"If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly."
This is just one example of writers using plural subjects with singular objects. I chose this, firstly, because it's part of one of my favorite poems, and secondly, because I think this is one rare case in which the author did so intentionally, rather than unwittingly.
"As housewives do a fly."
From a literal point of view, this is a kind of unrealistic image, unless you think she means a bunch of wives together having tea, all swatting at the same fly. I, personally, can't take this poem seriously with that literal interpretation... the only inference I can then make is that the fly is a symbol- for what? What do housewives absent-mindedly brush away? I found that really interesting.
However, let's take another approach- let's assume that she used that particular phrasing unintentionally, or perhaps compromised the subject/object agreement for the sake of rhyme (which doesn't make much sense since she used slanted rhyme so much anyway, but it's a possibility)... what is it that makes people think in this pattern? How many times have you heard phrases like "a mind of our own," "their sacrifice," "our life," etc.? It happens in poetry, music, and common speech- the above are all things I have personally heard.
The first example is (to me) a very unsettling expression of how collective our thinking(s) is (are)- even the sentence I just wrote... doesn't "our thinkings are" sound odd? Why should it? We all have different thoughts and patterns thereof... why should it sound so strange stated as such? I didn't even realize the extent to which the individuality of thought is denoted until I actually wrote that sentence... I know, I know... it's semantics, I shouldn't quibble over such minute details... but I am.
“Their sacrifice” implies that all the people who constitute “they” sacrifice the same thing… but, if 10,000 soldiers sacrifice their lives, was that sacrifice the same for all of them? For the young man directly out of high school, for the husband and father of three, for the man who was homeless before he joined the military? We all lead vastly different lives, and to give it one all-encompassing term (sacrifice) completely homogenizes the experience. That’s unsettling to me.
“Our life” is something close people such as lovers will say. On the one hand, it expresses a devotion, a feeling of oneness and love. On the other hand, it also expresses an inseparability, the lack of ability to function as individuals, dependence on the security of the couplehood… which can lead to placing so much importance on the relationship that the world literally ends for those involved if the relationship ends.
I don’t know… as a whole, the fact that this is a common pattern in speech (at least, here in America it is) disturbs, and at the same time, interests me. Does anybody have any thoughts on this?