"Black Boy," Vocabulary from Chapters 3-6

Richard Wright's coming-of-age chronicle of his life in the south and later in Chicago, "Black Boy" depicts a boy searching for his way to become a man when the odds seem stacked against him.

Learn these word lists from the autobiography: Chapters 1-2, Chapters 3-6, Chapters 7-11, Chapters 12-16, Chapters 17-20

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. relegate
    expel, as if by official decree
    It was degrading to play with girls and in our talk we relegated them to a remote island of life.
  2. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    Of an afternoon when school had let out I would saunter down the street, idly kicking an empty tin can, or knocking a stick against the palings of a wooden fence, or whistling, until I would stumble upon one or more of the gang loitering at a corner, standing in a field, or sitting upon the steps of somebody’s house.
  3. reckon
    expect, believe, or suppose
    “Man, you reckon these white folks is ever gonna change?”
  4. salvage
    collect discarded or refused material
    When the men did not finish their lunches, I would salvage what few crumbs remained.
  5. appease
    make peace with
    I had had no intention of letting her hear me curse, but since she had heard me and since there was no way to appease her, I decided to let things develop as they would.
  6. squalid
    foul and run-down and repulsive
    I looked at him and did not answer; there flashed through my mind a quick, running picture of all the squalid hovels in which I had lived and it made me feel more than ever a stranger as I stood before him.
  7. predilection
    a strong liking
    At the age of twelve, before I had had one full year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.
  8. profess
    confess one's faith in, or allegiance to
    My position in the household was a delicate one; I was a minor, an uninvited dependent, a blood relative who professed no salvation and whose soul stood in mortal peril.
  9. metaphysical
    without material form or substance
    I became skilled in ignoring these cosmic threats and developed a callousness toward all metaphysical preachments.
  10. infidel
    a person who does not acknowledge your god
    If I refused, I was placing myself not only in the position of a horrible infidel but of a hardhearted ingrate.
  11. stifle
    smother or suppress
    Perhaps my uneasy childhood, perhaps my shifting from town to town, perhaps the violence I had already seen and felt took hold of me, and I was trying to stifle the impulse to go to the drawer of the kitchen table and get a knife and defend myself.
  12. remiss
    failing in what duty requires
    She was the oldest member of her church and it would have been unseemly if the only grandchild in her home could not be brought to these important services; she felt that if I were completely remiss in religious conformity it would cast doubt upon the stanchness of her faith, her capacity to convince and persuade, or merely upon her ability to apply the rod to my backside.
  13. lascivious
    driven by lust
    If my desires had been converted into a concrete religious symbol, the symbol would have looked something like this: a black imp with two horns; a long, curving, forked tail; cloven hoofs, a scaly, naked body; wet, sticky fingers; moist, sensual lips; and lascivious eyes feasting upon the face of the elder’s wife.
  14. allay
    lessen the intensity of or calm
    With my bright idea bubbling in my mind, wishing to allay Granny’s fears for my soul, wanting to make her know that my heart was not all black and wrong, that I was actually giving serious thought to her passionate pleadings, I leaned to her and whispered:
  15. censure
    rebuke formally
    Then I babbled, speaking with emotional reproof, censuring her for having misunderstood me; I must have spoken more loudly and harshly than was called for—the others had now gathered about me and Granny—for Granny drew away from me abruptly and went to a far corner of the church and stared at me with a cold, set face.
  16. solicitude
    a feeling of excessive concern
    From urgent solicitude they dropped to coldness and hostility.
  17. squander
    spend thoughtlessly; throw away
    Only my mother, who had in the meantime recovered somewhat, maintained her interest in me, urging me to study hard and make up for squandered time.
  18. nonchalantly
    in a composed and unconcerned manner
    With pencil and tablet, I walked nonchalantly into the schoolyard, wearing a cheap, brand-new straw hat.
  19. outlandish
    conspicuously or grossly unconventional or unusual
    When I returned home at night, I would go to my room and lock the door and revel in outlandish exploits of outlandish men in faraway, outlandish cities.
  20. blasphemous
    grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred
    I must have sounded reekingly blasphemous, for Granny said, “Shut up, you!” and leaned forward promptly to chastise me with one of her casual, back-handed slaps on my mouth.
  21. extol
    praise, glorify, or honor
    Brother Mance would pace the floor, extolling my abilities with pen and paper.
  22. boon
    something that is desirable, favorable, or beneficial
    You may be assured that your sacrifice has been a boon and a solace to your country.
  23. upbraid
    express criticism towards
    Whenever he walked into my presence I became silent, waiting for him to speak, wondering if he were going to upbraid me for something.
  24. finicky
    exacting especially about details
    Fearing that my family might think I was finicky, I lied to them, telling them that the white woman had already hired a boy.
  25. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    “Where are you from?” she asked incredulously.
  26. invective
    abusive language used to express blame or censure
    As they hurled invectives, they barely looked at each other.
  27. brisk
    quick and energetic
    “Now, you young men,” he began in a brisk, clipped tone, “I want all of you to know God.
  28. rouse
    cause to become awake or conscious
    One morning I was roused by my uncle’s voice calling gently but persistently.
  29. impudent
    improperly forward or bold
    “Why, you impudent black rascal!” he thundered.
  30. trifle
    something of small importance
    How long was I going to be beaten for trifles and less than trifles?

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