"Black Boy" by Richard Wright, Chapters 1–2

Using novelistic techniques, this autobiography details Wright's coming of age during the Jim Crow era.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Chapters 1–2, Chapters 3–6, Chapters 7–11, Chapters 12–16, Chapters 17–20

Here are links to our lists for Native Son by Richard Wright

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. yearn
    desire strongly or persistently
    I yearned to become invisible, to stop living.
  2. elude
    escape, either physically or mentally
    He dragged me into the back yard and the instant his hand left me I jumped to my feet and broke into a wild run, trying to elude the people who surrounded me, heading for the street.
  3. chasten
    But for a long time I was chastened whenever I remembered that my mother had come close to killing me.
  4. melancholy
    a feeling of thoughtful sadness
    There was the tantalizing melancholy in the tingling scent of burning hickory wood.
  5. languor
    a relaxed comfortable feeling
    There was the languor I felt when I heard green leaves rustling with a rainlike sound.
  6. solace
    comfort in disappointment or misery
    Solace came when I wandered about the boat and gazed at Negroes throwing dice, drinking whisky, playing cards, lolling on boxes, eating, talking, and singing.
  7. plaintive
    expressing sorrow
    The scrawny kitten lingered, brushing itself against our legs, and meowing plaintively.
  8. contrite
    feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    Contrite, I went to bed, hoping that I would never see another kitten.
  9. pang
    a sharp spasm of pain
    As the days slid past the image of my father became associated with my pangs of hunger, and whenever I felt hunger I thought of him with a deep biological bitterness.
  10. assail
    attack someone physically or emotionally
    I always loved to stand in the white folks’ kitchen when my mother cooked, for it meant that I got occasional scraps of bread and meat; but many times I regretted having come, for my nostrils would be assailed with the scent of food that did not belong to me and which I was forbidden to eat.
  11. implore
    call upon in supplication
    She beat me; then she prayed and wept over me, imploring me to be good, telling me that she had to work, all of which carried no weight to my wayward mind.
  12. replete
    deeply filled or permeated
    A tall black boy recited a long, funny piece of doggerel, replete with filth, describing the physiological relations between men and women, and I memorized it word for word after having heard it but once.
  13. retentive
    good at remembering
    Yet, despite my retentive memory, I found it impossible to recite when I went back into the classroom.
  14. relent
    give in, as to influence or pressure
    I sobbed, begging my mother to let me go, telling her that I would never write such words again; but she did not relent until the last soap-word had been cleaned away.
  15. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    My mother ushered me and my brother one morning into the building and into the presence of a tall, gaunt, mulatto woman who called herself Miss Simon.
  16. abiding
    The most abiding feeling I had each day was hunger and fear.
  17. baleful
    threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
    When she was angry her eyelids drooped halfway down over her pupils, giving her a baleful aspect.
  18. obstinacy
    resolute adherence to your own ideas or desires
    They read my insistence as mere obstinacy, as foolishness, something that would quickly pass; and they had no notion how desperately serious the tale had made me.
  19. nullify
    declare invalid
    I listened, vaguely knowing now that I had committed some awful wrong that I could not undo, that I had uttered words I could not recall even though I ached to nullify them, kill them, turn back time to the moment before I had talked so that I could have another chance to save myself.
  20. flit
    move along rapidly and lightly; skim or dart
    There was the breathlessly anxious fun of chasing and catching flitting fireflies on drowsy summer nights.
  21. pervade
    spread or diffuse through
    There was the drenching hospitality in the pervading smell of sweet magnolias.
  22. aura
    distinctive but intangible quality around a person or thing
    There was the aura of limitless freedom distilled from the rolling sweep of tall green grass swaying and glinting in the wind and sun.
  23. surreptitious
    marked by quiet and caution and secrecy
    So, surreptitiously, I took some of the biscuits from the platter and slipped them into my pocket, not to eat, but to keep as a bulwark against any possible attack of hunger.
  24. invocation
    a prayer asking God's help as part of a religious service
    She had grown tired of the strict religious routine of Granny’s home; of the half dozen or more daily family prayers that Granny insisted upon; her fiat that the day began at sunrise and that night commenced at sundown; the long, rambling Bible readings; the individual invocations muttered at each meal; and her declaration that Saturday was the Lord’s Sabbath and that no one who lived in her house could work upon that day.
  25. stagnant
    not circulating or flowing
    We rented one half of a double corner house in front of which ran a stagnant ditch carrying sewage.
  26. antagonism
    an actively expressed feeling of dislike and hostility
    To hold an attitude of antagonism or distrust toward Jews was bred in us from childhood; it was not merely racial prejudice, it was a part of our cultural heritage.
  27. ward
    watch over or shield from danger or harm; protect
    If I spilt salt, I should toss a pinch over my left shoulder to ward off misfortune.
  28. emulate
    strive to equal or match, especially by imitating
    I resolved that I would emulate the black woman if I were ever faced with a white mob; I would conceal a weapon, pretend that I had been crushed by the wrong done to one of my loved ones; then, just when they thought I had accepted their cruelty as the law of my life, I would let go with my gun and kill as many of them as possible before they killed me.
  29. aspire
    have an ambitious plan or a lofty goal
    The hostility of the whites had become so deeply implanted in my mind and feelings that it had lost direct connection with the daily environment in which I lived; and my reactions to this hostility fed upon itself, grew or diminished according to the news that reached me about the whites, according to what I aspired or hoped for.
  30. coax
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    “Just forget us and write your name and address,” the teacher coaxed.

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