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I am reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, and I could not understand this: He returned to Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife, and with her established a line that ran high to daughters. Simon lived to an impressive age and died rich.

I do not really get the meaning of "the line" and how does a "line" "run high"?

I guess it means his wife helped him become rich and he came to be richest when the daughters born, but I am not sure...

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    See ODO, s.v. line, 4.2: A connected series of people following one another in time (used especially of several generations of a family): we follow the history of a family through the male line. – StoneyB Jul 26 '16 at 10:02
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Harper Lee had a good ear—this is typical educated speech in the US south, mixing formal syntax with very relaxed colloquial diction.

For line see ODO, s.v. line, 4.2:

A connected series of people following one another in time (used especially of several generations of a family):
we follow the history of a family through the male line.

ODO is less helpful with Lee's use of run here, but these three uses bracket the sense:

3.5 [NO OBJECT] (run in) (Of a quality, trait, or condition) be common or inherent in members of (a particular family), especially over several generations: weight problems run in my family

3.6 [NO OBJECT] Pass into or reach a specified state or level: inflation is running at 11 percent [WITH COMPLEMENT]: the decision ran counter to previous government commitments

6.1 [NO OBJECT] (Of a system, organization, or plan) operate or proceed in a particular way: everything’s running according to plan

With an adjectival predicate complement we might generalize these as something like "exhibit the specified quality throughout its course".

High to daughters marries two sorts of complement to run. High is an ordinary adjectival predicate complement, as when we say that a river is running "high"—that is, the water level is higher than normal. With run the to in to daughters doesn't designate a goal but a path; we say for instance My taste runs more to Joyce than to James, meaning that I tend to prefer James Joyce's writing to Henry James'—the spatial metaphor here is that the "course" of my reading runs more often through Joyce's writing.

The passage in question, then, could be paraphrased

He established a family which in each generation exhibited an unusually high proportion of daughters.

  • I appreciate your complete inference and illustration in depth (the "spatial metaphor" of your example is vivid and inspirational). I might never get to understand the context without your help. Truly thank you! – user32250 Jul 29 '16 at 17:44

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