They turned and followed her past a deserted playground, one of them bump-bumping a stick along an iron fence, the other whistling: these sounds accumulated around her like that gathering roar of an oncoming engine, and when one of the boys, with a laugh, called, “Hey, whatsa hurry?” her mouth twisted for breath. Don’t, she thought, thinking to throw down her purse and run.

Source: T. Capote: "Master Misery" http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=6786

What is the exact meaning of the last sentence? I guess that it could be paraphrased in this way: Initially she wanted to throw down her purse and run and in the end she decided not to do that. I suppose that this the sort of creative writing that does not follow the grammatical rules but is there some grammatical pattern from which this for me very unusual sentence is derived?

  • 1
    I think your interpretation is correct. I think it might be easier to understand, too, if it were punctuated a little differently, i.e., with quotation marks and maybe a dash: "Don’t," she thought – thinking to throw down her purse and run.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:48
  • @J.R. I think Kevin's very different interpretation is actually more likely. Instead of posting your short answer as a comment, could you move it to an actual answer so it can be voted up or down on its merit?
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:19
  • @mattdm - I would want to spend more time reading the original passage before I left that as an answer. I left it as a comment instead because it was little more than an initial hunch.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:41

1 Answer 1


The sentence makes a lot more sense in context - it would be difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence standing on its own.

As I interpret it:

The woman is dreading what these boys will do. They've been following her, and then one of them calls out to her. Internally, she thinks to herself, "Don't!" Meaning that she doesn't want the boys to do anything to her. She then contemplates throwing down her purse and running.

I can't access the linked site from work, but I'd guess that's what it means.

Edit: To clarify, it seems more likely that the "Don't" part of the sentence relates more to the boy's words than it does to the thought of dropping one's purse and running.

  • 4
    I interpreted it as: 'She told herself "don't" when she considered throwing down her purse and running.' Like she felt intimidated but had to talk herself out of responding with total panic.
    – gunfulker
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:00

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