Questions tagged [meaning]

Questions regarding the meaning of certain terms or phrases used in a work of literature. If your question concerns the symbolic significance of something whose surface meaning is clear, use the [symbolism] tag instead. Please add specific tags as well: for the author (if known), the language (if not English), and either the work itself (if long) or the [poetry] or [short-stories] tags for short works.

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Meaning of "Her face, a revolving door, swings open and shut, open and shut"

First her ears hear; they open. Then her eyes can see; they open. Her face, a revolving door, swings open and shut, open and shut. She no longer sleeps at night; it’s too hard to breathe after four ...
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Meaning of "seemed of their own will" and "man were whole"

In the short story "The Enemy" by Pearl S. Buck, there are two phrases that I'm not quite certain whether I have correctly understood. Here are the short passages which contain the phrases: ...
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What are "the unconscious first steps of plant domestication" in "Guns, Germs, and Steel"? [migrated]

In chapter 6 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, "To Farm or Not to Farm" (p. 111), Jared Diamond says that primitive harvesting tools like flint blades and grinding slabs were prerequisites to the ...
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Catcher in the Rye - Chapter 1 "If I get a chance to remember that kind of stuff..."

In Catcher in the Rye, the narrator failed his school so he had to leave. Before leaving, he thought to say good-by to his history teacher. Then, he brought up his memory of playing football with his ...
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What does "in Twos and Threes" mean in this Robert Bly poem?

I'm reading Bly's book of poems Stealing Sugar from the Castle. I cannot understand the title of "Love Poem in Twos and Threes". Does "in Twos and Threes" mean small groups of ...
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Meaning of this Graham Greene quote: "A story has no beginning or end ..."

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. ~ The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene What does the author ...
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Meaning of "Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years"

In the story Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck there is this sentence He woke suddenly and completely. It was four o'clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up ...
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What do the letters G and D mean in "The Trout" by Sean O'Faolain?

In the story "The Trout", there are two letters that I want to know what they mean. One of the first places Julia always ran to when they arrived in G--- was The Dark Walk. It is a laurel ...
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What does William Hazlitt mean about competitors in this letter to his son?

From William Hazlitt's letter to his son: Remember always that you are but one among others, and you can hardly mistake your place in society. In your father's house, you might do as you pleased: in ...
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In Great Expectations, why were thieves happy when Mr. Jaggers spoke?

In Great Expectations, when Pip, the protagonist, and Wemmick, his acquaintance, see Mr. Jaggers, a very strong lawyer, in court, Pip remarks that Thieves and thieftakers hung in dread rapture on his ...
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Meaning of B.A., S.A.. B.O. in "Love in a Cold Climate"

In Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, Lady Montdore bemoans her daughter Polly's lack of interest in getting married, or even landing a boyfriend. She says to her friend Lady Patricia: "...
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What do Mohawks and scaffolding mean in this line from Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm?

What does this line mean from Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm? In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their ...
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What is meant by "traffic" in this list of men's activities?

In the introduction (proem) to the Decameron, the author spends some paragraphs writing about lovesick women and how he hopes his stories may give them some solace as their situation means they're ...
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What does 'Gilead' mean in The Raven?

Poe's poem The Raven contains the following words in the fifteenth stanza: [...] tell me truly, I implore— Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!" What does 'Gilead' mean ...
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What does "only more" mean in Tumor?

In Tumor, a book by Anna Leahy, the author discusses the nouns "tumor" and "cancer": The word tumor comes from the Latin for swelling. Indeed, a tumor is an overgrowth, a mass of ...
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What does Sri Aurobindo mean by "sweet madness"?

This is from book X, canto III of Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol by Sri Aurobindo: All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky, And Love that was once an animal's desire, Then a sweet madness in ...
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The meaning of "to his love and tendance / All sorts of hearts" in Timon of Athens

In Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, I found a difficult passage in 1.1.57-60: (Their services to Lord Timon): his large fortune, Upon his good and gracious nature hanging, Subdues and properties to his ...
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Understanding the first dialogue of Archbishop Thomas Becket involving antitheses

In Murder in Cathedral by T.S. Eliot, when Archbishop Thomas Becket returns from France, and sees the second priest scolding the women of Chorus, he says Peace. And let them be, in their exaltation. ...
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Does Rousseau say that men are slaves of governments and laws?

Jean-Jaques Rousseau wrote Discours sur les sciences et les arts. In the very first part, the third paragraph says the following: Original (French) L'esprit a ses besoins, ainsi que le corps. Ceux-ci ...
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What might "And God, for a Frontier." mean in "I am afraid to own a Body—"?

I don't understand the second stanza of I am afraid to own a Body— by Emily Dickinson. Double Estate—entailed at pleasure Upon an unsuspecting Heir— Duke in a moment of Deathlessness And God, for a ...
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Why does "less than" mean "not" in "A little more than kin, and less than kind"?

In Act 1, Scene 2, Line 65, Hamlet [Aside] "A little more than kin, and less than kind" does less than mean not? If so, what semantic notions underlie less than and not? How did less than ...
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Edmund Spenser's sonnet "My Love is like to ice, and I to fire"

Here is Sonnet XXX from the sonnet cycle Amoretti by Edmund Spenser: My Love is like to ice, and I to fire: How comes it then that this her cold so great Is not dissolved through my so hot desire, ...
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What happened to Mohini?

In Premchand's short story "The Desired Destination" (first published in 1911, available here in its original Urdu), the narrator is in love with a girl named Mohini and opens by saying that ...
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Does this edit in The Magician's Nephew (from "had her bathe" to "had her bath") fundamentally change the meaning of the sentence?

Later editions of C.S. Lewis 'The Magician's Nephew' have been edited, presumably to reflect modern usage. Polly went down and had her bathe; at least she said that was what she'd been doing, but we ...
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Meaning of H. L. Mencken quote "One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms"

H. L. Mencken quoted One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. The other half of it is It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent." Is that an idiom? What does ...
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What does the final stanza of "Thrushes" by Ted Hughes mean?

Here is the third stanza of "Thrushes" by Ted Hughes: With a man it is otherwise. Heroisms on horseback, Outstripping his desk-diary at a broad desk, Carving at a tiny ivory ornament For ...
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What did Melville mean by the "Pythagorean Maxim" in "Moby Dick"?

From Herman Melville's Moby Dick. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the ...
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Meaning of "take trains like the Twentieth Century"

In the short story 'The Third Level' By Jack Finney, there is a sentence given as such: I turned into Grand Central from Vanderbilt Avenue, and went down the steps to the first level, where you take ...
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What are the "mind-forged manacles"?

From "London", a short poem in William Blake's Songs of Experience collection (free to read online): In every cry of every man, In every infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, in every ban, ...
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What are the "dark Satanic mills" in Blake's Jerusalem?

The short poem Jerusalem by William Blake - not to be confused with his much longer epic poem of the same title; I'm talking about the "did those feet in ancient times" one - contains the following ...
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What's the meaning of "Hassan milled about the periphery of my life"?

From The Kite Runner: Hassan milled about the periphery of my life after that. I made sure our paths crossed as little as possible, planned my day that way. Because when he was around, the oxygen ...
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What is meant by "descent of their last end"?

What does "the descent of their last end" mean in James Joyce's The Dead? His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the ...
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What does "FACIT" mean in D. J. Enright's "The Typewriter Revolution"?

D. J. Enright's poem "The Typewriter Revolution" (1971) is a text in which a typewriter appears to revolt against its owner (?), resulting in the distortion of texts and literary allusions. ...
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What does Browning's patriot mean by "Paid by the world, what dost thou owe"?

In the sixth stanza of the poem "The Patriot" by Robert Browning, what do the last three lines mean? “Paid by the world, what dost thou owe “Me?”—God might question; now instead, ‘Tis God ...
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In "Howl", what does "Blake-light tragedy" mean?

In the passage from Ginsberg's "Howl": who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war How should the hyphen ...
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What does this passage mean from Burroughs' "Naked Lunch"?

In the opening chapter of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, the first-person narrator is telling a story to an "advertising exec type fruit" on the New York subway, and in the middle of ...
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Who are the “men of the west” who eat clay in “Aurora Leigh”?

In Aurora Leigh (1856) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora's cousin Romney Leigh complains about the character of the times: We’re too materialistic,—eating clay, (Like men of the west) instead of ...
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Why is Romney’s pattern “on his nail” in “Aurora Leigh”?

In Aurora Leigh (1856) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the character Romney Leigh has a “pattern on his nail”: To think,—I have a pattern on my nail, And I will carve the world new after it, And solve ...
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Summer Wine: what was the 'unfamiliar line' with which the girl reassured her lover?

The song "Summer Wine", written by Lee Hazlewood, describes a girl seducing a man with her 'summer wine'. At some point the man tells us "She reassured me with an unfamiliar line". What can it ...
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What does "have you no cacke a bed" mean?

In chapter VII of Thomas Deloney's novel Jack of Newbury an Italian merchant named Benedicke tries to woo Jone. After some time, Jone gets tired of this and tries to trick him into sleeping with a sow,...
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Meaning of "It isn't a bit hotter here than in Mrs. Van Osburgh's conservatory—and some of the women are not a bit uglier"

On page 2 in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Lily Bart has missed the three-fifteen train to Rhinebeck when she meets Mr Seldon: "What luck!" she repeated. "How nice of you to come ...
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What does "nada y pues nada" mean in Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

I am not looking for a direct translation, but rather how this passage fits into the story as a whole. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it ...
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Meaning of "What is in here?"

This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner What is this, thought Vicki. What is in here? It is a warehouse, it has no walls or rooms. There is a row of windows, each one shaped like an ...
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What does Regan mean by "square of sense" in King Lear?

The exact meaning of the following phrase in bold is not clear to me. In the first scene of King Lear, Regan utters these words to her father with flattery. I'm not sure but I think I read somewhere ...
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What does "Some people do the same by their religion" mean?

It says in Great Expectations Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself. Cleanliness is next to ...
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What does the word "seem" mean in these lines of Shakespeare?

In Shakespeare's Othello 3.1.26, the Clown answers Cassio: She is stirring, sir; if she will stir hither, I shall seem to notify unto her. where the verb "seem" makes me confused. The ...
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What does "chafed" mean here?

I would like to know what "chafed" means in the following sentences: "I like her," said Daisy, "I think she's lovely." But the rest offended her—and inarguably, because ...
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What's exactly meant by "on its homeward journey" in "The Just Men of Cordova"?

In chapter 12 of The Just Men of Cordova (1917) by Edgar Wallace, the author is describing a horse race: The field was at the starting-post: “Your horse is drawn in the middle,” she said. He put up ...
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What are the "garment thin" and the "prize" in the song "The Ballad of the Shape of Things to Come"?

From the song "The Ballad of the Shape of Things to Come" (lyrics link): Triangular is the piece of pie I eat to ease my sorrow Triangular is the hatchet blade I plan to hide tomorrow ...
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What's the meaning of "narrow" in "a narrow pretty greyhound of a woman"?

The following is a sentence from The Tunnel, or The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham. Rebecca sees the wife around Cambridge, a narrow pretty greyhound of a woman, with a face that is at once ...

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