In William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, the 19th century Virginian slave Nat Turner, who will go on to lead a rebellion, imagines what his fate would have been had he not been taught by his white master how to read.
Well, under these circumstances I would doubtless have become…mildly efficient at some stupid task like wringing chickens' necks or smoking hams or polishing silver, a malingerer wherever possible yet withal too jealous of my security to risk real censure or trouble and thus cautious in my tiny thefts, circumspect in the secrecy of my afternoon naps, furtive in my anxious lecheries with the plump yellow-skinned cleaning maids upstairs in the dark attic, growing ever more servile and unctuous as I became older, always the crafty flatterer on the lookout for some bonus of flannel or stew beef or tobacco, yet behind my stately paunch and fancy bib and waistcoat developing, as I advanced into old age, a kind of purse-lipped dignity, known as Uncle Nat, well loved and adoring in return, a palsied stroker of the silken pates of little white grandchildren, rheumatic, illiterate, and filled with sleepiness, half yearning for that lonely death which at long last would lead me to rest in some tumbledown graveyard tangled with chokeberry and jimson weed.
—William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 155
As if showing off his protagonist's literacy, Styron's verbal pyrotechnics lead us to vocabulary riches such as malingerer, which means "someone who pretends to be sick and thus shirks their duty," not to mention unctuous, meaning "unpleasantly ingratiating," and circumspect, meaning "cautious or heedful of consequences," and other meaty words.
Enough fantastic words, in fact, that we were able to create a 10-word interactive Vocabulary List from just this one sentence. Check it out here: "Words from a Single Sentence in William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner."
Can you find a sentence from literature that does more?
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