They were in civilian clothes, and I thought, Cops––until I saw the
baseball bat and started to turn, hearing, “Hey, you!”
“What’s in that brief case?” they said, and if
they’d asked me anything else I might have stood still. But at the
question a wave of shame and outrage shook me and I ran, still heading
for Jack. But I was in strange territory now and someone, for some
reason, had removed the manhole cover and I felt myself plunge down,
down; a long drop that ended upon a load of coal that sent up a cloud
of dust, and I lay in the black dark upon the black coal no longer
running, hiding or concerned, hearing the shifting of the coal, as
from somewhere above their voices came floating down.
the way he went down, zoom! I was just fixing to slug the bastard.”
(Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man)
Wiktionary says ‘how’ has a meaning of ‘the way that.’ And I guess this could be applied on the example and ‘the way’ could be replaced by ‘how.’ I want to know if this is possible. And if yes, isn’t there any semantic difference?
Correct, you can substitute them here. However, in this case, I believe Ellison used
the way as a play on words:
"a way" can mean a path or route:
"the store is that way"
the way refers to the road that the store is on
"the way" refers to the manner in which something is done:
"it wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it"
(in this case it refers to the tone of voice, e.g. sarcastic or rude)
So here, Ellison uses the dual meanings of
way to describe both the path he took, and the manner in which he took it. See pun
Source : Link , Question Author : Listenever , Answer Author : 1ifbyLAN2ifbyC