The approaching night 'tore and darted' and 'sleep came in bits.

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She eased into her porch bed, listening for Pa's boat. The approaching night 'tore and darted' and 'sleep came in bits', but she must have 'drooped off' near morning for she woke with the sun fully on her face.

What are the three phrases meaning here?
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Where is this from?

    The two parts relating to sleep ("sleep came in bits" and "dropped off") are straightforward. "In bits" means in small/short separate pieces, and we might imagine her repeatedly sleeping for short periods then waking up, perhaps 15 minutes at a time (although this is very much a guess). "Drop off" means fall asleep, as you will find in most dictionaries.

    "Tore and darted" is figurative language, and here the author invites readers to imagine what is going on. Both verbs refer to rapid movement, perhaps short movements in different directions, but fast, and with an impression of suddenness. Clearly the night itself can do no such thing, not in a literal manner. Perhaps it refers to her thoughts, or perhaps it refers to insects in the air. Usually authors provide clues to figurative meanings in the way they create a scene, perhaps over several pages. When we only have a couple of sentences, we can only guess.

    Mrs JJJ

    Senior Member
    English (British)
    Where is this from?
    I believe it’s taken from the 2019 bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. Although I read the book not that long ago, I have to admit that I am mystified by the phrase ‘the approaching night tore and darted’. One normally thinks of the night ‘creeping slowly’ across the scene, which is more or less the opposite of this! Perhaps that’s the point? For the heroine, everything is different......

    The novel is about a little girl who was left living on her own in a shack on the shores of Carolina. Nature has an important role in the book, so I think that your suggestions concerning the meaning are definitely valid ones, Uncle Jack.

    At this point in the story, the little girl has badly hurt her foot on an old nail and is very scared that she’ll get ‘lockjaw’ (tetanus). So I suppose another interpretation could be based on the fact that, in addition to being scared and alone, she may also have a slight fever, as a result of the injury and her primitive first-aid efforts. Thus the author could be describing the way that again and again, she drifts off to sleep and then suddenly wakes up with a start. And, upon opening her eyes, instead of seeing intermittent flashes of light, she “sees” intermittent flashes of the darkness. And she is again afraid. But since the author goes on to mention sleep, anyway, I don’t really think this is likely. I prefer the insects , or the random thoughts, as suggested in the previous post. 🙂
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