Could you help me with the meaning of the phrase “bound together by some necessity of nerve that excluded him” in the extract below? What does "nerve" mean here? Does it mean "courage" or "nervous system?" Please help me.

“...The boy shrugged and got up. He walked off, across the room to the screen door where he stood looking out. At once Bishop climbed down off his chair and started after him, putting on his hat as he went. Tarwater stiffened when the child approached but he did not move and Rayber watched as the two of them stood there side by side, looking out the door --the two figures, hatted and somehow ancient, bound together by some necessity of nerve that excluded him. He was startled to see the boy put his hand on Bishop's neck just under his hat, open the door and guide him out of it...”

  • I find it hard to interpret, too. It certainly means nerve in the sense of courage; but necessity is puzzling. The only meaning I can find for it is the epistemic "There must be some kind of nerve they share that binds them together", but I think it is an odd use of necessity.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 10:30
  • is it this courage that do ignore Rayber? I mean that maybe it is needed this courage for ignoring, excluding, him. am I right?
    – Peyman
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 10:41
  • perhaps, but I don't think so. I think that excluded him means that he was excluded because it was something that they shared which he did not have, not because the "nerve" was about excluding him. But as I say, I find it very hard to interpret.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 11:02
  • 1
    It would be very helpful to know where this came from (especially who wrote it, if a link is not available)
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 11:21
  • @AndrewLeach It would seem to be from here but apparently available only in hard copy.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


I am struggling to make sense of the poetic insight the author has perceived in the situation depicted, and embedded in this phrase. I start by accepting that she has made an observation that she wants to communicate, so I take it that there is in fact a meaning here. I think this is important, because there really does not have to be any specific meaning beyond some evocative impressionistic observation that can't be communicated in words. It's also important for me to point out my process, because I want to emphasize that, at best, all I'm doing is making an educated guess as to the meaning, and only the author could have explained it precisely. The rest of us can only surmise.

And I think it means one of two things.

The first possibility is that "nerve" means simply "courage," and the necessity comes from either the fact that courage demands of a person that he or she act in a particular way, or the fact that these people feel the need to show their courage for others to see.

The second possibility is that "nerve" means what it does in the phrase "you've got some nerve." This use of nerve equates to "arrogant gall" or "impudence." If this is the meaning, I would then say that this kind of "nerve" carries its own necessity of expressing itself. If you're impudent, you act that way by your very nature.

The larger context of this quote, which would give us a better idea of the circumstances and the character of the people involved, would likely help us interpret it even better, but this is the best I can do with what we've got.

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