Why Do You Feel Differently: Comparisons and the Whole

Why Do You Feel Differently.

Why do you feel differently about a very little snail and a big one. / Why do you feel differently about a medium sized turkey and a very large one. / Why do you feel differently about a small band of sheep and several sheep that are riding. / Why do you feel differently about a fair orange tree and one that has blossoms as well. / Oh very well. All nice wives are like that.
To Be / No Please. / To Be / They can please / Not to be / Do they please. / Not to be / Do they not please / Yes please. / Do they please / No please. / Please. / If you please. / And if you please. / And if they please. / And they please. / To be pleased. / Not to be pleased. / Not to be dispelased. / To be pleased and to please.

I don't always feel differently about a very little snail and a big one, but when other people do... I write about it.

For this post it was impossible to miss how Stein’s time influenced her poetry and thinking. For example, when Stein was in her young adulthood she studied under the psychologist, William James. Together they studied “normal motor automation.” In other words, activities you can do at the same time, but still require a lot of attention, like speaking and writing. Later Stein said that she never really believed in that example because writing took too much out of the person to be considered automatic. However, she did believe in “automatic movements.”


That belief can be seen here in her Why Do You Feel Differently. Stein expresses a sort of frustration about comparisons like a little snail versus a large one or “a fair orange tree and one that has blossoms as well.” Then, she goes on to state that “All nice wives are like that,” after which she goes through a series of polite sayings and phrasing that seem to be commonly used by wives. It is easy to assume there to be a connection between Stein’s work with William James and automatic movements like “To be pleased./ Not to be pleased. / Not to be displeased./ To be pleased and to please.” Implicitly it seems that Stein is stating all nice wives strive to be pleased and to please and that comes from the inherent compulsion to compare something as better than the other. The nice wives also strive to be better than others in the most pleasing way.


In everything I’ve read about Stein there’s always a point being made about her dedication to showing readers the way the world is constructed through our use of language. That is, how we make fragments into a whole. I did an imitation poem of her A Carafe, That Is A Blind Glass in a previous post and when I was doing research for that I learned that Stein had a close affiliation with Picasso and cubism. However, during this post I found that she met with not only Picasso, but also Henry Matisse and she was very inspired by Cezanne (SO cool). It was through Cezanne’s artwork that Stein had a literary epiphany and started her strange syntax masterpieces. Wikipedia explains it well in on her page with this quote: “Stein in her work with words used the entire text as a field in which every element mattered as much as any other.” It is a subjective relationship that includes multiple viewpoints. Stein explained: “The important thing is that you must have deep down as the deepest thing in you a sense of equality.” Stein reportedly got this idea from Cezanne’s usage of the whole canvas in his artwork.


I think in this poem Stein realizes that to strive for pleasantness is also to compare. The two are one and the same. In this way she’s painted the whole psychological canvas in her poem.


Finally, and I know this is getting long so I’m sorry, Stein really disliked industrialism. She felt as though industrialism was the cause of most of the inequality as well as the undermining of certain core values she deemed important. (Gertrude Stein also faced some inequality during her brief study at John Hopkins Medical University being one of only a few women there.) In What Makes You Feel Differently Stein’s frustration with comparisons can also be interpreted as a frustration with inequality. Why pick the larger snail over the smaller one, she asks.

I found all my information on Gertrude Stein’s exciting chronos here.

I got the poem from this lovely blog.



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2 Responses to Why Do You Feel Differently: Comparisons and the Whole

  1. I was considering doing something on Gertrude Stein for my DH Creation project, but ended up deciding against it. But as a result, I ended up reading quite a few articles about Stein and her work.
    If you’re interested, you should check out “Gertrude Stein in the Psychology Laboratory” by Michael J. Hoffman. It was published in The American Quarterly in 1965, and it outlines in detail the hypotheses, experiments, and conclusions Stein was a part of within the field of psychology. It also analyzes “Tender Buttons” under the lens of automatic writing. Pretty cool. It’s only about 7 pages long, and it’s extremely interesting.

  2. kaburrel says:

    Thanks! I’ll check it out.

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