In In the Midst of Alarms (1894) by Robert Barr, someone was talking about a man who doesn't like attending protracted meetings for converting the sinners:

He never wants to go to a protracted meeting, yet he can’t keep away. He’s like a drunkard and the corner tavern. He can’t pass it, and he knows if he goes in he will fall. Macdonald’s always the first one to go up to the penitent bench. They rake him in every time. He has religion real bad for a couple of weeks, and then he backslides. He doesn’t seem able to stand either the converting or the backsliding. I suppose some time they will gather him in finally, and he will stick and become a class leader, but he hasn’t stuck up to date.”

Does "they" here refer to the meetings or the people around him?

And what's exactly meant by "he hasn't stuck up to date", while it's already said that "they rake him in every time"?

1 Answer 1


From a grammatical point of view, the only plural antecedent is "protracted meetings" in the discussion that precedes the quoted passage:

"What's the matter with MacDonald? Doesn't he like protracted meetings? And, by the way, what are protracted meetings?"
"They're revival meetings—religious meetings, you know, for converting sinners."

Strictly speaking, this antecedent is too far away and as a consequence the distinction between the meetings as such and their participants becomes blurred. To "rake in" means to "gather" or, in this context, draw into the religious community. It is a verb that typically expects a human subject, not a series of meetings, but no human subject (i.e. the meeting participants) is mentioned. This results in a kind of "anonymous they" that seems to work as an unidentified force that "will gather him in finally".

So far, the meetings' effect on MacDonald has not "stuck", i.e. not remained permanent, but the speaker thinks it eventually will. What the speaker means here is that MacDonald will eventually remain loyal and stop backsliding.


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