"Black Boy," Vocabulary from Chapters 17-20

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. anarchy
    a state of lawlessness and disorder
    Some of the things that the Communists said were true; they maintained that there came times in history when a ruling class could no longer rule, and I sat looking at the beginnings of anarchy.
  2. plight
    a situation from which extrication is difficult
    My knowledge of how Negroes react to their plight makes me declare that no man can possibly be individually guilty of treason, that an insurgent act is but a man’s desperate answer to those who twist his environment so that he cannot fully share the spirit of his native land.
  3. fume
    be mad, angry, or furious
    Perhaps Brand and Cooke, lacking interests that could absorb them, fuming like children over trifles, simply invented their hate of each other in order to have something to feel deeply about.
  4. morose
    showing a brooding ill humor
    One was Brand, a short, black, morose bachelor; the other was Cooke, a tall, yellow, spectacled fellow who spent his spare time keeping track of world events through the Chicago Daily Tribune.
  5. sadistic
    deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on another
    But when I asked a timid question I found that even Jewish doctors had learned to imitate the sadistic method of humbling a Negro that the native-born whites had cultivated.
  6. obviate
    prevent the occurrence of; prevent from happening
    To obviate this, I cleaned but two steps at a time, a distance over which a ten-year-old child could step.
  7. taciturn
    habitually reserved and uncommunicative
    Finally a doctor came, gray-haired, white-coated, spectacled, efficient, serious, taciturn, bearing a tray upon which sat a bottle of mysterious fluid and a hypodermic needle.
  8. prominent
    conspicuous in position or importance
    After the meeting I met an Irish girl who worked for an advertising agency, a girl who did social work, a schoolteacher, and the wife of a prominent university professor.
  9. nondescript
    lacking distinct or individual characteristics
    Following the man was a horde of nondescript men, women, and children, waving clubs, stones, and pitchforks.
  10. fervent
    characterized by intense emotion
    The members were fervent, democratic, restless, eager, self-sacrificing.
  11. conscientious
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    No report about Young had come from the Communist party, but since Young seemed a conscientious worker, I did not think the omission serious in any case.
  12. deference
    a courteous expression of esteem or regard
    Finally the members who had been silent in deference to the party rose and demanded of me that the foolish charges against Swann be withdrawn
  13. disavow
    refuse to acknowledge
    I was so hurt and humiliated that I disavowed all relations with Young.
  14. zeal
    excessive fervor to do something or accomplish some end
    I admired his great revolutionary fervor, but I felt that his zeal was a trifle excessive.
  15. aloof
    remote in manner
    The party leader, aloof and amused, gave Young the signal to begin.
  16. declaim
    speak against in an impassioned manner
    Young unrolled a sheaf of papers and declaimed a list of political charges that excelled in viciousness his previous charges.
  17. reticent
    temperamentally disinclined to talk
    I did not know Negro Communists as well as I wanted to, and when, on many occasions, I had sought to question them about their feelings, their work, and their actions, they had been reticent.
  18. patronizing
    characteristic of those who treat others with arrogance
    His tone was more patronizing than that of a southern white man.
  19. bourgeois
    being of the property-owning class
    And that was enough to condemn me forever as bourgeois.
  20. divulge
    make known to the public information previously kept secret
    I talked to Ross for hours, explaining what I was about, cautioning him not to relate anything that he did not want to divulge.
  21. profundity
    intellectual depth; penetrating knowledge
    Why was it that I was a suspected man because I wanted to reveal the vast physical and spiritual ravages of Negro life, the profundity latent in these rejected people, the dramas as old as man and the sun and the mountains and the seas that were transpiring in the poverty of black America?
  22. enjoin
    give instructions to or direct somebody to do something
    Occasionally a Negro Communist—defying the code that enjoined him to shun suspect elements—came to my home and informed me of the current charges that Communists were bringing against one another.
  23. incipient
    only partly in existence; imperfectly formed
    I was termed a “bastard intellectual,” an “ incipient Trotskyite”; it was claimed that I possessed an “antileadership attitude” and that I was manifesting “seraphim tendencies,” the latter phrase meaning that one has withdrawn from the struggle of life and considers oneself an infallible angel.
  24. quixotic
    not sensible about practical matters
    I realized that I had not been objective in my quixotic fight to save the clubs.
  25. redress
    act of correcting an error or a fault or an evil
    “Let them know that it is their right to petition for a redress of their grievances.”
  26. bane
    something causing misery or death
    Racial hate had been the bane of my life, and here before my eyes was concrete proof that it could be abolished.
  27. rankle
    make resentful or angry
    Yet a new hate had come to take the place of the rankling racial hate.
  28. proletarian
    a member of the working class
    I knew that if they had succeeded in getting me fired they would have considered it a triumph of proletarian tactics.
  29. beset
    assail or attack on all sides
    I had intended to, but I was beset by so many impulses that I could not act.
  30. sunder
    break apart or in two, using violence
    Somehow man had been sundered from man and, in his search for a new unity, for a new wholeness, for oneness again, he would have to blunder into a million walls to find merely that he could not go in certain directions.

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