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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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'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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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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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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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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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 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 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 "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'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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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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How to understand “a dumb or a talking brute” in The Ransom of Red Chief?

But I glanced at Bill, and hesitated. He had the most appealing look in his eyes I ever saw on the face of a dumb or a talking brute. The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry The word “brute” has several ...
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What do these two segments mean in Milton's "On Shakespeare"?

I find two amphibolous segments in Milton's poem "On Shakespeare" when translating into Chinese, and thus need some help. In first stanza What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones, ...
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What does, "‘Much of that!’ said he, glancing about him over the cold wet flat. ‘I wish I was a frog. Or a eel!'" mean?

It says in Great Expectations, ‘Much of that!’ said he, glancing about him over the cold wet flat. ‘I wish I was a frog. Or a eel!’ What does this mean/imply?
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What does "...they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets..." from mean?

It says in Great Expectations, To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little ...
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What does "keep up to the mark" mean in this letter from Darwin to Hooker?

In LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN Volume 2, Darwin was writing a letter to his friend about finishing the revision of his own book: Congratulate me, for I have finished the last revise of the ...
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What does "a sort of Hercules in strength and weakness" mean?

It says in Great Expectations, Joe was a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed ...
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Can anyone explain this quote by Oscar Wilde: 'Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming...that is all' [duplicate]

Full quote: Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these ...
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"Forever unfulfillable, yet him fulfilling who hears it, utterly"

This is from the play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer: "What?! What is this? Tell me, Signore! What is this pain? What is this need in the sound? Forever unfulfillable, yet him fulfilling who hears it, ...
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What is a Daniel?

In Chapter Three of The Scarlet Letter we find the following as a response to a question of who the father of Hester’s child is: Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the Daniel who ...
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What is the meaning of "I was living my own metaphor"?

I just started reading the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In the foreword, the author is talking about how no one was buying his book. He writes, But I never lost faith in the book or ever ...
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What did Fitzgerald mean by "making a great mystery about pulling rusty wires"?

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, chapter 1 it is written: Children adored him because he was like a child; youth revelled in his company because he was still a youth, and couldn't be ...
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What is "the Saar" in The Last Lesson?

In The Last Lesson, written by Alphonse Daudet, there is this paragraph: My last French lesson! Why, I hardly knew how to write! I should never learn any more! I must stop there, then! Oh, how sorry ...
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Meaning of "drew the lower jaw in" from "To Build A Fire"

In the story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, there is a line which I find too complex to interpret. After some manipulation he managed to get the bunch between the heels of his mittened ...
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Use of 'city' in Byron's poem "Darkness"

In his poem "Darkness", Lord Byron writes: [...] The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two Of an enormous city did survive, And they were enemies: they met beside [...] Is Byron employing ...
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What did Bentham mean by "outworks" in an address to the Linnean Society?

In Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, volume 2, the editor was talking about Mr. Bentham: [The next letter refers to Mr. Bentham's presidential address to the Linnean Society (May 25, 1863). Mr. ...

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