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Hi! I need your help. Please, explain in short what is the main point of the following sentence.

This is an essay on trifles - main point, trifles make up the happiness or the misery of mortal life and nothing's trivial, no matter how small or ordinary it may seem if you know how to look and find the meaning in it.

The line that puzzles me (especially the first part of it) reads: "The greater part of most ordinary biographies is a record of what was individually set in a minor key, and there is not much space between those apparent trifles that engender dissatisfaction and the sense of defeat and those that yield recurring pleasure."

Thanks!
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>set in a minor key

this is from music; basically in this case says recording events of a minor importance (trifling details in the life of a character)
I'm not sure that that's it.

To Western ears, when music is written in a minor key, it tends to sound "sad." If you end on a minor note, you don't mean on an unimportant point, but and ending with something that is not good news or doesnt't reflect a positive message.

So things that are "in a minor key" is a metaphor for things that make you feel sad.
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Marius, your're right, I got that part. The author is British so it is not "sad". But this is what I don't get. It says: what was individually set in a minor key....
Does that mean , in simple words, that one is responisble if he has an ordinary life? In other words, those ordinary biographies are ordinary because people themselves made them that way?
Thank you very much for your efforts. This line gives me a lot of troubles.
LucreziaDoes that mean , in simple words, that one is responisble if he has an ordinary life? In other words, those ordinary biographies are ordinary because people themselves made them that way?
No, I don't think so. The line just says that for most of us (if not all), the life is full of small events, some sad (see dissatisfaction), some joyous (see pleasure).

But I took note of what Grammar Geek mentioned and she might be right. The context isn't complete enough to draw a definite conclusion.
GG is right about the connection between minor keys and sadness. Check this excerpt:

----------
Harmony, on the other hand, is for the soul. A lot of Gospel tunes are
written in major keys; they are bright and happy. As young children in
grade school we are often taught that major chords are happy, and
minor chords are sad.
If I play a whole series of minor chords on the
piano, you will soon be very weighted down and sorrowful. The minor
chords depict sadness. There is nothing wrong with minor chords in and
of themselves, but they must be balanced. If we are going to talk
about how our Savior was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,
we might want to use some minor chords--but not a steady diet of
them. You need to mix and balance them with other types of chords.

http://www.learnthebible.org/ives_melody_harmony_rhythm.htm
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Although minor keys are certainly associated with non-cheery emotions, as GG says, the intended sense of the passage doesn't seem to accord with that interpretation:


"...there is not much space between those apparent trifles that engender dissatisfaction and the sense of defeat and those that yield recurring pleasure..."
So perhaps the writer was a little confused about his musical terms, and meant to imply "minor importance" by his "minor key".

MrP
That's how I understood it, as "minor importance", but "individually" still confuses me. I don't think that the author is confused. He teaches philosophy at Oxford (maybe I should have said that in the first place, lol).
Noone seems to fully understand this sentence, not even the native speakers.
As the matter of fact, I am a literary translator, and the worst nightmare of all of us is to get the line where you understand every single word but you can't grasp the meaning. So try to look at it like this: how would you express his thought in other, simpler words?

Thank you all for being so supportive!

Lucrezia
I don't envy your you task. There are too many obscurities in this excerpt for me to attempt a rewrite, despite your clear summary of the essay.

I question: the word 'ordinary', the phrases 'individually set' and 'minor key', the connection between the main clause and the subordinate clause, the word 'space', and the word 'recurring'.

Does 'ordinary biographies' mean 'typical biographies' or ' mediocre biographies' or 'biographies of ordinary people'?

Does 'what was individually set in a minor key' mean 'individual events that, at the time, were experienced as insignificant'?
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