In the Nobel Prize-winner's first novel, a young black girl yearns to conform to society's rigid standards of beauty.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Our illness is treated with contempt, foul Black Draught, and castor oil that blunts our minds.
  2. chafe
    become or make sore by or as if by rubbing
    My mother’s anger humiliates me; her words chafe my cheeks, and I am crying.
  3. fructify
    make productive or fruitful
    But was it really like that? As painful as I remember? Only mildly. Or rather, it was a productive and fructifying pain.
  4. addled
    confused and vague; used especially of thinking
    “You know him,” she said to her friends. “Henry Washington. He’s been living over there with Miss Della Jones on Thirteenth Street. But she’s too addled now to keep up. So he’s looking for another place.”
  5. strident
    unpleasantly loud and harsh
    Sometimes their words move in lofty spirals; other times they take strident leaps, and all of it is punctuated with warm-pulsed laughter—like the throb of a heart made of jelly.
  6. irrevocable
    incapable of being retracted
    Outdoors was the end of something, an irrevocable, physical fact, defining and complementing our metaphysical condition.
  7. peripheral
    on or near an edge or constituting an outer boundary
    Our peripheral existence, however, was something we had learned to deal with—probably because it was abstract.
  8. unsullied
    spotlessly clean and fresh
    What I felt at that time was unsullied hatred.
  9. patent
    clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment
    It was a most uncomfortable, patently aggressive sleeping companion.
  10. plaintive
    expressing sorrow
    Break off the tiny fingers, bend the flat feet, loosen the hair, twist the head around, and the thing made one sound—a sound they said was the sweet and plaintive cry “Mama,” but which sounded to me like the bleat of a dying lamb, or, more precisely, our icebox door opening on rusty hinges in July.
  11. acrid
    strong and sharp, as a taste or smell
    Instead I tasted and smelled the acridness of tin plates and cups designed for tea parties that bored me.
  12. elude
    be incomprehensible to
    The indifference with which I could have axed them was shaken only by my desire to do so. To discover what eluded me: the secret of the magic they weaved on others.
  13. disinterested
    unaffected by concern for one's own welfare
    When I learned how repulsive this disinterested violence was, that it was repulsive because it was disinterested, my shame floundered about for refuge.
  14. interminable
    tiresomely long; seemingly without end
    They were interminable, insulting, and although indirect (Mama never named anybody—just talked about folks and some people), extremely painful in their thrust.
  15. chagrin
    cause to feel shame
    She would go on like that for hours, connecting one offense to another until all of the things that chagrined her were spewed out.
  16. endurable
    capable of being borne though unpleasant
    Misery colored by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet.
  17. foist
    force onto another
    It does not recede into its background of leaden sky, nor harmonize with the gray frame houses and black telephone poles around it. Rather, it foists itself on the eye of the passerby in a manner that is both irritating and melancholy.
  18. contrive
    make or work out a plan for; devise
    The plan of the living quarters was as unimaginative as a first-generation Greek landlord could contrive it to be.
  19. inaccessible
    capable of being reached with great difficulty or not at all
    There were no bath facilities. Only a toilet bowl, inaccessible to the eye, if not the ear, of the tenants.
  20. pervade
    spread or diffuse through
    And the joylessness stank, pervading everything.
  21. furtive
    secret and sly
    It imposed a furtiveness on the loving done on it.
  22. malaise
    a feeling of mild sickness or depression
    Like a sore tooth that is not content to throb in isolation, but must diffuse its own pain to other parts of the body—making breathing difficult, vision limited, nerves unsettled, so a hated piece of furniture produces a fretful malaise that asserts itself throughout the house and limits the delight of things not related to it.
  23. stultify
    deprive of strength or efficiency; make useless or worthless
    Although their poverty was traditional and stultifying, it was not unique.
  24. relentless
    No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly.
  25. dissipation
    dissolute indulgence in sensual pleasure
    Except for the father, Cholly, whose ugliness (the result of despair, dissipation, and violence directed toward petty things and weak people) was behavior, the rest of the family—Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy Breedlove, and Pecola Breedlove—wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them.
  26. insolent
    marked by casual disrespect
    The low, irregular hairlines, which seemed even more irregular in contrast to the straight, heavy eyebrows which nearly met. Keen but crooked noses, with insolent nostrils. They had high cheekbones, and their ears turned forward.
  27. shroud
    burial garment in which a corpse is wrapped
    Concealed, veiled, eclipsed—peeping out from behind the shroud very seldom, and then only to yearn for the return of her mask.
  28. dirge
    a song or hymn of mourning as a memorial to a dead person
    But the unquarreled evening hung like the first note of a dirge in sullenly expectant air.
  29. sullen
    showing a brooding ill humor
    But the unquarreled evening hung like the first note of a dirge in sullenly expectant air.
  30. ornery
    having a difficult and contrary disposition
    Cholly, by his habitual drunkenness and orneriness, provided them both with the material they needed to make their lives tolerable.
  31. abhorrent
    offensive to the mind
    She was one of the few things abhorrent to him that he could touch and therefore hurt.
  32. depravity
    moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles
    Even a half-remembrance of this episode, along with myriad other humiliations, defeats, and emasculations, could stir him into flights of depravity that surprised himself—but only himself.
  33. tacitly
    by unexpressed agreement
    Tacitly they had agreed not to kill each other.
  34. fray
    a noisy fight
    Sammy cursed for a while, or left the house, or threw himself into the fray.
  35. inexplicable
    incapable of being explained or accounted for
    Outside, Pecola feels the inexplicable shame ebb.
  36. petulant
    easily irritated or annoyed
    Blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort. The eyes are petulant, mischievous. To Pecola they are simply pretty.
  37. harridan
    a scolding (even vicious) old woman
    They all dissolved in laughter.
    Three merry gargoyles. Three merry harridans.
  38. ameliorate
    make better
    They did not belong to those generations of prostitutes created in novels, with great and generous hearts, dedicated, because of the horror of circumstance, to ameliorating the luckless, barren life of men, taking money incidentally and humbly for their “understanding.”
  39. jaundiced
    showing or affected by prejudice or envy or distaste
    They abused their visitors with a scorn grown mechanical from use. Black men, white men, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Jews, Poles, whatever—all were inadequate and weak, all came under their jaundiced eyes and were the recipients of their disinterested wrath.
  40. pompadour
    a hair style in which the hair is swept up from the forehead
    China had changed her mind about the bangs and was arranging a small but sturdy pompadour.
Created on May 9, 2013 (updated September 10, 2018)

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