In the movie "pursuit of happiness" this particular exchange happens

Martin Frohm: What would you say if man walked in here with no shirt, and I hired him? What would you say?

Chris Gardner: He must have had on some really nice pants.

If you take it in context, it means "How can I give job to a man in such poor condition". I feel that Chris was thinking out of context when he responded. What is this kind of thinking called? What would be the accurate word for it

  • 1
    What do you mean by "out of context"? The obvious way to interpret Chris's answer is that he's accepting the offered context, and accepting the implication that Martin couldn't give a job to a man in such poor condition, and therefore concluding that the man's condition must not have been that poor: if he had no shirt at all, he must have had some really nice pants to counter that. How are you interpreting Chris's reply if you don't take it that way?
    – abarnert
    Jan 25 '19 at 17:34
  • I'm thinking at it from my point of view. Lets say I was @ chris's position and if Martin told that to me. I would have thought "this makes sense. I am dressed up dirty. It is only fair he doesn't give the job to me". But he took out the context (the position he is in). Looked at it objectively. If someone didn't have shirt, why would they have got the job. He must have had nice pants.
    – Ravi
    Jan 25 '19 at 18:58
  • The context I'm referring to here is even though Chris says "what if a man walked in here", he was definitely referring to Chris. Most people would have caught that and thought about them. But Chris just took that @ face value. He didn't think it was meant for him.
    – Ravi
    Jan 25 '19 at 19:00
  • You really need to edit the question to explain what the context you're talking about is, and why you think Chris is taking it out of that context. As written, it's only answerable by guessing.
    – abarnert
    Jan 25 '19 at 20:18
  • It's called lateral thinking? You are asking the wrong question, it's not really the figures and actors, who are just a medium, but the writers whose intent you have to question. In a conversation with Will Smith about topless men, what could such a deep line only mean? One way to send messages out of band is subtext. Understanding subtext requires lateral thinking.
    – vectory
    Jan 26 '19 at 21:18

I think1 what you're looking for here is that, in Gricean terms, Chris is flouting the maxim of relation, which here means that you don't make an analogy unless that analogy is relevant to the conversation.

The surface context is an implicit assumption that Martin wouldn't normally hire someone with no shirt. Chris is certainly accepting that much—his reply makes no sense otherwise, but it makes perfect sense given that assumption: If Martin wouldn't normally hire someone with no shirt, but he hired a guy with no shirt, there must be some compensating factor—maybe the guy had really nice pants.

But there's more going on: Martin is offering the story of the guy with no shirt for a reason, as an analogy to something about Chris's condition. And, given the maxim of relation, that analogy must be relevant to the situation. So, Chris should interpret it as an explanation for why Martin isn't going to hire him.

Chris presumably understands that, and facetiously appears to ignore it. Facetious replies often involve flouting a maxim like this.

But this isn't just a joke. At the same time he's flouting the maxim of relation, he's relying on the same maxim to make a point. His extended version of the analogy is meant to be relevant to the situation. So he's implying that he's not like a guy with no shirt who Martin would never hire, he's like a guy with no shirt who Martin did hire, because he had really nice pants. Therefore, Martin should hire him, because he has… well, he hasn't implied what he has, only that it's something that compensates for the surface reason to reject him.2

1. I don't know this movie, and I don't know the context—but I think it's a Will Smith movie, and I know how Will Smith characters usually talk, so I can take a solid guess…

2. If this is a sales job, that something could even be his facility for turning things around this way. The way Will Smith characters tend to converse is a lot like the way successful salesmen convince people to buy things.

  • 1
    The last sentence of your answer made a lot of sense. I was under the impression that Chris ignored the context of the question. But now I understand that he understood it all too well. He even responded with an analogy of his own within the premise of the original analogy (instead of just saying "my shirt may be dirty, but I'm good at talking" ), that Martin understood and offered him the job. I reread the answer many times and this the perfect answer I was hoping for. Thanks!! Sorry about the messy question.
    – Ravi
    Jan 25 '19 at 21:12
  • @RaviR Yes—and now the really fun question: how does the movie expect us as viewers to figure out whether Chris missed an implicature, pretended to miss it as a joke, or pretended to miss an implicature to imply a further point? For that, you need to take into account a lot more background and/or frame knowledge (and possibly not just about language, but also about film).
    – abarnert
    Jan 25 '19 at 21:37

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