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I’ve just started reading Colson Whitehead‘s Intuitionist and found this.

Big Billy Porter is one of the Old Dogs, and proud of it. On many occasions Lila Mae has returned to the Pit from an errand only to hear Big Billy Porter regaling the boys about the glory days of the Guild, before. While his comments are never specific, it is clear to everyone just what and who Big Billy is referring to in his croaking, muddy voice.

I’m having a problem interpreting the meaning the bolded “before” here.

Could this mean “the glory days of the Guild”? Or does it mean “before” Lila Mae has returned to the Pit from an errand?

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  • It might just be a generic thing to say the glory days were in the past; it might be connected with something else that happened in the novel. If you're concerned about the use of "before" as an adverb in this way, you could ask on english.stackexchange.com but if you're mostly interested in the context of the book, this is the right place.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 15 at 11:43

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It's hard to provide an answer without speculating since we're lacking in context here. Given that "glory days of the Guild" could plausibly be attributed to a present time, let's look at the remaining excerpt. On a quick glance, this excerpt from Colson's novel seems to fixate on time past. A time which, until we arrive at the end of this specific sentence,

On many occasions Lila Mae has returned to the Pit from an errand only to hear Big Billy Porter regaling the boys about the glory days of the Guild, before.

could merely be attested by Lila Mae's "return."

Now, although we sense that the glory days must be over, there is no way to verify our unpalpable findings until we read the last word "before."

Why would Colson want to emphasize Lila Mae's return which has, by the time, passed by giving us two past constructs in utter ends? Seems to me, "before" is used here to highlight the glory days' having been passed; that's also why it's used right after the clause.

As I said before, we can't read Colson's mind, but just a quick meditation would tell us that, in order for Lila Mae to hear these ponderings, they should be present at the scene.

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