The Sense of Being Average

“Average at life; average at truth; morally average,” says Julian Barnes in The Sense of an Ending. Tricolon with a twist makes the quote tick.

One more vegetable amongst other vegetables.

Quote: Average, that’s what I’d been, ever since I left school. … Average at life; average at truth; morally average.

This is Tony speaking, the protagonist of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, which won the Man Booker Prize for 2011. He, Tony, is brooding over a life lost to muddling about, to getting by, to letting go of aspirations and dreams.

The full quote gets the point across explicitly, familiar example included.

Average, that’s what I’d been, ever since I left school. Average at university and work; average in friendship, loyalty, love; average, no doubt, at sex. There was a survey of British motorists a few years ago which showed that ninety-five per cent of those polled through they were “better than average” drivers. But by law of averages, we’re most of us bound to be average. Not that this brought any comfort. The word resounded. Average at life; average at truth; morally average.

What makes the Quote quiver?

Word-hammering of average with the word-order change.

He makes his feelings clear to us by repeating the word average which sounds like and evokes just that: the (un)spectacular averageness of the v-r-g letter cluster. Think of the words beverage, leverage, coverage — all echo a neutral, bureaucratic, average feeling. Compare with: booze, blackmail, samizdat.

What is at the core of the Quote?

Tricolon and conduplicatio.

The last sentence of the Quote is a tricolon, a figure in which three parallel sentence fragments occur consecutively. The parallelism is achieved by repeating average at the start of the first two clauses and at the end of the third clause. That difference acts as a point of interest, and a visual culmination aiding the culmination in meaning.

Conduplicatio is a general term for repetition of a word or words.

Today’s Quote isn’t particularly chuckle-worthy (quite the opposite!) but the whole novel is imbued with the typically dry, British wit, that is guaranteed 1 to make you smile. Here is a taster in which teenage Tony thinks about what most boys think about at that age.

We knew from our reading of great literature that Love involved Suffering, and would happily have got in some practice at Suffering if there was an implicit, perhaps even logical, promise that Love might be on its way.

Reading recommendations

  1. The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes. Because you’d like to take me up on my guarantee.
  2. A Dance to the Music of Time: First MovementAnthony Powell. Because you’ve read the above and want some more British prose.











  1. Guarantee extended, tentatively and with extreme prejudice, to certain persons sporting a British sense of humour at the time of reading. 

Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

Questions? Comments? Reading recommendations? Let me know.

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