For all of Andrew’s life, Simon had been a contented prisoner of his own contempt for other people, making his house a fortress against the world where his will was law, and where his mood constituted the family’s daily weather. As he had grown older, Andrew had become aware that his family’s almost total isolation was not typical, and become slightly embarrassed by it. Friends’ parents would ask him where he lived, unable to place his family; they would ask casual questions about whether his mother or father intended to come to social events or fundraisers. Sometimes they remembered Ruth from the primary school years, when mothers mixed in the playground. She was much more sociable than Simon. Perhaps, if she had not married such an antisocial man, she would have been more like Fats’ mother, meeting friends for lunch or dinner, busily connected to the town.
(The Causal Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling)

What’s the meaning of the ‘of’ in the passage? I'm now reading it as:
(1) He is a contented prisoner having the property of despising others.
(2) He is a prisoner contented by despising others
(3) He is a contented prisoner who has the natural disposition of despising others.
(4) He is the prisoner inasmuch as he is despising others but contented

When I read ‘of’, I habitually interpret it to my language’s equivalent ‘.’ But it has sixteen entries in there, I wonder which would be the one for the context whenever I come across ‘of’. Would you tell me what ‘of’ in above context means?

  • 1
    If you replace "of" with "because of", it might make more sense.
    – user3169
    Nov 13, 2014 at 7:58
  • 2
    If it works for you, you can try thinking of "his own contempt for other people" as a jail. It's a metaphorical jail. Then, you can understand the phrase "a prison of such a jail" the same way you understand "The Prisoner of Azkaban". Nov 13, 2014 at 9:13
  • @DamkerngT. yes I understand. It's the #2 in OLAD. He is the prisoner belonging to the despising-others-prison.
    – Listenever
    Nov 13, 2014 at 10:43
  • 'because of' doesn't work for me. He is not contented because of his contempt, nor as a result of being a prisoner. He is content despite those. Remove 'content' to dig further. Then swap out 'contempt' to get to the crux. He is a prisoner of an idea... like he could be the prisoner of the king, yet not the prisoner of a jail, as it's not the jail that makes him stay there. Nov 13, 2014 at 10:45
  • Have publishers given up on Fats's as the preferred possessive for a singular name ending in s?
    – user6951
    Nov 13, 2014 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


Just to break it out a bit...

  • He dislikes other people. [has contempt for]
  • He is trapped in this dislike & cannot change it [prisoner]
  • He is happy with that situation, of being trapped in his opinion about others, & has no wish to change. [content]

This is metaphorical or figurative language. When we are literally prisoners, we are prisoners of a prison. A prisoner of a prison = the prison's prisoner.

To say that someone is "a prisoner of his own contempt for other people" is to say that his contempt for other people is a kind of prison. He was shut away inside his own outlook on life and people.

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