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Sentence:

For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen

(George Orwell 1984)

  1. past continuous:
    For the moment he shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen.

  2. past continuous + past perfect:
    For the moment he shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that had streamed out of the telescreen.

Questions:

  1. Should the 'past continuous' be used in such sentence or both of the cases are acceptable

  2. In case when two options are acceptable, do they have the same meaning?

Link to the book (page #74)

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    You're asking many questions about 1984. Since Orwell was a talented writer, and 1984 was properly authored and edited, the grammar is correct throughout the book. The difference is the usual difference between past and past perfect. – James K Apr 9 '17 at 13:00
  • @James K I'm not dubious about grammar. I want to know the usage of tenses in this case. Whilst you claim that grammar is correct throughout the book you can find such expression as – Max Apr 9 '17 at 13:10
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    @Max Take your time by me is grammatical. It may not be common, but it's easy to see what it means. It might even represent a different underlying language than English. It's been too long since I read the book. – green_ideas Apr 9 '17 at 14:01
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    Your second alternative doesn't make sense. Any stuff that had streamed out of the telescreen would have to have been listened to as it was coming out, but the preceding was listening to [it] implies it was somehow "recorded" at the time when it was streamed, and listened to later. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '17 at 16:02
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    @Max: You should bear in mind that (1) although he often campaigned in favour of "simple, clear, direct" writing, Orwell did to some extent adopt a "literary, poetic" style. And (2) He was picking up his notions of "good style" a century ago. Time moves on and styles change - I suspect even he, if he was writing today, might have written For the moment he shut his ears to the more remote noises and listened to [blah blah]. It's not necessarily a good source for learning idiomatic current English. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '17 at 17:16
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past perfect is used to define the sequence of two events in the past, by placing the past perfect event before another past event.

he had shut his ears to the remoter noises

This is past perfect. In this context, shut refers to the moment when he stopped listening to other noises.

[he] was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen

This is past continuous: it occurred after he had shut his ears to other noises, and presumably while he was no longer listening to other noises.

In both of the alternative sentences that you suggested, shut would have to mean kept shut, but normally when we use shut as a verb we want shut to have an event meaning. shut as an adjective has a state meaning, so you could say "his ears were shut to...", but then you lose the concept that he actively chose to shut his ears to other noises.

In the second sentence, had streamed puts the streaming before the listening: this doesn't make sense. Remember that this book was written in the post-war years, so you couldn't store audio somehow and then listen to it later. You had to listen in real time, so the streaming and listening had to be concurrent. You can't use past perfect for streamed in this sentence.

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