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This text is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner.

In the street there was a dusty summer wind, a morning not quite hot enough. If they walked shoulder to shoulder, if they sat side by side, it was in order to become the world’s audience instead of being obliged to perform their personalities for each other. They bought tickets, they travelled. Their mutual curiosity was intense, but oblique. They watched one another witnessing the world: how two fat businessmen examined as merchandise the girl who pouted and pretended to read the paper in the café window with her skirt up round her thighs; how the waitress in Myer’s mural hall crossed the vast room with both arms high above her head and a dirty tablecloth hanging from each hand; the hippy boy on the tram who bought a ticket to St Kilda and announced to the other passengers, ‘I must go to the sea. To the ocean’; the girl whose lips moved as she read a book called Tortured for Christ. The world divided itself for them, presented itself in a series of small theatrical events. ‘Now,’ said a woman to a man at the busstop, ‘I’ll tell you the whole story. See the thing >was that . . .’

What was the thing? They pointed out these eventlets to each other. They did not discuss or pass judgment, but defined themselves against the attitudes revealed by the unwitting characters in these dramas. They wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree. Harmony! To be each other. They examined clothes in shop windows.

Does the whole part in bold mean: "they compared their attitude with other people's attitudes and knew themselves better, and because they wanted to be friendly (to be in harmony) they did not want to know each other very well"? Maybe in this case they came across some differences that made their relationship cold. They need harmony to be with each other.

I asked this question in the forum literature stackexchang but nobody answered so I asked it in this forum.

Maybe there is something grammatically I do not understand it. I have not seen the use of less than like this.

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  • Knowing each other was less important to them than agreeing with each other. – Old Brixtonian Feb 26 at 12:27
  • These two people (women?) are interested more in agreeing with another than they are in knowing one another. It's not a cold relationship inasmuch as it is a strictly social relationship. These kinds of relationships are common among women, from teenagers on up, where they focus on doing things together , not getting to know each other. It's the fact that they are at the mall, at the concert, wherever together that's the thing. It's a shallow kind of relationship. Hope that helps. – FeliniusRex Feb 26 at 19:18
  • "they" in the context in bold refer to Philip and Athena. one of them is man and the other is woman. – Viser Hashemi Feb 26 at 21:37
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but defined themselves against the attitudes revealed by the unwitting characters in these dramas

They disagreed with the characters of the whole story (the dramas).

They wanted to know each other less than they wanted to agree.

I agree with @oldbrixtonian - the characters of that story probably prefer not to tell their point of view (so: not knowing each other) rather than disagree.

Harmony! To be each other.

Harmony is close to symbiosis ; they wanted a fusional relationship

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  • Lots of thanks. Can't we say "against" in the phrase "but defined themselves against the attitudes revealed by the unwitting characters in these dramas" mean: comparing? I mean can we say they compare their behaviour with behaviour of people who they watch them? – Viser Hashemi Feb 26 at 18:45
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    "Against" here means "not in favour of", "disagreeing with". They defined themselves opposed to the unwitting characters in these dramas From the context, you can conclude that the characters in these dramas do not share much and avoid disagreements at any cost. And 'they' do not want that. 'They' prefer to share more, 'they' prefer to know each other. – benice Feb 26 at 18:49
  • I got alittle confused, in the sentence in bold "they" refer to Philip and Athena and it is my understanding: because they wanted to be in agreement they did not prefer to know each other in detail, but people who they were watching them did not behave like them. am I right? – Viser Hashemi Feb 26 at 21:34

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