He was "protected" and "defenceless", "but nobody dared".

Ashibaal

New Member
French
Hello,

This is an extract from Patrick White's The Tree of Man (Australian, Nobel Prize in Literature):

All that night the fiddle could not have been more watchful that sawed the waltzes up and down. The grave face of the young man sitting in conflicting clothes followed the logic of the lancers. He was not surprised. Their golden patterns merged and and opened. The giggles flowered on the faces of girls. The young man's deep eyes protected him from any who might have struck. He was quite defenceless. But nobody dared.

I do not understand the logic here. The movement "A he is protected B he is defenceless C BUT nobody dares" does not make any sense to me.

Subsidiary issue: is it "any" girl who might "have struck"? I would have thought so, as it is written "any" and not "anyone". But then it is "nobody" and not "not one", so, again, this is illogical to me.

Thanks!
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Only his eyes protected him (a psychological property probably related to how he made people feel when they encountered them). Other than that, he had no defences against any (=anyone, neither lancer nor girl) who might strike him (not sure what strike means here) but nobody (= noone = not one) dare to strike him.


    The rest of the (con) text may provide clues on what strike means and who might be tempted to strike him.
     

    Ashibaal

    New Member
    French
    Hello, thanks for your input, but if am not mistaken, "Lancers" is a dance, a quadrille, so I do not believe that "any" can grammatically refer to "lancers" as you seem to think.
    As for your question regarging the meaning of "strike" in this context, I assume that it just means "make incomfortable". Something along those lines.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    If you have more information that is relevant, that will help. I was simply basing the comment on the dictionary definition

    lancer /ˈlɑːnsə/n
    1. (formerly) a cavalryman armed with a lance
    2. a member of a regiment retaining such a title
    However, a ittle googling does confirm your interpretation (that woud have helped in the OP, too - it's not necessaarily wise to assume readers are familiar with old dances :))

    With your guess on strike (I think that's fine) the following makes sense.
    Only his eyes protected him (a psychological property probably related to how he made people feel when they encountered them). Other than that, he had no defences against anyone (it only makes sense if this refers to the girls) who might approach him (and make him feel uncomfortable) but nobody (= noone = not one) dared.
     
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    Ashibaal

    New Member
    French
    it's not necessaarily wise to assume readers are familiar with old dances
    Fair enough ^^

    I still think that the second sentence very much contradicts the first one, so I am still puzzled that they are simply juxtaposed without any logical connexion (all the more as there is a "but" afterwards). If "his eyes protect him", how can he be "defenceless"? Sure, you can interpret it as "only his eyes protected him; other than that, he was quite defenceless". But that does not seem obvious to me when I read what the author wrote. Quite the contrary: "his eyes protected him from any who might have struck". Quite powerful indeed. And then "he was quite defenceless". What the heck?
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    In reality, he is defenceless in the sense that he can't do anything to defend himself. His eyes, however, although they are not a true defense, are still keeping people from striking him. (I have no idea what is really happening in this passage.) He can't actually use his eyes to defend himself.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Fair enough ^^

    I still think that the second sentence very much contradicts the first one, so I am still puzzled that they are simply juxtaposed without any logical connexion (all the more as there is a "but" afterwards). If "his eyes protect him", how can he be "defenceless"? Sure, you can interpret it as "only his eyes protected him; other than that, he was quite defenceless". But that does not seem obvious to me when I read what the author wrote. Quite the contrary: "his eyes protected him from any who might have struck". Quite powerful indeed. And then "he was quite defenceless". What the heck?
    I used logic to interpret the passage to mean "His only protection was his eyes" but it does not make him invulnerable: he is still subject to attack if the eyes are not sufficient. However, no-one dares challenge/attack him. He would have suffered if the glare from his eyes had failed to dissuade the attacker.
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I think his eyes are a deterrent rather than a defense. On the order of animals with protective coloration that makes them look like more dangerous animals - they are defenseless, but their coloration tricks onlookers into thinking they have a defense. "Aposematism" on Wikipedia explains this

    I found the story... it's really very good, but written in a way that purposely contains contradictions like this for artistic reasons. So it's going to be difficult to understand in places. Very soon after this part, someone does come and (I think rather innocently and unintentionally) strike this defenseless man, and pretty much demonstrates that he was as defenseless as the author claimed.

    In other words, a girl sits down next to him, they converse, hit it off, and soon they get married.
     
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    Ashibaal

    New Member
    French
    Thank you all for your answers!


    Very soon after this part, someone does come and (I think rather innocently and unintentionally) strike this defenseless man, and pretty much demonstrates that he was as defenseless as the author claimed.
    Yes, I agree:)
     
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