As Judge Taylor <banged> his gavel, Mr. Ewell <was sitting> smugly in the witness chair

Makel Leki

Senior Member
Russian
From To Kill a Mockingbird. Tom Robinson's trial is underway. Mr. Ewell has just testified that Tom raped his daughter. The picknickers in the quote below are the spectators.
So serene was Judge Taylor’s court, that he had few occasions to use his gavel, but he hammered fully five minutes. ... As Judge Taylor banged his gavel, Mr. Ewell was sitting smugly in the witness chair, surveying his handiwork. With one phrase he had turned happy picknickers into a sulky, tense, murmuring crowd.
Is there any reason the author uses the progressive tense ("was sitting") in the second part of the sentence, but the simple tense ("banged") in the first part? Is it because "sitting" is the longer action?

Also, could I say "was banging ... sat" or "banged ... sat"?
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It’s entirely natural to use the simple past (or present) to describe a single action (even if repeated) being performed during an ongoing state that’s described in a continuous tense.

    He banged his gavel several times while Ewell was sitting there.
     
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