Grandma was a force of nature—impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm.

From Educated by Tara Westover

The first sentece is talking about grandma's temper, then the rest is how she make herself up.

My question is : What does the bold sentence mean?


1 Answer 1


It isn't directly descriptive, nor does it mean a deep look. It can be paraphrased as "Everyone who looks at her, takes a step back."

The structure here is [infinitive] {be-verb} {infinitive} is a rather unusual example of the common subject-verb-complement sentence.

This kind of structure is used in an idiom:

To know her is to love her.

That idiom means that everyone who knows her also loves her. Knowing her is a sufficient condition for loving her. If you know her, then you love her.

A similar explanation works here. It means "If you look at her, you will take a step back."

That is probably figurative, not literal, and you'll need to interpret it in the context of the story. The sentence doesn't tell you why one would take a step back. That is a matter of interpretation.

  • Thank you so much
    – wtdark
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 8:23

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