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“…we can deplore,” the radio, the voice of the little yellow-bellies from Tokyo was saying. God, Frink thought; and we called them monkeys, these civilized bandy-legged shrimps who would no more set up gas ovens than they would melt their wives into sealing wax. “…and we have deplored often in the past the dreadful waste of humans in this fanatical striving which sets the broader mass of men wholly outside the legal community.” They, the Japs, were so strong on law. “…To quote a Western saint familiar to all: ‘What profit it a man if he gain the whole world but in this enterprise lose his soul?’ ” The radio paused. Frink, tying his tie, also paused. It was the morning ablution.

I'm trying to improve my English by reading some literature. I've thought of posting this in the English board, but I think I understand the sentence correctly, which means the Japanese would rather melt their wives into sealing wax than set up gas oven. It just doesn't makes sense. It seems related to some rumors about Japanese in the author's time. I did a brief googling about "melt wife into sealing wax" but found nothing.

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Googling this book tells me that it's about an alternative ending to World War II. So, let's look at the quote:

these civilized bandy-legged shrimps who would no more set up gas ovens than they would melt their wives into sealing wax.

Let's look at each part of this, along with the line above.

and we called them monkeys

This looks like it's saying that we called them monkeys, as in, we were discriminatory towards them. We were prejudiced.

these civilized

This is saying that we were wrong. They are as civilized as we are. They're not barbarians. It contradicts the next statement:

bandy-legged shrimps

I'm not familiar with this book, but context tells me that this is a negative stereotype of the Japanese. This is using their previous prejudice as a way to say "wow, we were so wrong".

who would no more set up gas ovens than they would melt their wives into sealing wax

As this book has to do with World War II, I'll assume that you're familiar with the gas ovens in the Holocaust. If you aren't, suffice it to say that there were gas ovens used to kill millions of people during the Holocaust.

They would no more means here that they wouldn't set up the gas ovens. If they wouldn't melt their wives into sealing wax, which the implication here is that they wouldn't, they wouldn't set up gas ovens for slaughtering people.

This looks like Frink is either being brainwashed to think that they weren't as bad as they actually were, or having an epiphany, and throwing off years of prejudice. You'll have to see for yourself which it is. (Although based on what I see in the Kindle screenshot, it looks like the former, especially as it's an alternative ending to World War II. But I don't know the book.)

  • Thanks. I didn't know gas oven was related to the Holocaust. "If they wouldn't melt their wives into sealing wax which the implication here is that they wouldn't" - I don't understand this sentence of yours. – shenkwen Aug 13 '17 at 15:13
  • @shenkwen - it means if they wouldn't kill their wives, which they seem to be saying that they won't, they wouldn't set up the gas ovens :) – user58 Aug 13 '17 at 15:17
  • I see, thank you. So my understanding was not correct – shenkwen Aug 13 '17 at 15:18

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