His skin takes on the pale, cheerless yellow of winter sun; for a jaw he has the edges of a snowbound field dotted with stubble; his high forehead is the frozen sweep of the Erie, hiding currents of
gelid thoughts that eddy in darkness.
wrap very tightly in cloth, as a baby
She was rich, at least by our standards, as rich as the richest of the white girls,
swaddled in comfort and care.
"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.
bend the knees and bow in a servile manner
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.
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.
giving careful attention to detail
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.
perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements
Frieda and I were
bemused, irritated, and fascinated by her.
a stable situation in which forces cancel one another
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.
a divine manifestation
Later a minor
epiphany was ours when we discovered that she had a dog tooth—a charming one to be sure—but a dog tooth nonetheless.
violent action that is usually unprovoked
But we had to do it alone, for none of the other girls would cooperate with our
overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner
And when I thought of the unearned
haughtiness in her eyes, I plotted accidental slammings of locker doors on her hand.
perform or speak without preparation
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.
shockingly repellent; inspiring horror
They danced a
macabre ballet around the victim, whom, for their own sake, they were prepared to sacrifice to the flaming pit.
a defamatory or abusive word or phrase
Grumbling a few disinterested
epithets, they moved away.
having life or vigor or spirit
While Frieda and I clucked on about the near fight, Maureen, suddenly
animated, put her velvet-sleeved arm through Pecola’s and began to behave as though they were the closest of friends.
in a quiet and tranquil manner
Maureen disappeared into the store with Pecola. Frieda looked
placidly down the street; I opened my mouth, but quickly closed it.
all the weapons and equipment that a country has
We chanted this most powerful of our
arsenal of insults as long as we could see the green stems and rabbit fur.
provoke the hostility of
the relation of something to the matter at hand
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.
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 ugly.
free of deceit
Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then.
providing money; profitable
Such girls live in quiet black neighborhoods where everybody is
being sharply insistent on being heard
They are not fretful, nervous, or
shrill; they do not have lovely black necks that stretch as though against an invisible collar; their eyes do not bite.
extreme care in spending money
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.
become or cause to become soft or liquid
Wherever it erupts, this Funk, they wipe it away; where it crusts, they
dissolve it; wherever it drips, flowers, or clings, they find it and fight it until it dies.
the articulation of speech with regards to intelligibility
The laugh that is a little too loud; the
enunciation a little too round; the gesture a little too generous.
immune to attack; incapable of being tampered with
What they do not know is that this plain brown girl will build her nest stick by stick, make it her own
inviolable world, and stand guard over its every plant, weed, and doily, even against him.
faithfulness and dependability in personal attachments
A cat, perhaps, who will love her order, precision, and
constancy; who will be as clean and quiet as she is.
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.
being satisfactorily full and unable to take on more
As long as his needs were physical, she could meet them—comfort and
become ground down or deteriorate
...subtle and telltale signs threatened to
erode it, and the watch had to be constant.
Eyes that questioned nothing and asked everything. Unblinking and
unabashed, they stared up at her. The end of the world lay in their eyes, and the beginning, and all the waste in between.
exist in a changeless situation
In the long, hot days, they
idled away, picking plaster from the walls and digging into the earth with sticks.