Beside one of the speaker boxes crouched an androgynous creature in a raincoat. Its neck was bent, its hair was slicked back like a schoolboy’s off its sweating, waxen face, it nodded its head in time and kept its eyes turned up sideways and fixed on the lit, jerking figures above it. Something damned in its posture and its crooked stare made Athena shiver.She followed it to the lavatory – so it was a girl – and heard it vomiting.

Does "it" in the phrase "jerking figure above it" refer to "speaker box" and "jerking figures" are some kind of statue that are above it?

or does it mean: She was watching the figures of people that were dancing?

Source: The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

3 Answers 3


I think all of the instances of "it" refer to the androgynous creature. "It" can't very well mean the speaker box, since "it" has a neck, and hair, and nods its head, etc.

The text explicitly states that the "jerking figures" are above the creature and therefore also the speaker box that "it" is crouching beside. So those jerking figures cannot refer to the speaker box.

Since they are moving (jerking), they don't sound like any kind of statue or painting. I think your suggestion that "she was watching the figures of people that were dancing" is a good one. That's the image I pictured when I read the passage. The androgynous creature was watching people up on some kind of raised platform or dance floor, and the people were dancing (jerk-ily?) to music coming out of the speaker boxes.

  • Lots of thanks, and I have another question if it is possible for you to answer, Does "like a schoolboy's off its sweating" mean "like a hair of schoolboy who was sweating"? Jun 14, 2021 at 6:14
  • 1
    No. Her hair was slicked back / off her sweating face / like a schoolboy's (in a style resembling a young boy's haircut). Jun 14, 2021 at 8:07
  • 1
    Agree w/ Kate Bunting. This androgynous creature (who apparently uses the pronouns "it/its") is the one who has the sweating, waxen face. Its hair is "slicked back like a schoolboy’s", which just refers to the style of some (typical) schoolboy's hair. (The hypothetical schoolboy wouldn't necessarily have a sweaty, waxy face.)
    – Lorel C.
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:59

Why would you think that "it" refers to the noun "one of the speaker boxes" and not the "androgynous creature in a raincoat"? Since the first mention of the androgynous creature there have been five uses of "its" and one use of "it," all referring to the androgynous creature. The "it" you are asking about is the second one to refer to the creature.

There is not enough context to say what or exactly where the "jerking figures" are, but the image in my mind from reading the passage is that the figures are above both the speaker box and the androgynous figure next to the speaker box.

  • Thank you, so do you think "jerking figures" are a kind of statue? or some paintings with ugly shape? Jun 13, 2021 at 19:45
  • @Viser without context I cannot say. They might be statues, or paintings, or people, or ghosts.
    – randomhead
    Jun 13, 2021 at 20:00
  • Viser, you are reading the book - does the scene describe a dance? Jun 14, 2021 at 8:08
  • @Kate thank you for your comment, I guessed, because they are in a place that people are dancing, but I was not sure and because of that I asked. Jun 14, 2021 at 11:18
  • That's what I meant - 'are the characters at a social event where dancing is taking place?' The 'speaker box' is presumably providing music for the dancing, and the figures are 'above' the 'creature' because she is crouching. Jun 14, 2021 at 12:35

I think that "jerking" here is a verb, not a participle, which relates to "eyes" and fits into a structure normally represented by "drawing figures", where "figures" may be digits or numbers. We can think of that its eyes were tracing numbers with their awkward, jerking movements.

  • " ... kept its eyes turned up sideways and fixed on the lit, jerking figures above it." Your interpretation would make "the lit" into a noun (that eyes were fixed on) ... which would be, In this text, ... entirely possible ; )
    – Lorel C.
    Jun 14, 2021 at 0:32

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