Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior" recounts the troubles and triumphs of Chinese women in ancient folklore and in modern day America. Learn this word list that focuses on the theme of voice in the chapter.
In Kingston's use of the word "skittering" here, there could be a connection to the word "skittish", which means "unpredictably excitable"--which often describes horses who are nervous and jumpy, especially when they're out in the open and easily seen as prey.
A telephone call makes my throat bleed and takes up that day’s courage. It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come
skittering out into the open.
The technical definition of "guttural" doesn't make Kingston's description sound so bad; but another definition of "guttural" is "like the sounds of frogs and crows", which sounds almost as ugly as the voice of a pressed duck.
guttural peasant noise and have Ton Duc Thang names you can’t remember.
having or showing feelings of unwarranted importance out of overbearing pride
One afternoon in the sixth grade (that year I was
arrogant with talk, not knowing there were going to be high school dances and college seminars to set me back), I and my little sister and the quiet girl and her big sister stayed late after school for some reason.
Another definition of "evasive" is "avoiding or escaping from difficulty or danger"--this could also fit the example sentence, because Kingston explains that the adults in her family don't like explaining things, especially things related to their Chinese background, perhaps because of difficulty, but also because they're afraid the children might go blabbing to American authorities who could deport them.
The adults get mad,
evasive, and shut you up if you ask.
Usually I did not understand the words in operas, whether because of our
obscure dialect or theirs I didn’t know, but I heard one line sung out into the night air in a woman’s voice high and clear as ice.
The word "excruciating" has the Latin root cruciare (connected to crux, meaning cross), which means to crucify. Although Kingston is not comparing her pain to crucifixion, her references to Catholic girls and confession suggest the image.
If the telling got
excruciating and her anger too bad, I’d tell five items once a week like the Catholic girls, and I’d still be through in a year, maybe ten months.
“I can’t stand this whispering,” she said looking right at me, stopping her squeezing. “Senseless gabbings every night. I wish you would stop. Go away and work. Whispering, whispering, making no sense. Madness. I don’t feel like hearing your craziness.”
a strong hard building material composed of sand and gravel and cement and water
In the example sentence, Kingston is using the physical concrete as an image to emphasize how she prefers to see the world concretely, which would be in ways that are "capable of being perceived by the senses." For Kingston, the Chinese way of thinking is like a forest that she gets lost in, and if she could, she would pave over the forests with concrete so that they would be more like the easier to travel American freeways and sidewalks.
Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks.