"Beloved," Vocabulary from Part 1 50 words

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's "Beloved" is a haunted novel -- the characters it portrays and the land it depicts are heavily burdened by a past that refuses to heal or let them go.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
  1. intolerable
    incapable of being put up with
    Her past had been like her present— intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.
  2. perfunctory
    hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
    Together they waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior of that place; against turned-over slop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air.
  3. immobile
    not capable of movement or of being moved
    For a man with an immobile face it was amazing how ready it was to smile, or blaze or be sorry with you.
  4. undulate
    move in a wavy pattern or with a rising and falling motion
    Paul D tied his shoes together, hung them over his shoulder and followed her through the door straight into a pool of red and undulating light that locked him where he stood.
  5. intricate
    having many complexly arranged elements; elaborate
    He rubbed his cheek on her back and learned that way her sorrow, the roots of it; its wide trunk and intricate branches.
  6. deprivation
    the disadvantage that results from losing something
    Her deprivation had been not having any dreams of her own at all.
  7. rendezvous
    a meeting planned at a certain time and place
    Now it was too late for the rendezvous to happen at the Redmen’s house, so they dropped where they were.
  8. simulate
    make a pretence of
    Later he punctured her calf to simulate snakebite so she could use it in some way as an excuse for not being on time to shake worms from tobacco leaves.
  9. intently
    with strained or eager attention
    So looking at each other intently was a Sunday-morning pleasure and Halle examined her as though storing up what he saw in sunlight for the shadow he saw the rest of the week.
  10. condemnation
    an expression of strong disapproval; pronouncing as wrong or morally culpable
    Denver had taught herself to take pride in the condemnation Negroes heaped on them; the assumption that the haunting was done by an evil thing looking for more.
  11. modesty
    freedom from vanity or conceit
    The walls of the room were slate-colored, the floor earth-brown, the wooden dresser the color of itself, curtains white, and the dominating feature, the quilt over an iron cot, was made up of scraps of blue serge, black, brown and gray wool—the full range of the dark and the muted that thrift and modesty allowed.
  12. apparently
    from appearances alone
    Sometimes they ran along the railroad track laughing, too loud, apparently, to hear her because they never did turn around.
  13. mediocre
    moderate to inferior in quality
    So, although the carnival was a lot less than mediocre (which is why it agreed to a Colored Thursday), it gave the four hundred black people in its audience thrill upon thrill upon thrill.
  14. gratitude
    a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation
    Arabian Nights Dancer cut her performance to three minutes instead of the usual fifteen she normally did—earning the gratitude of the children, who could hardly wait for Abu Snake Charmer, who followed her.
  15. askew
    turned or twisted to one side
    Women who drink champagne when there is nothing to celebrate can look like that: their straw hats with broken brims are often askew; they nod in public places; their shoes are undone.
  16. enunciation
    the articulation of speech regarded from the point of view of its intelligibility to the audience
    He recognized the careful enunciation of letters by those, like himself, who could not read but had memorized the letters of their name.
  17. blemish
    a mark or flaw that spoils the appearance of something (especially on a person's body)
    Denver tended her, watched her sound sleep, listened to her labored breathing and, out of love and a breakneck possessiveness that charged her, hid like a personal blemish Beloved’s incontinence.
  18. profound
    of the greatest intensity; complete
    Just as Denver discovered and relied on the delightful effect sweet things had on Beloved, Sethe learned the profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling.
  19. malevolent
    wishing or appearing to wish evil to others; arising from intense ill will or hatred
    "The shoe strings don’t fix!” she shouted and gave him a look so malevolent Denver touched her arm.
  20. bereft
    sorrowful through loss or deprivation
    During, before and after the War he had seen Negroes so stunned, or hungry, or tired or bereft it was a wonder they recalled or said anything.
  21. clabber
    raw milk that has soured and thickened
    There is also my husband squatting by the churn smearing the butter as well as its clabber all over his face because the milk they took is on his mind.
  22. offend
    hurt the feelings of
    He wants me to ask him about what it was like for him—about how offended the tongue is, held down by iron, how the need to spit is so deep you cry for it.
  23. unbearable
    incapable of being put up with
    Finally Denver’s breath steadied against the threat of an unbearable loss.
  24. redundant
    more than is needed, desired, or required
    The break, followed by the redundant announcement of labor, arched her back.
  25. deny
    declare untrue; contradict
    However many times Baby denied it, Sethe knew the grief at 124 started when she jumped down off the wagon, her newborn tied to her chest in the underwear of a whitegirl looking for Boston.
  26. clarify
    make clear and (more) comprehensible
    The desire, let alone the gesture, to meet her needs was good enough to lift her spirits to the place where she could take the next step: ask for some clarifying word; some advice about how to keep on with a brain greedy for news nobody could live with in a world happy to provide it.
  27. righteous
    morally justified
    Into the empty space of not knowing about Halle—a space sometimes colored with righteous resentment at what could have been his cowardice, or stupidity or bad luck—that empty place of no definite news was filled now with a brand-new sorrow and who could tell how many more on the way.
  28. divert
    turn aside; turn away from
    It was only a tiny disturbance anyway—not strong enough to divert her from the ambition welling in her now: she wanted Paul D. No matter what he told and knew, she wanted him in her life.
  29. timid
    showing fear and lack of confidence
    The consequence was a timid but hard-headed daughter Sethe would die to protect.
  30. indifferent
    marked by a lack of interest
    The patience of her mother and grandmother in its presence made her indifferent to it.
  31. muster
    gather or bring together
    Even when she did muster the courage to ask Nelson Lord’s question, she could not hear Sethe’s answer, nor Baby Suggs’ words, nor anything at all thereafter.
  32. thwart
    hinder or prevent (the efforts, plans, or desires) of
    Denver was alarmed by the harm she thought Beloved planned for Sethe, but felt helpless to thwart it, so unrestricted was her need to love another.
  33. resurrection
    a revival from inactivity and disuse
    But the damage he did came undone with the miraculous resurrection of Beloved.
  34. roil
    be agitated
    By the time they unhitched him from the wagon and he saw nothing but dogs and two shacks in a world of sizzling grass, the roiling blood was shaking him to and fro.
  35. reminiscent
    serving to bring to mind
    The illness that swept them now was reminiscent of the one that had killed half their number two hundred years earlier.
  36. involuntary
    not subject to the control of the will
    Then it was the cold house and it was out there, separated from the main part of 124, curled on top of two croaker sacks full of sweet potatoes, staring at the sides of a lard can, that he realized the moving was involuntary.
  37. anticipate
    make a prediction about; tell in advance
    But sometimes—at moments Denver could neither anticipate nor create—Beloved rested cheek on knuckles and looked at Denver with attention.
  38. indolent
    disinclined to work or exertion
    Where she was once indolent, resentful of every task, now she is spry, executing, even extending the assignments Sethe leaves for them.
  39. defer
    yield to another's wish or opinion
    Deferring to his slaves’ opinions did not deprive him of authority or power.
  40. humiliate
    cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of
    But it was more than appetite that humiliated him and made him wonder if schoolteacher was right.
  41. repulsion
    intense aversion
    When he stood up from the supper table at 124 and turned toward the stairs, nausea was first, then repulsion.
  42. melancholy
    a feeling of thoughtful sadness
    So, when he saw the diminished expectation in her eyes, the melancholy without blame, he could not say it.
  43. malice
    feeling a need to see others suffer
    The threads of malice creeping toward him from Beloved’s side of the table were held harmless in the warmth of Sethe’s smile.
  44. dote
    shower with love; show excessive affection for
    Who had not even escaped slavery—had, in fact, been bought out of it by a doting son and driven to the Ohio River in a wagon—free papers folded between her breasts (driven by the very man who had been her master, who also paid her resettlement fee—name of Garner), and rented a house with two floors and a well from the Bodwins—the white brother and sister who gave Stamp Paid, Ella and John clothes, goods and gear for runaways because they hated slavery worse than they hated slaves.
  45. desolate
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    And no matter, for the sadness was at her center, the desolated center where the self that was no self made its home.
  46. exempt
    (of persons) freed from or not subject to an obligation or liability (as e.g. taxes) to which others or other things are subject
    In Lillian Garner’s house, exempted from the field work that broke her hip and the exhaustion that drugged her mind; in Lillian Garner’s house where nobody knocked her down (or up), she listened to the whitewoman humming at her work; watched her face light up when Mr. Garner came in and thought, It’s better here, but I’m not.
  47. futility
    uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result
    Caught red-handed, so to speak, they would seem to recognize the futility of outsmarting a whiteman and the hopelessness of outrunning a rifle.
  48. solemn
    dignified and somber in manner or character and committed to keeping promises
    From the solemn air with which Stamp had unfolded the paper, the tenderness in the old man’s fingers as he stroked its creases and flattened it out, first on his knees, then on the split top of the piling, Paul D knew that it ought to mess him up.
  49. maim
    injure or wound seriously and leave permanent disfiguration or mutilation
    Nor was it there because the person had been killed, or maimed or caught or burned or jailed or whipped or evicted or stomped or raped or cheated, since that could hardly qualify as news in a newspaper.
  50. cleave
    separate or cut with a tool, such as a sharp instrument
    This here Sethe talked about love like any other woman; talked about baby clothes like any other woman, but what she meant could cleave the bone.