"Swaddling clothes" are for babies. Velvet, fur, and pleats are not babyish, but the image of Maureen Peal being swaddled in her clothes emphasizes a wealth that allows parents to pamper their children. It also brings up the image of baby dolls and reminds readers of what Claudia did to them.
She was rich, at least by our standards, as rich as the richest of the white girls,
swaddled in comfort and care.
Although the Latin "genu" means "knee" and "flectere" means "to bend", a person does not have to bend a knee to show a respectful or servile attitude. Like the girls in the example sentence, she can use her eyes to genuflect.
Black boys didn’t trip her in the halls; white boys didn’t stone her, white girls didn’t suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside when she wanted to use the sink in the girls’ toilet, and their eyes
genuflected under sliding lids.
giving careful attention to detail; hard to please; excessively concerned with cleanliness
She never had to search for anybody to eat with in the cafeteria—they flocked to the table of her choice, where she opened
fastidious lunches, shaming our jelly-stained bread with egg-salad sandwiches cut into four dainty squares, pink-frosted cupcakes, stocks of celery and carrots, proud, dark apples.
a sensory system located in structures of the inner ear that registers the orientation of the head
The given definition focuses on physical balance but equilibrium can also refer to emotional or mental balance. Because of the lack of "equality of distribution" (another definition of "equilibrium") in wealth and attention, Maureen Peal's presence throws Claudia and Frieda off balance.
We looked hard for flaws to restore our
equilibrium, but had to be content at first with uglying up her name, changing Maureen Peal to Meringue Pie.
extemporized a verse made up of two insults about matters over which the victim had no control: the color of her skin and speculations on the sleeping habits of an adult, wildly fitting in its incoherence.
lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of
scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds—cooled—and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.
To the nine and ten year old Claudia and Frieda, "wisdom, accuracy, and relevance" are heavy words that they believe in. To the author (and possibly Claudia as the older narrator), the triad of words carries a mocking tone, because it is being used to describe a white girl's angry claims that she is cute and that Claudia and Frieda are black and ugly.
We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and
relevance of Maureen’s last words. If she was cute—and if anything could be believed, she was—then we were not.
extreme care in spending money; reluctance to spend money unnecessarily
Here they learn the rest of the lesson begun in those soft houses with porch swings and pots of bleeding heart: how to behave. The careful development of
thrift, patience, high morals, and good manners.
faithfulness and dependability in personal attachments (especially sexual fidelity)
Another definition of "constancy" is "the quality of being enduring and free from change"--this would also fit the example sentence, although it would change the tone of the triad. With the first definition, "order, precision, and constancy" would be three positive qualities. With the second definition, they would be three qualities that the author is mocking. Both tones apply and depend on the perspective of the colored woman, her cat, or the author.
A cat, perhaps, who will love her order, precision, and
constancy; who will be as clean and quiet as she is.
In the long, hot days, they
idled away, picking plaster from the walls and digging into the earth with sticks. They sat in little rows on street curbs, crowded into pews at church, taking space from the nice, neat, colored children;