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His ulcer gave him a twinge, the ulcer that had grown in size and authority over the years of his career as an interpreter of America to provincial and ignorant notables from backwaters of civilization.

Hi, I'm an esl learner, and recently I'm reading a book "Player Piano" by Kurt Vonnegut. But I'm stuck in this sentence. Had the authority also grown like the size of ulcer had? Or the ulcer also gave a twinge to his authority as an interpreter like it dit to him? For what is preposition to after America? What's the grammatical function? It's so confusing and I can't guess even the least of its meaning.

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    reads to me like his ulcer had grown with his years of being an interpreter, i.e. his job and the size of the ulcer are connected.
    – JMP
    Apr 2 '17 at 10:17
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Well, it's great that you're learning with Vonnegut but you have to go in knowing that he's going to be playful with language and frequently ironic.

His ulcer gave him a twinge...

This should be straightforward.

...the ulcer that had grown in size and authority over the years...

Here, the authority is an odd word that catches the reader and personifies the ulcer. It gives it the aura of a parent, a teacher, a policeman, a pastor, or governor, which is odd. At the same time, it's understandable: as the ulcer becomes stronger, it exerts more control over the man and his life.

The man's authority didn't necessarily grow: the ulcer's power over his life did.

...over the years of his career as an interpreter of America to provincial and ignorant notables from backwaters of civilization.

This section has nothing to do with the authority, except by ironic contrast.

...of his career... modifies the years and, given the timing, indirectly states that his ulcer is due to his career.

...as an interpreter... modifies the career and explains what it is.

You seem to be taking it literally, though, and ...an interpreter of America... is obviously not a translator of languages but a tour guide, cultural professor, &c. who metaphorically acts as an interpreter.

...to provincial and ignorant notables from backwaters of civilization explains to whom he is interpreting America. On the surface, it's a very jingoistic way to phrase it that may make the author seem to be very pro-American. In fact, given (a) that this is Vonnegut, (b) the content of the rest of this book, and (c) the content of the rest of this sentence (the man's job is so unhealthy as to have taken control of his life via his ulcer), it is unquestionably ironic and anti-American. He is expressing the views of the man, but in a way that undercuts it and makes the reader question how such a destructive lifestyle could really be superior to others.

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    Yep, the "authority" belongs to the ulcer, in its ability to get the guy's attention and distract him from other matters. Ulcers tend to bring on a sense of anxiety, and likely that's the sort of "twinge" he felt.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 2 '17 at 12:53
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His ulcer gave him a twinge, the ulcer that had grown in size and authority over the years of his career as an interpreter of America to provincial and ignorant notables from backwaters of civilization.

authority: 7. Power to influence or persuade resulting from knowledge or experience. (thefreedictionary.com)

Thus, the ulcer grew in power over the years; in other words, the ulcer's power to make him suffer grew over the years.

This character has worked over the years as an interpreter. Interpreting what, to whom?

Interpreting what: America. This means he worked as an explainer of American culture (and perhaps history).

Interpreting to whom, i.e. whom was he explaining America to: provincial and ignorant notables from backwaters of civilization.

Notables are important people; provincial notables are people who are important in small towns, not in a big, important city; ignorant notables are people who don't know very much (but perhaps don't realize how little they know); backwaters of civilization are unimportant places.

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