I would like to know what "you can’t possibly have gone through life as carelessly as you made out" means in the following sentences:

I stood in the silent stairwell and felt terror travel from my navel, tying my throat, pinching my eyes. Tears started to slide down my cheeks like melted butter. For a long time I felt nothing but their heat.

Did you ever have someone like that, someone that you loved in vain when you were younger? Did you ever feel something like my shame? I always assumed that you must have, that you can’t possibly have gone through life as carelessly as you made out. But now I begin to think that not everyone suffers in the same way; that not everyone, in fact, suffers. Not from the same things, at any rate. And in a way this is what made us possible, you and me.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he used to hang out with his friends including his first love Beniek in his hometown of Wrocław when he was nine years old. But Beniek suddenly left Poland to Israel, so Ludwik stood at the staircase of Beniek's house crying, mourning his lost first love. And looking back, Ludwik was assuming that Janusz, his ex-boyfriend, would have experienced the vain love as he had.

In this part, I wonder what he means. Does it mean that it was not possible that Janusz had lived throughout his whole life in a careless manner, as he had been living? I am confused as to the meaning of "go through life" and "made out" especially.

I am an English learner from South Korea. I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


Carelessly literally means without any care. The word care has a couple of pertinent meanings in this context. Merriam-Webster says:

1 : suffering of mind : GRIEF

2a : a disquieted state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility
  b : a cause for such anxiety

3a : painstaking or watchful attention

(example sentences omitted).

Most commonly, we use careless to refer to the third sense: when something is done without proper diligence, leading to sloppy errors, we say it is done carelessly. In the sense that Jedrowski's translator uses the word carelessly, however, the first two meanings given above are relevant, not the third.

Ludwik's loss of Beniek has caused him suffering of mind, GRIEF. He imagines that Janusz must also have had some such suffering, some such care. Also, Ludwik experienced feelings of uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility when he loses Beniek. He asks whether Janusz has experienced such feelings as well. While the dictionary definition does not specify shame as one of the meanings of care, shame too is a "state of uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility", so the sense applies.

So Ludwik is saying that Janusz too must have had some cares: some grief, some uncertain and scared states of mind, some shame. Janusz too must have had loved in vain as Ludwik has. That's why Ludwik says he cannot believe that Janusz could have gone through life so carelessly, i.e., so free from all cares.

See also the definition in Merriam-Webster of careless ("untroubled"; "unconcerned") and carefree ("having no worries or troubles").

"Go through life" means simply "live your life", pass through the days of your life. "Made out" in this context means "appeared to" or "claimed to". Ludwik is telling Janusz that Janusz's life can't possibly have been as free from care as Janusz claims it is.

  • Dear verbose, thank you very much for the detailed explanation! Your explanation really deepened my reading. Then, may I take it that "make out" here means "get along," implying that Ludwik thought Janusz couldn't possibly have lived/got along in that careless manner all throughout his life? Dec 17, 2020 at 11:15
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    Make out here means pretend or claim or seem to
    – verbose
    Dec 17, 2020 at 11:16
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    “Your life could not have been as free of cares as you claim it is”
    – verbose
    Dec 17, 2020 at 11:18
  • Dear verbose, thank you so much for the additional explanation. This is a meaning that I couldn't have guessed by myself! So this "make out" has the same meaning as in "He was not the troublemaker that the press and gossip made him out to be." I truly appreciate your help. :) Dec 17, 2020 at 11:32
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    Edited the answer to add the points made in this comment section.
    – verbose
    Dec 18, 2020 at 2:38

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