35% down the page under Point 2: Gray writes:

Unlike the best of the colonial administrators, some of whom were deeply versed in the languages and histories of the peoples they ruled, [Richard] Dawkins displays no interest in the cultures of the African countries where he lived as a boy. It is the obedient devotion of those who served his family that has remained in his memory.

. . . The tone of indulgent superiority is telling. Dawkins is ready to smile on those he regards as beneath him as long as it is clear who is on top.

How do you determine/deduce the right definition of indulgent? Please explain the steps, thought processes; I’d like to try to resolve this myself in the future?

Does 1(.0) imply that Dawkins is too ready to be generous to or lenient with being superiority?

Or is it 1.1, which implies that Dawkins acts superiorly because he is self-indulgent?


Here are the steps.

  1. In a good dictionary, not a pocket/online dictionary, look up the adjective indulgent, the noun indulgence, and the verb indulge.

  2. Someone who is indulgent is someone who indulges.

  3. Find out what is meant by "smile on those he regards as beneath him". Is that a figurative or a literal expression?

  4. Associate "smile on" with a definition of indulge that seems to fit, such as *to treat with favor or complaisance or leniency a person who does not deserve favor or complaisance or leniency".

  5. Recognize that persons who are in a position to be lenient to those who are "beneath" them are often parents. Connect that idea with the idea of colonialism that is the subtext of this passage, and then make the leap to paternalism, and a different meaning of "beneath" (their "inferiors" -- see #3).

  6. Then we begin to understand what the author means by the phrase "indulgent superiority".

  • 2
    One who is learning English cannot expect to fully comprehend compositions written by authors with some degree of erudition--passages that might give a native speaker about to enter university some difficulties-- using only the free pocket dictionaries available on the web. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 14 '14 at 17:57

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