My quote is from "The Social Triangle" by O Henry:

At any rate Ikey toiled and snipped and basted and pressed and patched and sponged all day in the steamy fetor of a tailor shop. But when work was done Ikey hitched his wagon to such stars as his firmament let shine.

My question is whether "such stars" refer to star-shaped something he could hitch his wagon to?

  • it seems an idiom – Andrew Tobilko Jan 8 at 14:47
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    I'd say this is extremely "figurative" use of language. There's probably nothing remotely "star-shaped" involved. I haven't read the full context, but it's probably just a "generic" reference using deliberately quirky phrasing. Ikey's life (particularly at work) was very unstimulating / unglamorous, but he did dream of more exotic things (not very exotic, just less mundane than his actual daily work routine). – FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 14:48
  • The underlying metaphoric reference is almost certainly to idiomatic follow your star (follow your dreams / destiny) - which itself probably owes much to the 3 wise men following the star to Bethlehem – FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 14:50

"hitch one's wagon to a star" is an American metaphor for having big ambitions.

"... stars ... his firmament let shine" refers to the metaphorical stars that he was able to see, or that he chose to see.

the "such X as" is a literary construction meaning "the X that", and suggests that there is not very much X, or the X is not very good. For example:

Meanwhile Shji was sucking his thumbs, with such patience as he could command. -*Tales of the Samurai - James S de Benneville"

The overall meaning is probably something like:

Ikey had ambitions beyond his daily life, but even his ambitions were severely limited by his circumstances.

  • Thanks a lot. Your answer is very helpful. – f6pafd Jan 8 at 15:22

In short, the answer is no.

O. Henry is using a metaphor to illustrate the difference between the small, smelly confines of the tailor shop and the vastness of Ikey's imagination and interests when he left work.

He then focussed on the things that interested him in the world around him.

O. Henry compares him to a person looking up at the brightest stars in the heavens. The heavens represent Ikey's world and possibly the world of his imagination. The stars are the most appealing aspects or items in that world.

"He hitched his wagon" here means that he followed his interests.

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    He followed his interests would normally mean he did the things he found interesting, but idiomatic hitch your wagon [to a successful person or thing] means use that person or thing to make yourself more successful, by "coat-tailing" them. As in He followed / acted in his best interests (by tagging along with X). – FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 14:56
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    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica in the US, hitch your wagon to a star has a different, and quite specific, meaning. collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/… – JavaLatte Jan 8 at 15:03
  • My link was to thefreedictionary rather than collins, but it was exactly the same definition. I was just saying that followed his interests seems an odd thing to say there, because it normally implies did things he found engaging, whereas the relevant sense here is did things that were advantageous. – FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 15:08
  • Thanks a bunch. You help me a lot. – f6pafd Jan 8 at 15:23

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