not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance

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sisse nar

Senior Member
Korean
Hi, all.

This is from <A death in the family> by James Agee.

This is about a lower middle class block in Southern U.S. in 1920's.
What does "
they were not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance" mean?
How could it paraphrased? What does "the other sort of intimate acquaintance" mean?




There were fences around one or two of the houses, but mainly the yards ran into each other with only now and then a low hedge that wasn’t doing very well. There were few good friends among the grown people, and they were not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance, but everyone nodded and spoke, and even might talk short times, trivially, and at the two extremes of the general or the particular, and ordinarily next-door neighbors talked quite a bit when they happened to run into each other, and never paid calls.
 
  • Greyfriar

    Senior Member
    Hello,

    Who are 'they'?

    If 'they' are who I assume, then 'they' are specific people in the story.

    It means that 'they' while among the 'grown people,' were not poor enough to have lived the sort of lifestyle the rest of the group had endured (poor lifestyle).

    In other words, they were better off than the rest of the group and therefore did not share a common interest with those who were poorer. (Differences in the amount of food available to 'them', the way 'they' dressed, quality of their home furnishings, etc.)

    In poorer communities people tend to get friendly towards each other and are helpful to their neighbours, frequently go into each other's houses for a chat about how they are managing with little money to spend and often with several of children to feed.

    You say the group was 'lower middle-class' but standards in this social group can still be different.
     
    Last edited:

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Who are 'they'?
    If 'they' are who I assume, then 'they' are specific people in the story.
    It means that 'they' while among the 'grown people,' were not poor enough to have lived the sort of lifestyle the rest of the group had endured (poor lifestyle).
    I don't think "they" are specific people who "are among the grown people". Nobody specific has been mentioned yet, and this extract is from the opening introductory paragraph of the whole story. I think "they" just generally refers to the people who live in this neighbourhood.
    "There were few good friends among the grown people" seems to me to mean no more than "not many of the adults were good friends" (why he refers to grown people is unclear, perhaps the children were more friendly than the adults).

    I agree that it means people tended to keep to themselves.They were polite and made occasional small-talk, but that's as far as it went. Though it was a poor neighbourhood, it was not poor enough to foster the kind of friendships that tend to arise in areas that are even poorer.

    What intrigues me, though, is the word "other" in "other sort of intimate acquaintance". If it means other than "good friends", then what does it mean? Does something seedy lie behind "intimate"?
     

    Greyfriar

    Senior Member
    'There were few good friends among the grown people, and they were not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance.'

    Hello, Edinburgher,

    Now you have me wondering about this. I am off to Google the book and ferret for any clues.*

    If you have seen the other posts on this novel you will know that the text can be rather difficult. Maybe you have read it?

    *Miss Marple has nothing on me.;)


     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I haven't read it (it's not really my thing) but I did manage to download a complete (and free) pdf copy to help with all those questions. I'm afraid I can't remember where I found it, but I'm sure you'll be able to ferret it out.

    It could be that "they" refers to those of the people who were good friends, but it's unclear. If so, it makes one wonder even more what the "other sort" of intimate acquaintance might be.
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    “They” seems to refers to the local residents in general. The text just before Sissi Nar’s quote states: We are talking now of …Knoxville…. in the time that I lived there.... as a child. It was a little bit mixed sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded
    And later in the same paragraph: The men were mostly small businessmen
     

    sisse nar

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I also wonder what the "other sort" of intimate acquaintance might be.
    Is it possible that it refers to the need of a poorer neighborhood?
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    If you reverse the sentence it would say “Everyone nodded and spoke, and even might talk short times, trivially…etc., but they (these lower middle-class residents) were not poor enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance”.
    It means, as suggested by Greyfriar, that their interaction with each other was not as personal / closely-involved as that of poorer people.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    That's an interesting interpretation, FF, that "other" could be a forward reference, meaning "other than (the specifically mentioned niceties that follow)". Does it not strike you as stylistically highly unusual, especially after what precedes it in the same sentence? It would mean that "other intimate acquaintance" would simultaneously refer back to "being good friends". If you can pull it off, using "other" to indicate sameness when it normally indicates differentness is very clever, but I'm not sure it was particularly successful, given how easy it is to fail to make sense of it.
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    But I'm not indicating "sameness" ;) "Other sort" refers to their interactions. I was trying to indicate the difference (suggested by the author) between members of the lower middle-class limiting themselves to polite conversation and the poorer class being more intimate.

    As I read it "There were few good friends among the grown ups" is a fact about the locals residents in general - in other words "Not many of the adults (amongst them i.e. the residents) were good friends and they (the residents) were certainly not like poorer folk, who interacted with each other on a much more personal level, but they (the residents) were at least polite to each other.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    As I read it "There were few good friends among the grown ups" is a fact about the locals residents in general - in other words "Not many of the adults (amongst them i.e. the residents) were good friends and they (the residents) were certainly not like poorer folk, who interacted with each other on a much more personal level, but they (the residents) were at least polite to each other.
    That's exactly my reading too, but I just can't see what role "other" plays. What is "other than" what else? One sort of intimate acquaintance that has been mentioned is "good friends", but what other sort does the author have in mind? I half suspect an allusion to illicit carnal relations. But maybe that's just because I have a dirty mind.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Agreeing with previous posts, I think it may mean they weren't poor enough to be living in crowded conditions, where people become intimately acquainted because they're living "on top of" one another. I don't see anything illicit, unless the idea of lack of privacy is supposed to suggest "loose morals" and "goings on". I haven't read the book.
     
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