Source: 'The 10 best… closing lines of books', The Guadian broadsheet, by Robert McCrum

"There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady's bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship's funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture – Find What the Sailor Has Hidden – that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen."

A brilliant, and moving, mixture of perception and reality. Contrast the incoherent end of William Burroughs's Naked Lunch, "No got … C'lom Fliday."

How are arrangements of underwear, and the coincidence of a car and a bicycle, strategems? I may have detected a clue: does the use of 'strategem' somehow relate to the prepositional clause (that I greyed), because words like scrambled, hidden, finder suggest something requiring a strategem?

Yet I haven't read the novel, so what's so devious or special about a funnel behind a clothesline? How does this relate to Find[ing] What the Sailor Has Hidden? Yes, I agree that in general, the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen [by the finder], but so what? I did try some literary criticism but it doesn't seem to clarify this last line as exhaustively as I seek.

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    they are strategems because the author says they are. This question is off topic because it asks for literary interpretation of the last sentence of a novel. – user6951 Jan 11 '15 at 3:24

When the pink and blue underwear are described as cakewalking, one understands them to be placed above the clothesline, dancing on it, as it were, not hanging from it. And it is odd to find a lady's bicycle on a rudimentary balcony.

So these stratagems are devices, in the imaginary Find What the Sailor has Hidden drawing, which are designed to trick the eye, to cause it to pass over the images as normal, not out of the ordinary.

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I think the answer is READ THE NOVEL

Or look the words up.

Why do you want us to do your thinking for you.

This is not a question about English, this is a question suggesting that we interpret a literary passage for you. It is opinion-based. It is also the case you can look the words up. A strategem is a strategem. How are we supposed to know more than that?

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    While I agree: aren't we usually a bit nicer than the guys over at ELU? – Stephie Jan 11 '15 at 19:34
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    This should be a reason given to close the question, not an answer. – user3169 Jan 11 '15 at 21:19

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