"Black Boy," Vocabulary from Chapters 12-16

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. gape
    look with amazement
    While wandering aimlessly about the streets of Memphis, gaping at the tall buildings and the crowds, killing time, eating bags of popcorn, I was struck by an odd and sudden idea.
  2. incessantly
    without interruption
    He hated his job and talked incessantly of leaving to work in the post office.
  3. grimace
    contort the face to indicate a certain mental state
    “But this black sonofabitch sure needs a quarter,” Shorty sang, grimacing, clowning, ignoring the white man’s threat.
  4. chortle
    laugh quietly or with restraint
    “This monkey’s got the peanuts,” he chortled.
  5. latent
    not presently active
    But under all our talk floated a latent sense of violence; the whites had drawn a line over which we dared not step and we accepted that line because our bread was at stake.
  6. degradation
    a low or downcast state
    But within our boundaries we, too, drew a line that included our right to bread regardless of the indignities or degradations involved in getting it.
  7. capitulate
    surrender under agreed conditions
    Hence, our daily lives were so bound up with trivial objectives that to capitulate when challenged was tantamount to surrendering the right to life itself.
  8. grievance
    a complaint about a wrong that causes resentment
    Our anger was like the anger of children, passing quickly from one petty grievance to another, from the memory of one slight wrong to another.
  9. precipice
    a very steep cliff
    With one sentence he had lifted out of the silent dark the race question and I stood on the edge of a precipice.
  10. tantamount
    being essentially equal to something
    We were afraid to tell the white men that we did not believe them, for that would have been tantamount to calling them liars or risking an argument that might have ended in violence being directed against us.
  11. bantering
    cleverly amusing in tone
    His position was not much better than mine and I knew that he was uneasy and insecure; he had always treated me in an offhand, bantering way that barely concealed his contempt.
  12. solidarity
    a union of interests or purposes among members of a group
    I was afraid to ask him to help me to get books; his frantic desire to demonstrate a racial solidarity with the whites against Negroes might make him betray me.
  13. pry
    search or inquire in a meddlesome way
    But some of the white men pried into my packages when I was absent and they questioned me.
  14. addle
    mix up or confuse
    “You’ll addle your brains if you don’t watch out.”
  15. genial
    agreeable, conducive to comfort
    I could submit and live the life of a genial slave, but that was impossible.
  16. confer
    have a meeting in order to talk something over
    And every time we conferred, we defeated ourselves.
  17. dank
    unpleasantly cool and humid
    Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundations were sinking slowly into the dank prairie.
  18. makeshift
    done or made using whatever is available
    Everything seemed makeshift, temporary.
  19. travail
    use of physical or mental energy; hard work
    And I really do not think that America, adolescent and cocksure, a stranger to suffering and travail, an enemy of passion and sacrifice, is ready to probe into its most fundamental beliefs.
  20. rebuff
    force or drive back
    As a protective mechanism, I developed a terse, cynical mode of speech that rebuffed those who sought to get too close to me.
  21. deadpan
    without betraying any feeling
    My face was always a deadpan or a mask of general friendliness; no word or event could jar me into a gesture of enthusiasm or despair.
  22. decadence
    the state of being degenerate in mental or moral qualities
    I spent my nights reading Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, admiring the lucid, subtle but strong prose, stupefied by its dazzling magic, awed by the vast, delicate, intricate, and psychological structure of the Frenchman’s epic of death and decadence.
  23. usurp
    take the place of
    I was conscious of what was happening to me; I knew that my attitude of watchful wonder had usurped all other feelings, had become the meaning of my life, an integral part of my personality; that I was striving to live and measure all things by it.
  24. puritan
    someone who adheres to strict religious principles
    I was encountering for the first time the full-fledged Negro Puritan invert—the emotionally sick—and I discovered that their ideas were but excuses for sex, leads to sex, hints at sex, substitutes for sex.
  25. oblique
    not direct, explicit, or straightforward
    In speech and action they strove to act as un-Negro as possible, denying the racial and material foundations of their lives, accepting their class and racial status in ways so oblique that one had the impression that no difficulties existed for them.
  26. bohemian
    a nonconformist who lives an unconventional life
    Swearing love for art, they hovered on the edge of Bohemian life.
  27. credence
    the mental attitude that something is believable
    I gave no credence to the ideology of Garveyism; it was, rather, the emotional dynamics of its adherents that evoked my admiration.
  28. dialectic
    arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments
    It became a habit of mine to visit Washington Park of an afternoon after collecting a part of my premiums, and I would wander through crowds of unemployed Negroes, pausing here and there to sample the dialectic or indignation of Communist speakers.
  29. eschew
    avoid and stay away from deliberately
    When speaking from the platform, the Negro Communists, eschewing the traditional gestures of the Negro preacher—as though they did not possess the strength to develop their own style of Communist preaching—stood straight, threw back their heads, brought the edge of the right palm down hammerlike into the outstretched left palm in a series of jerky motions to pound their points home, a mannerism that characterized Lenin’s method of speaking.
  30. dismal
    causing dejection
    The place was dismal; plaster was falling from the walls; the wooden stairs sagged.

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.