in themselves), and then learn to love the repeating¾and this “is one way of being.” The person who sees their “harmless” “faults” as “a charm to any character” will accept themselves and love other people who remind them of their “faults” and their “charm.” For this person the “irritation passes over into patient completed understanding.” Stein wants us to see her style, which may baffle and irritate us with its grammatical flaws and seemingly nonsensical statements, as a metaphor for the life we may learn to love and understand.
The confusion, then, becomes beautiful and orderly to an individual who has mastered the art of listening and observing “the repeating of being.” Stein wants the reader to master the art of learning to love “the repeating of being.” And she helps the reader do this by aiding them in their understanding of the poem: if the reader understands the poem, then the repeating of being in life, which reflects the poem, will also make sense. Like her poem, experience does have a pattern and a purpose; and like most poems, there are certain rhythmic and repetitive elements in experience that enable one to stave off and control confusion. Human experience and being consists of a repetitive pattern. Once recognized, this pattern becomes a “mainstay against” the confusion that comes from not knowing. Stein recognizes and accepts the pattern of experience. Subsequently she loves this familiar cycle of events: “I love it that every one is a kind of men and women, that always I am looking and comparing and classifying of them, always I am seeing their repeating.
Always more and more I love repeating.” There was a time, however, when she “did not see or hear or feel repeating;” consequently, she “did not know repeating.” This inability to "hear or feel repeating" made her confused. For failure to attain “complete understanding,” which results when one “fights and attacks” instead of slowly resisting and learning to love, necessarily leads to confusion.
As Stein describes the different ways of being, the form of the poem is actually mirroring and mimicking the process she is describing. She begins a paragraph with a phrase - “I am writing for myself and strangers” - and then repeats this same phrase a little later in the work with a slight variation - “I write for myself and strangers.” She proceeds to explain the meaning of the previous phrases by adding words that clarify and expand this phrase - “I want readers so strangers must do it.” If we consider the previous lines, which uses a similar combination of these same words, we learn (in the last lines) that she writes to strangers because she wants readers. She also claims that readers “must do it.” But what is it? Don’t worry, she will say it again and has already said it before - “It is very important to me to always know it, to always see it which one looks like others and to tell it.” By repeating this phrase, and developing the ideas slowly, the reader may come to a “complete understanding” of her artistic purpose, which reflects her hope for humanity. She desires us to read the repetitive patterns of being that fill our lives in the same way we are reading her poem.
Stein is sorry that “everyone is always busy with it,” because “no one of them then ever come to know it.” She wants them to stop being “busy with it” in order to learn to listen to it, and thereby come to love it. The reader may become irritated with the form of this poem (always repeating and reminding one of what irritated them in it a few lines before this baffling line). But if the reader listens to the words, they may realize that the poem reflects the repetitive patterns found in life’s experiences¾”and we will come to a complete understanding” of the poem’s purpose, and may even learn to love it.