Gertrude Stein was a pioneer in many disciplines. She excelled in every medium she explored. She was a poet, a dramatist, a lesbian and a feminist. Her forays into the world of music with Virgil Thomson produced two works that changed the face of opera altogether. Their opera Four Saints in Three Acts was one of the frontrunners in the Modernist movement. The Mother of Us All, about Susan B. Anthony, brought the feminist movement crashing through the walls of male-dominated operas that were reigning for almost 200 years.

Above all else, what makes Stein such a genius is her exquisite use of language, a new use of language. What other people thought of as gibberish, nonsensical homophone exchanges and repetition of useless words and phrases was to Stein her way of breaking free from a patriarchal stranglehold on lingual syntax. She used words to reach for something new and intangible, almost as if woman had rediscovered language and began anew. She was breaking away from all the patriarchal rules. That includes the rules of grammar, parts of speech, sentence structure and connotation. Her work asks the question “Who watches over the language?”

In the process of redefining the English language, she in turn redefined society. Many people define her as a Cubist. Cubism is usually a term reserved for visual artists, but it is uniquely applied to Stein. The cube is not a flat space that one paints (or paints words) upon, but a three-dimensional area of space and time. Her use of the non-linear narrative form can keep us in the moment, but that moment may not move to the next logical one. Four Saints in Three Acts is a perfect example of her use of non-linear narrative form. There are two narrators, but very little narration. There are a great deal of actors, but very little action. The switch from two dimensions to three dimensions frees the author from writing from left to right, from then to now. Yesterday, today and tomorrow can have no meaning, or more meaning than one would think necessary.

Her contribution to the Modern and Post-Modern movements is immense. She is the Mother of the Pun. She is the mother of all who are free with our language. She is the mother of the non-linear narrative (I suspect that Pulp Fiction could never have been made if it were not for Stein). She is the mother of all who strive for new meaning in old connotations. She is the Mother of Us All.