I fail to understand the following sentence:

Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.

"Out of what I knew not" = "Out of what I do not know".

How exactly does "yet I did not believe" fit in here?

A sentence that would convey the meaning that I can assume is "I've seen many things unfathomable, yet I could never believe that twelve years of boredom was what the state had in mind for me."

But I'm unable to break down the original quote and see how it can relate to this assumed sentence. Could someone help?

1 Answer 1


Ah, the emphasis becomes a bit clearer with the full quote.

I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay my hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.

Reading the sentence before, and if you imagine a comma after the "what", then it becomes clear that Scout is commenting that she is being cheated out of something. She doesn't know what it is, but she knows she's being cheated, and that she does not believe that the point of twelve years of schooling is just to bore people, so there is something that she's missing.

Just to be clear, I don't think she's necessarily saying that someone is intentionally cheating her out of actually learning something in school, but rather that she just doesn't understand it. It could be personal limitations or an epiphany she has not yet reached (sometimes, things just "click" later in schooling), or she could be seeing the effects of society at the time where women often didn't receive the time and attention in education that men did since it was assumed that women would marry and become mothers, and therefore it wasn't necessary to educate them as well.

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    Or, even easier, "I didn't know what I was being cheated out of". :) Feb 8, 2022 at 5:30
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    Yes. Haha. I was trying to follow the original style a bit
    – justhalf
    Feb 8, 2022 at 5:32
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    In the social climate of the story there were many things not spoken of which animate the story. The author gives Scout permission to be both honest and an innocent narrator by including this detail. She knows something is going on but is not privy to it. Feb 8, 2022 at 14:54
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    It's perfectly valid punctuation. In this case, I feel that the confusion is partly over the omission of the prior sentence and partly over that it's possible to emphasize different words, or pause, in that sentence to get different meanings. In general, though, Scout writes in a conversational, and sometimes colloquial, voice, the grammar and punctuation is generally correct. But I am glad I could help. Feb 8, 2022 at 16:04
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    @GowtamChandrahasa I'm guessing you're saying that it would be better if there were a comma after "out of what". That would prevent a garden path reading of the sentence, which is probably what confused you in the first place. Comma placement is often a stylistic choice, there aren't strict rules for cases like this. There are many questions in English Language & Usage that illustrate this.
    – Barmar
    Feb 8, 2022 at 16:11

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