willingly obedient out of a sense of respect
“Do you think my son is in Vietnam?” she asked her niece, who was dutifully eating.
The tone surrounding the word "dutifully" is not so respectful because 1) it describes a manner of eating at an airport, 2) it describes Brave Orchid's niece and not her children, and 3) it is being used by an author whose book highlights struggles with familial duties.
lacking conscious awareness of
Finally Moon Orchid gathered up her stuff, strings hanging and papers loose, and met her sister at the door, where they shook hands,
oblivious to blocking the way.
In the example sentence, both Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid are being oblivious and blocking strangers' ways. But later, Moon Orchid's obliviousness creates conflicts within the family, and throughout the book, Kingston shows how her obliviousness to Chinese customs creates conflicts with her mother, and her mother's obliviousness to American customs creates conflicts for her.
contort the face to indicate a certain mental state
“First I’ve got shoes for all of you from Lovely Orchid,” Moon Orchid said, handing them out to her nieces and nephews, who
grimaced at one another.
a butcher's knife having a large square blade
With a slam of her
cleaver, she cracked rock candy into jagged pieces.
primitive in customs and culture
They’d put the bad mouth on their aunt’s first American day; you had to sweeten their noisy
Another definition of "barbarous" is "able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering"--this definition could fit the example sentence because Brave Orchid is pained by her children's behavior. But the chosen definition reflects how Brave Orchid refers to all Americans, which includes her six children born in America, as "barbarians".
give in, as to influence or pressure
But Brave Orchid would not
relent; her dainty sister would just have to toughen up.
“Forget about a job,” she said, which was very
lenient of her.
a hole made by an animal, usually for shelter
Brave Orchid’s children were antisocial and secretive. Ever since they were babies, they had
burrowed little nests for themselves in closets and underneath stairs; they made tents under tables and behind doors.
refuse to stop
“He probably has a car,” Brave Orchid
evidencing little spirit or courage
characterized by clear expressive language
None of them were
articulate or friendly.
capable of being reached with great difficulty or not at all
And the nephew with the round face and round eyes was the “
a large sea wave
She immediately recognized the youngest girl, “the raging
annoy continually or chronically
It was as if she were seeing how much it took to
provoke a savage.
infuriated Brave Orchid that her sister held up each dish between thumb and forefinger, squirted detergent on the back and front, and ran water without plugging up the drain.
the quality of being mentally slow and limited
Brave Orchid was again startled at her sister’s
greatly annoyed; out of patience
“Go take a walk,” Brave Orchid said,
form intrigues (for) in an underhand manner
The Empress of the West would
connive for power, but the Empress of the East was good and kind and full of light.
act in order to achieve a certain goal
Brave Orchid knew how the little wives
maneuvered; her father had had two little wives.
wait in hiding to attack
As she walked back to her sister, she noted corners and passageways, broom closets, other offices—ambush spots. Her sister could crouch behind a drinking fountain and wait for him to get thirsty.
contemptibly narrow in outlook
petty man he turned out to be, giving up responsibility for a pretty face.
cry weakly or softly
Moon Orchid started to
reassert one's right or title to
“This is my sister who has come to Gold Mountain to
reclaim her husband.”
Another definition of "reclaim" is "bring, lead, or force to abandon a wrong or evil course of life and adopt a right one"--this also describes Brave Orchid's view of Moon Orchid's husband, but in the example sentence, the word is simply referring to taking back what Brave Orchid believes is rightfully Moon Orchid's. Notice how Brave Orchid does all the claiming, even as she pushes Moon Orchid to reclaim.
stir up or tend, of a fire
Brave Orchid rubbed the slender hands, blew on the fingers, tried to
stoke up the flickerings.
Although this description is showing Brave Orchid being tender by trying to breathe some warmth into Moon Orchid's fingers, the word "stoke" is usually applied to an actual fire or to human anger. Brave Orchid enjoys stoking fiery conflicts. In this case, Moon Orchid was the firewood that got burned in the process. Out of guilt, Brave Orchid is now trying to stoke Moon Orchid back to life.
a hospital for mentally incompetent or unbalanced person
Brave Orchid finally called her niece, who put Moon Orchid in a California state mental