The season of strikes seemed to have run itself to a standstill. Almost every trade and industry and calling in which a dislocation could possibly be engineered had indulged in that luxury. The last and least successful convulsion had been the strike of the World's Union of Zoological Garden attendants, who, pending the settlement of certain demands, refused to minister further to the wants of the animals committed to their charge or to allow any other keepers to take their place.

from The Unkindest Blow, a short story by Saki

What is the difference between "in that luxury" and "in the luxury"?

  • 1
    If it were the luxury, I would have to ask, "What luxury?" because nothing had yet been established. By using the demonstrative, you are figuratively pointing to the luxury you're talking about. (Striking, as mentioned in the previous sentence.) But you could say the luxury of striking, because the final words qualify it, isolating that particular luxury from the others. – Jason Bassford Jan 1 '19 at 15:57
  • I think "the" is also demonstrative. – bandaid Jan 1 '19 at 16:04
  • I found several written instances of We cannot afford the luxury of a strike, which just goes to show it's not a ridiculous reference. – FumbleFingers Jan 1 '19 at 16:06
  • @bandaid Grammatically speaking, it is not. The is a definite article—whereas that is a demonstrative pronoun. – Jason Bassford Jan 1 '19 at 16:32

"The luxury" and "that luxury" have almost the same meaning: "a particular, specific instance of luxury."

"That" is a little more emphatic and indicates that the particular specific instance is the one which has just been specified. Because hearing of a strike as a "luxury" might not be expected by readers, the writer used "that" so it would be clear to his audience that striking was indeed what "luxury" referred to.

  • What does "luxury" refer to? I think it's odd to say "A strike has a luxury." – bandaid Jan 1 '19 at 16:39
  • Yes, I think it's odd too. (See FumbleFingers' comment on the question.) Although I haven't read the whole story, it sounds to me like maybe Saki was using the word "luxury" (which sounds kind of ridiculous in this context) to subtly express his attitude either toward strikes in general, or else toward the completely degenerated situation he describes in the passage. – Lorel C. Jan 1 '19 at 16:48

He is implicitly referring to a strike as a luxury taken by the strikers or their unions. Since this is not an obvious reference, if he said "the luxury", it would be unclear whether he was referring to striking or to something else (perhaps something in a previous sentence). Using the demonstrative "that" makes it clear that he is referring back to what he has just said, and defining it as a luxury. (I suppose it is still potentially ambiguous, because "that" could have different antecedents; but in context it must be the strikes).

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