1

I'm puzzled by these three sentences from Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo:

Heavy trucks went downtown bouncing, headed to the garment district or the meatpacking docks, and nobody saw them. They saw the cockney selling children's books from a cardboard box, making his pitch from his knees. Eric thought they were the same thing, these two, and the old Chinese was the same, doing acupoint massage, and the repair crew passing fiber-optic cable down a manhole from an enormous yellow spool.

Who is meant by 'these two,' the cockney and the heavy trucks (which seems weird to me since the trucks are not one single thing), the cockney and the cardboard box (which I also don't really believe) or something else?

I think there is no usable context in the preceding or following sentences.

[EDIT] Also, is it correct to assume that the (last) sentence would stay grammatically correct and preserve its meaning if it said 'and the old Chinese were the same' instead of 'was the same?'

  • 1
    The last sentence needs the old Chinese was. The subject is singular, so using were puts it into the subjunctive mood, and there's no reason for using that in the sentence. – Peter Shor Sep 4 '16 at 11:36
1

I'm skimming an online version of the book.

The more I read, the more I need to read it again.

Okay, three things:

Nobody in the crowd mentioned in the previous paragraph saw the trucks doing their business.

Eric and whoever else with him saw the cockney.

Eric then glances out from their car parked on the corner, seeing all this, makes a comparison. He compares the old Chinese and the cable crew as being the same in some sort of philosophical sense, which is describe in the next few sentences in the paragraph.

More.

The author was building a scene leading to a climax with these two paragraphs that's summarized here in this one sentence: "How things persist, the habits of gravity and time, in this new and fluid reality." [I would guess another authors' take on "modern times." I've read this type of scenario in a couple of novels myself.]

EDIT:

I don't know if this is against the rules but I'd like to edit this Answer with my latest comment to the OP that really sort of, as in my final conclusion, addS up the OP's ideas, someone else's, and yours truly:

All writers have their "style" and you the reader "are going to like it or not!"

Anyway, one more time I read, and now I see that Eric sees them all one after another and does NOT compare, but ADDS them all up in "...they were the same thing..." "they" = trucks + cockney + old man + crew. That's was it is! Once he says "these two" he's ALREADY added the trucks and cockney, now, he finishes by adding the other two before he starts the next sentence building up to the climax. Thanks to you and Papa, and me of course, we put that author in his place! – Arch Denton 7 mins ago

  • 2
    +1, especially for pointing out the importance of "How things persist, the habits of gravity and time, in this new and fluid reality." However, although I think the old acupuncturist & the repair crew are being specifically compared (they both do their work “under the surface” [& perhaps the color of the enormous spool is intended to add to the similarity]), I think it’s possible that “these two” could be referring to the heavy trucks & the Cockney, which (along with the Chinese & work crew?) are (all 4?) being seen as, mostly unnoticed, obsolete/anachronistic “habits of time and gravity.” – Papa Poule Sep 4 '16 at 14:45
  • 1
    I stand corrected and I agree, because in ONE sentence "these two" + old man and crew = four. Notice: "...thought...theses two...and the old...and the repair. "Eric thought they were the same thing, these two, and the old Chinese was the same, doing acupoint massage, and the repair crew passing fiber-optic cable down a manhole from an enormous yellow spool. – Arch Denton Sep 4 '16 at 15:06
  • I think what you're saying makes the most sense. It just felt weird to me that he compared the trucks, which occured in an unspecified number, with the distinct image of the cockney, and referred to them as 'these two.' But I guess it's nevertheless the right interpretation and only my non-native English is confusing me here. – fweth Sep 4 '16 at 15:23
1

Eric is apparently the protagonist. Eric observes the bookseller and feels that he and the bookseller are somehow the same. The heavy trucks are just the backdrop.

The reason for the singular verb in "and the old Chinese was the same" is that this is a parallel construction with "Eric thought they were the same thing". In other words, "and the old Chinese was the same" is a shortened way of saying "and the old Chinese was also the same thing".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.