"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, Chapters 21-24

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. profusely
    in an abundant manner
    She ran errands for Momma when we were busy in the Store and sweated profusely.
  2. wizened
    lean and wrinkled by shrinkage as from age or illness
    During grace, Bailey stood in the doorway, a figure of obedience, but I knew his mind was on Tom Sawyer and Jim as mine would have been on Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but for the glittering eyes of wizened old Mr. Taylor.
  3. metamorphosis
    striking change in appearance or character or circumstances
    If my head had been down I would have missed Mr. Taylor’s metamorphosis.
  4. imperceptible
    impossible or difficult to sense
    A bigger house had been set on our roof and was imperceptibly pushing us into the ground.
  5. dirge
    a song or hymn of mourning as a memorial to a dead person
    His voice enweaved itself through the somber vapors left by the dirge.
  6. ponderous
    slow and laborious because of weight
    Then on heavy feet, made more ponderous by the guilt of the living viewing the dead, the adult church marched up to the coffin and back to their seats.
  7. cloying
    overly sweet
    I couldn’t distinguish whether I was smelling the clutching sound of misery or hearing the cloying odor of death.
  8. solicitous
    showing hovering attentiveness
    The cheeks had fallen back to the ears and a solicitous mortician had put lipstick on the black mouth.
  9. elude
    escape, either physically or mentally
    The trip to the kitchen and back could not have taken more than two minutes, yet in that time I tramped through swampy cemeteries, climbed over dusty gravestones and eluded litters of night-black cats.
  10. beckon
    summon with a wave, nod, or some other gesture
    Everyone was uneasy at being beckoned into the unknown.
  11. fretful
    nervous and unable to relax
    I laid a pallet for Mr. Taylor in Uncle Willie’s room and crawled under Momma, who I knew for the first time was so good and righteous she could command the fretful spirits, as Jesus had commanded the sea.
  12. piteous
    deserving or inciting a feeling of sympathy and sorrow
    After tests were returned and grades given, the student body, which acted like an extended family, knew who did well, who excelled, and what piteous ones had failed.
  13. pervade
    spread or diffuse through
    ...blinded them to the collective joy that had pervaded the lives of the boys and girls in the grammar school graduating class.
  14. pique
    tightly woven fabric with raised cords
    My class was wearing butter-yellow pique dresses, and Momma launched out on mine.
  15. mollify
    cause to be more favorably inclined
    But since he had called our names at the beginning of the service we were mollified.
  16. fatalism
    a doctrine that all events are predetermined in advance
    Somewhere in my fatalism I had expected to die, accidentally, and never have the chance to walk up the stairs in the auditorium and gracefully receive my hard-earned diploma.
  17. meticulous
    marked by precise accordance with details
    The meticulous maps, drawn in three colors of ink, learning and spelling decasyllabic words, memorizing the whole of The Rape of Lucrece—it was for nothing.
  18. farcical
    broadly or extravagantly humorous
    We were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher that we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous.
  19. perfunctory
    as a formality only
    He finished, and since there was no need to give any more than the most perfunctory thank-you’s, he nodded to the men on the stage, and the tall white man who was never introduced joined him at the door.
  20. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    The ugliness they left was palpable.
  21. impertinence
    the trait of being rude and inclined to take liberties
    Elouise, the daughter of the Baptist minister, recited “Invictus,” and I could have cried at the impertinence of “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
  22. elocution
    an expert manner of speaking involving control of voice
    Henry had been a good student in elocution.
  23. chasten
    censure severely
    Stony the road we trod
    Bitter the chastening rod
    Felt in the days when hope,
    unborn, had died.
  24. penance
    voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for something
    The Angel of the candy counter had found me out at last, and was exacting excruciating penance for all the stolen Milky Ways, Mounds, Mr. Goodbars and Hersheys with Almonds.
  25. bailiwick
    the area over which a bailiff has jurisdiction
    The pain was beyond the bailiwick of crushed aspirins or oil of cloves.

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