"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "Winter"

In the Nobel Prize-winner's first novel, a young black girl yearns to conform to society's rigid standards of beauty.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Foreword, Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer

Here are links to our lists for other books by Toni Morrison: Beloved, Sula, Jazz

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. gelid
    extremely cold
    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.
  2. swaddle
    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.
  3. genuflect
    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.
  4. fastidious
    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.
  5. bemused
    perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements
    Frieda and I were bemused, irritated, and fascinated by her.
  6. equilibrium
    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.
  7. epiphany
    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.
  8. hostility
    violent action that is usually unprovoked
    But we had to do it alone, for none of the other girls would cooperate with our hostility.
  9. haughtiness
    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.
  10. extemporize
    perform or speak without preparation
    They had 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.
  11. scorn
    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.
  12. macabre
    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.
  13. epithet
    a defamatory or abusive word or phrase
    Grumbling a few disinterested epithets, they moved away.
  14. animated
    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.
  15. placidly
    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.
  16. arsenal
    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.
  17. antagonize
    provoke the hostility of
    Her pain antagonized me.
  18. relevance
    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.
  19. guileless
    free of deceit
    Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then.
  20. gainful
    providing money; profitable
    Such girls live in quiet black neighborhoods where everybody is gainfully employed.
  21. shrill
    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.
  22. thrift
    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.
  23. dissolve
    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.
  24. enunciation
    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.
  25. inviolable
    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.
  26. constancy
    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.
  27. satiety
    being satisfactorily full and unable to take on more
    As long as his needs were physical, she could meet them—comfort and satiety.
  28. erode
    become ground down or deteriorate
    ...subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.
  29. unabashed
    not embarrassed
    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.
  30. idle
    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.

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