This text is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner.

In the street there was a dusty summer wind, a morning not quite hot enough. If they walked shoulder to shoulder, if they sat side by side, it was in order to become the world’s audience instead of being obliged to perform their personalities for each other. They bought tickets, they travelled. Their mutual curiosity was intense, but oblique. They watched one another witnessing the world: how two fat businessmen examined as merchandise the girl who pouted and pretended to read the paper in the café window with her skirt up round her thighs; how the waitress in Myer’s mural hall crossed the vast room with both arms high above her head and a dirty tablecloth hanging from each hand; the hippy boy on the tram who bought a ticket to St Kilda and announced to the other passengers, ‘I must go to the sea. To the ocean’; the girl whose lips moved as she read a book called Tortured for Christ. The world divided itself for them, presented itself in a series of small theatrical events. ‘Now,’ said a woman to a man at the busstop, ‘I’ll tell you the whole story. See the thing was that . . .’

What was the thing? They pointed out these eventlets to each other. They did not discuss or pass judgment, but defined themselves against the attitudes revealed by the unwitting characters in these dramas. They wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree. Harmony! To be each other. They examined clothes in shop windows.

Does the whole part in bold mean: "they compared their attitude with other people's attitudes and knew themselves better, and because they wanted to be friendly (to be in harmony) they did not want to know each other very well"? Maybe in this case they came across some differences that made their relationship cold. They need harmony to be with each other

  • Does in the phrase "They wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree" both "They" refer to Philip and Athena? And Does "less than" in this context has another meaning? Feb 22, 2021 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


These characters care more about surface-level, outward agreement than true understanding of each other. They want to feel as if they are together and in harmony with each other. They want this even if they must inwardly pretend that the other thinks exactly like them, instead of having an honest conversation about their ideas and values.

They travel and watch the world. More importantly, they watch each other watch the world, and they describe what they see to each other. ("They pointed out these eventlets to each other"). In their descriptions, they create an "us vs. them" situation. The "them" are the other people, who are positioned as different than "us", the two main characters. Our characters define themselves "against" the people they watch.

Of course, no "us vs. them" is absolute. There are not two completely different groups who are completely uniform within themselves. However, the idea of an "us" who are in perfect harmony is comforting. So the characters choose to believe in this perfect "us". They care more about agreement, harmony, "us" - than understanding each other on a deeper level, talking through their differences and being honest with each other.

Bringing this back together with a paraphrase of your section in bold:

... they defined themselves as a group together, and different than the people they observed. They wanted to truly understand each other less than they wanted to have surface-level agreement with each other. Oh, such wonderful harmony, to be with each other, and pretend to have someone else who is perfectly alike!

  • Lots of thanks, so "they" in the phrase " They wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree" refer to people that Athena and philip are watching them. am I right? May 1, 2021 at 12:15
  • "They" refers to Athena and Philip. "Athena and Philip wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree"
    – bobble
    May 1, 2021 at 13:42
  • So philip and Athena only wanted to be with each other and they do not care about knowing each other very well. Knowing each other was less important to them than agreeing with each other. Am I right? May 1, 2021 at 17:49
  • 1
    Yes, that is correct.
    – bobble
    May 1, 2021 at 17:50

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