Blood on the Dining-Room Floor

Gertrude Stein, Blood on the Dining-Room Floor
(Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1982)
First published: 1948

The car did not start. Telephone to the garage in the town, they called out to someone else, the telephone is not working, was the answer. The telephone was not working that was a fact. There was another telephone nearby, of this fact as it happened no one in the house was aware except the person who telephoned to the garage. Soon two mechanics with two cars came. They found that one  gasoline tank was filled with water and that the spark plugs of the other had been broken. The telephone man came and he found that a little wire had been detached and the piece of cotton that is wound around the wire had been screwed in instead. 

Blood on the Dining-Room Floor is a murder mystery loosely based on autobiographical events. John Herbert Gill notes in his afterword to the text that Stein’s ‘cars and telephone [had] been deliberately damaged’. Having experienced this act of vandalism, Stein includes the scene within the extract. The damage to the telephone becomes a part of the murder mystery plot when the narrator is then unable to report the damage to the cars or seek help from the garage. The broken telephone becomes a symbol of vulnerability and physical silencing, as the mode of communication with the external world is cut, implying sinister intent and foreshadowing later events.

by Rebekka Jolley