"Black Boy" by Richard Wright, Chapters 7–11

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. vital
    urgently needed; absolutely necessary
    Hunger still a vital part of my consciousness.
  2. frail
    physically weak
    I was frail, not weighing a hundred pounds.
  3. clamber
    climb awkwardly, as if by scrambling
    I stuck it out, reeling at times from hunger, pausing to get my breath before clambering up a hill.
  4. florid
    inclined to a healthy reddish color
    I was hired by a florid-faced white man at the rate of fifty cents for nine holes.
  5. Jim Crow
    barrier preventing blacks from participating in activities
    I was feeling the very thing that the state of Mississippi had spent millions of dollars to make sure that I would never feel; I was becoming aware of the thing that the Jim Crow laws had been drafted and passed to keep out of my consciousness;
  6. strive
    attempt by employing effort
    I was acting on impulses that southern senators in the nation’s capital had striven to keep out of Negro life; I was beginning to dream the dreams that the state had said were wrong, that the schools had said were taboo.
  7. heedless
    marked by or paying little attention
    Somewhere in the dead of the southern night my life had switched onto the wrong track and, without my knowing it, the locomotive of my heart was rushing down a dangerously steep slope, heading for a collision, heedless of the warning red lights that blinked all about me, the sirens and the bells and the screams that filled the air.
  8. understate
    represent as less significant or important
    That was the way things were between whites and blacks in the South; many of the most important things were never openly said; they were understated and left to seep through to one.
  9. impetus
    a force that makes something happen
    I was poised for flight, but I was waiting for some event, some word, some act, some circumstance to furnish the impetus.
  10. pester
    annoy persistently
    My classmates, motivated by a desire to “save” me, pestered me until I all but reached the breaking point.
  11. slacken
    become slow or slower
    I watched out of the corner of my eyes, but I never slackened the strokes of my chamois upon the brass.
  12. contemptuous
    expressing extreme scorn
    No doubt they felt a sort of contemptuous pity...
  13. assent
    agreement with a statement or proposal to do something
    They nodded their assent.
  14. cryptic
    of an obscure nature
    I worked through the days and tried to hide my resentment under a nervous, cryptic smile.
  15. fester
    ripen and generate pus
    I lived carrying a huge wound, tender, festering, and I shrank when I came near anything that I thought would touch it.
  16. nuance
    a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
    I cleaned acres of glass shelving, changing my tempo now to work faster, holding every nuance of reality within the focus of my consciousness.
  17. brace
    prepare for something unpleasant or difficult
    I was braced to defend myself.
  18. subservience
    abject or cringing submissiveness
    I could not make subservience an automatic part of my behavior.
  19. debase
    corrupt morally or by intemperance or sensuality
    I would sit listening for hours, wondering how on earth they could laugh so freely, trying to grasp the miracle that gave their debased lives the semblance of a human existence.
  20. semblance
    an outward appearance that is deliberately misleading
    I would sit listening for hours, wondering how on earth they could laugh so freely, trying to grasp the miracle that gave their debased lives the semblance of a human existence.
  21. repugnant
    offensive to the mind
    The mere idea of stealing had been repugnant.
  22. avail
    take or use
    More than once I had been called a “dumb nigger” by black boys who discovered that I had not availed myself of a chance to snatch some petty piece of white property that had been carelessly left within my reach.
  23. retaliate
    make a counterattack and return like for like
    The very thought would have been terrifying to them, and they knew that the whites would have retaliated with swift brutality.
  24. amass
    collect or gather
    If I saved a dollar a week, it would take me two years to amass a hundred dollars, the amount which for some reason I had decided was necessary to stake me in a strange city.
  25. contraband
    goods whose trade or possession is prohibited by law
    I learned how to walk past a white policeman with contraband upon my hip, sauntering, whistling like a nigger ought to whistle when he is innocent.
  26. pliable
    susceptible to being led or directed
    He grew violently angry and I quickly consented to stay, fearing that someone might turn me in for revenge, or to get me out of the way so that another and more pliable boy could have my place.
  27. foray
    an initial attempt
    Later I came awake with a sudden start, remembering the fright and tension that had accompanied my foray into crime.
  28. wince
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    I winced and turned my head away.
  29. flabbergasted
    as if struck dumb with astonishment and surprise
    But such simple unaffected trust flabbergasted me.
  30. aggrandizement
    the act of increasing the prestige or power of something
    I had never dreamed that anyone would accept me so simply, so completely, without question or the least hint of personal aggrandizement.

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