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The sentences:
Young Americans seemed to be natural savages when they came to the university. They had hardly heard the names of the writers who were the daily fare of their Europian counterparts, let alone took it into their heads that they could have a relationship to them. "What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?" .......This American intellectual obtuseness could seem horryfying and barbarous, a stunning of full humanity, an incapacity to experience the beautiful, an utter lack of engagement in the civilization's ongoing discourse.


Question #1: What does 'he' in 'What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?' refer to? A young American? If so, why not plural as in the sentence in front?

Question #2: About 'a stunning of full humanity, an incapacity to experience the beautiful...', is it a restatement of the American intellectual obtuseness, which could seem horryfying and barbarous? Or, is it a complement of the verb 'seem'?

I think it's a restatement, but my book says it's a complement...
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Comments  
Hello Taka

1. 'What's Hecuba to him' is from 'Hamlet'. Hamlet is marvelling that an actor can feign emotion so easily, for an imaginary woe (Hecuba's distress, after the fall of Troy), while he himself, with a real grievance, is unable to act (no pun intended – 'act' as in 'do what he has to do'):

'Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech;
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.'

The writer of your passage has used it to mean 'what does he (= any young American) care about Hecuba?', i.e. about Western literature from Homer to Shakespeare and beyond. It is perhaps a false analogy:

Writer = Hamlet
?Young American = the actor feigning emotion

But he earlier says that the young Americans have 'hardly heard the names' of [great] writers. So they presumably don't emote about them either. The two cases are only superficially similar.

2. If 'horrifying and barbarous' is the same as 'a stunning of full humanity', then it's a restatement. But I would say the two phrases had different meanings, and so would choose 'subject complement'.

But I often misunderstand these terms. Others may know better.

MrP
Thank you for the detailed explanation. I understand #1 completely.

Let me ask some more about #2.

If it's a complement, the construction is going to be like "S+V+C1:adjective+C2:noun". Is such juxtaposition possible? Is it grammatically acceptable to say like 'She is beautiful, goregous, and a wonderful woman' ?
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I thought it was much closer to this kind of construction, by the way.
The summer continued hot and dry, a condition which gave rise to the danger of forest fires. ==>'A condition' restates the summer which continued hot and dry.
I think so, yes: maybe 'she is beautiful, gorgeous; a wonderful woman'. But I wouldn't take exception to it.

I find 'let alone took' in the original odd: I would have put 'taken', as it belongs with the preceding 'had'.

MrP
I think so, yes


Really? I didn't know such a construction was acceptable.

What do you think about the additional example that I've given below the last post of mine?

(By the way, MrP, I didn't say it might be a restatement of 'horrifying and barbarious'; I said it might be a restatement of ' this American intellectual obtuseness , which could seem horryfying and barbarous'. )
I find 'let alone took' in the original odd: I would have put 'taken', as it belongs with the preceding 'had'.


Emotion: surprise I didn't realize that!
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Yes, I see what you mean. I would have taken it for a list of aspects of 'obtuseness'. Maybe someone else can give an opinion.

MrP
Not 'a stunting'?
Another reason why I cannot take it as a list of aspects is that 'a stunting of full humanity', 'an incapacity to experience the beautiful' and 'an utter lack of engagement in the civilization's ongoing discourse' could be categorized in a single group of inability, and 'horryfying and barbarous ' seems to be in a different group.

Anyway, let's wait and see what opinions other people have.
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