"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, Chapters 15-20

In this classic autobiography, the accomplished poet and writer recounts her childhood and teenage years.

Here are links to our lists for the text: Chapters 1-6, Chapters 7-14, Chapters 15-20, Chapters 21-24, Chapters 25-30, Chapters 31-36

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    She was thin without the taut look of wiry people, and her printed voile dresses and flowered hats were as right for her as denim overalls for a farmer.
  2. benign
    pleasant and beneficial in nature or influence
    The action was so graceful and inclusively benign.
  3. moor
    open land with peaty soil covered with heather and moss
    She appealed to me because she was like people I had
    never met personally. Like women in English novels who walked the moors (whatever they were) with their loyal dogs racing at a respectful distance.
  4. sacrilegious
    grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred
    It might be sacrilegious.
  5. cascade
    rush down in big quantities
    Her sounds began cascading gently.
  6. aura
    distinctive but intangible quality around a person or thing
    The essence escapes but its aura remains.
  7. tribulation
    an annoying or frustrating or catastrophic event
    The three of us knelt as she began, “Our Father, you know the tribulations of your humble servant.
  8. debutante
    a young woman making her debut into society
    When I told her that in Stamps my grandmother had owned the only Negro general merchandise store since the turn of the century, she exclaimed, “Why, you were a debutante.”
  9. speckle
    mark with small spots
    It was the speckled-faced one.
  10. construe
    make sense of; assign a meaning to
    It was a dangerous practice to call a Negro anything that could be loosely construed as insulting...
  11. swarthy
    naturally having skin of a dark color
    We passed houses which I knew well by daylight but couldn’t recollect in the swarthy gloom.
  12. revelry
    unrestrained merrymaking
    But there was no air of spent revelry about him.
  13. berate
    censure severely or angrily
    When the train passed he pushed himself away from the pole where he had been leaning, berated me for making all that noise and said, “Let’s go home.”
  14. inscrutable
    of an obscure nature
    One year later he did catch a freight, but because of his youth and the inscrutable ways of fate, he didn’t find California and his Mother Dear—he got stranded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for two weeks.
  15. masochist
    someone who obtains pleasure from receiving punishment
    The idea came to me that my people may be a race of masochists and that not only was it our fate to live the poorest, roughest life but that we liked it like that.
  16. rakish
    marked by a carefree unconventionality or disreputableness
    The altar wobbled and threatened to overturn and the collection table sat at a rakish angle.
  17. exaltation
    a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion
    It took some time for the singers to come off their level of exaltation, but the minister stood resolute until the song unwound like a child’s playtoy and lay quieted in the aisles.
  18. forsake
    leave someone who needs or counts on you; leave in the lurch
    The people inside had forsaken their own distress for a little while.
  19. din
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    Passing near the din, the godly people dropped their heads and conversation ceased.
  20. gaiety
    a festive merry feeling
    The apprehensive mood was shot through with shafts of gaiety, as a black sky is streaked with lightning.
  21. ambrosia
    the food and drink of the gods
    People drank Coca-Colas like ambrosia and ate candy bars like Christmas.
  22. contrapuntal
    having independent but harmonically related melodic parts
    The sounds of tag beat through the trees while the top branches waved in contrapuntal rhythms.
  23. epicure
    a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment
    The amount and variety of foods would have found approval on the menu of a Roman epicure.
  24. ecumenical
    of worldwide scope or applicability
    However, in the ecumenical light of the summer picnic every true baking artist could reveal her prize to the delight and criticism of the town.
  25. genteel
    marked by refinement in taste and manners
    Her mother lived in reduced circumstances, but she was genteel, and though she worked as a maid I decided she should be called a governess and did so to Bailey and myself.

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