Tag Archives: adjective clause

“The only major factor in the case is Rod’s sexuality, which is just a result of ignorance on the part of the people of Virginia.”

Remember the divorcing Virginia couple, gay father, fighting for custody of their daughter? My student is writing here in defense of the father’s claim.

Briefly: still-smoking lung-cancer survivor (one lung removed) mother, homosexual father with live-in partner, 11-year-old daughter. Divorce five years prior. On the basis of “the best interests of the child” the original custody decision went to father as the more stable parent, the principal care-giver for most of the girl’s life, initially the one who wanted custody. After the mother recovers from surgery she appeals the decision; second judge awards custody to her because the father is gay and Virginia law forbids “homosexual conduct” ( the father was by then violating the first judge’s condition that the partner not be live-in). “He is breaking the laws of the state of Virginia every day,” says Judge Number Two, “and no child should be in the custody of a criminal.” (This is evidently still the policy, as a recent article indicates.)

In taking Rod’s side my student means to say that the laws of Virginia are ignorant laws, and anyone who would tease the daughter (as her dear little schoolmates did) is ignorant too. A fine position.

What my student says, however, is that Rod’s sexuality is the result of the ignorance of an entire stateful of people. Well, I say, shame on him for listening to a bunch of ignorant people! He should have thought out his sexual issues for himself!

Oh, that adjective clause. It really, really has to modify a noun that coexists in the same sentence—indeed, that immediately precedes it. The law of grammar says, inevitably, then, that Rod’s sexuality was a result of ignorance on the part of the people of Virginia. If only they had known better, they might have managed to get him a more legally-conforming sexuality, I guess.  How cruel that their ignorance has victimized Rod and his daughter in this way.

Well, their ignorance has victimized Rod and his daughter, by continuing to tolerate this law. The meaning of the sentence may not be accurate, but the consequences are six of one, as the saying goes.

And curing the ignorance of the people of Virginia would fix the problem in this case either way. Sounds like a plan.


“Othello felt like she was cheating on him because….”

Poor Othello. I have spent it-seems-like-a-lifetime trying to persuade students that Othello has no “tragic flaw,” and is not jealous until Iago has worked on him for more than three acts of the play. But they have read it—OTHELLO”S TRAGIC FLAW IS JEALOUSY—first in Cliff’s Notes and now in Spark Notes, and such impersonal voices of authority are stronger than mine.

I see Othello as a tragedy of innocence. Othello was no more suited to the intrigues of Venetian life than Desdemona, albeit for different reasons. Iago is the jealous one; but since Iago is also a very good student of psychology (even before it existed as a discipline), he knows how to create jealousy, and can work Othello into a virtuous murderous rage by way of it.

Othello has refused to believe ill of Desdemona without ocular proof. Iago has, conveniently enough, come by the handkerchief Othello gave Desdemona during their courtship, a handkerchief that had been given to his mother. The handkerchief is maneuvered into the hands of Cassio, someone Desdemona and Othello have both trusted and respected and Othello has promoted. Othello has quarreled with Cassio over some drunken behavior, and Desdemona has undertaken to get Cassio back into Othello’s good graces. But her advocacy irritates her husband, and when he sees that handkerchief in Cassio’s hand (and on the way into Cassio’s mistress’s hand) after many insinuations by Iago, he is indeed ready to believe that Desdemona has been unfaithful.

The rest is tragic.

My student was trying to describe the handkerchief ploy. What he wrote is correct, but oh how awkward. This was a sentence ill begun and faithfully carried through to its disastrous end:

“Othello felt like she was cheating on him because he found a handkerchief in one of his friend’s hands that belonged to him.”

Can you sort it out? Perhaps “because he found his own handkerchief in the hands of one of his friends” would save it. But what got onto the paper seems to suggest that Othello has a collection of hands. Several of those hands belonged to his friend, but now they belong to him: it’s his very own hand collection. But one day he has evidently gone in to gaze upon his collection and, lo and behold, one of those hands has a handkerchief in it! Certainly his wife must be cheating on him! Has she been sneaking into the room, I wonder, and putting handkerchiefs into hands that don’t belong to her? That’s not playing fair…

Isn’t that how the modifiers have to play out? “That belonged to him” has to modify “hands,” doesn’t it? It’s an adjective clause, and as such has to modify the noun that immediately precedes the relative pronoun. That is “hands.” And the handkerchief is in one of those hands. The hands belong to his friend (note the singular possessive). Othello has a strange notion of friendship, expressing his fondness by removing his friend’s hands and taking possession of them.

The image is grotesque and hilarious. WHY didn’t my student start over when he saw that the sentence was getting out of, um, hand? I’m afraid he just carried on because he didn’t really know that the sentence was grotesque or unmanageable. How could he not have known, though?

Ah well. My dear father had as a driving mantra “Never turn around.” If he missed a turn, or got lost, he pushed forward until he found an intersection that promised a chance to change direction. He did know, though, that he had missed the turning, or that he was lost. He found a way to correct the error, no matter how circuitous the correction. We had some interesting trips.

My student, I’m afraid, had no idea he was lost: he drove on because he thought he was on the right road. And by gum, he was! But the road is so rough that it must have been under construction. I wish he had looked for a detour.