"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, Chapters 31-36

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. pretense
    the act of giving a false appearance
    I greeted her: “Hello, Dolores” (we had long dropped the pretense of familial relationship).
  2. proffer
    present for acceptance or rejection
    He had enjoyed his Mexican holiday, and still was unable to proffer a bit of kindness to the woman who had waited patiently, busying herself with housewifely duties.
  3. filial
    relating to or characteristic of or befitting an offspring
    I know that the awful accusation struck not so much at my filial love as at the foundation of my new existence.
  4. bedizen
    dress up garishly and tastelessly
    Dolores flitted around the car, screaming like a banshee, her face bedizened with fury.
  5. ungainly
    lacking grace in movement or posture
    I had slid down the seat and slept the night through in an ungainly position.
  6. tolerance
    willingness to respect the beliefs or practices of others
    The lack of criticism evidenced by our ad hoc community influenced me, and set a tone of tolerance for my life.
  7. magnanimous
    noble and generous in spirit
    With the easy grace characteristic of Mother when she was given a chance to be magnanimous she agreed.
  8. unkempt
    not neatly combed
    I arrived in San Francisco, leaner than usual, fairly unkempt, and with no luggage.
  9. tedium
    dullness owing to length or slowness
    I often thought of the tedium of life once one had seen all its surprises.
  10. blase
    nonchalantly unconcerned
    In two months, I had become blase.
  11. ethos
    the distinctive spirit of a culture or an era
    Neither could do without or do with the other; yet the constrictions of conscience and society, morality and ethos dictated a separation.
  12. chenille
    a heavy fabric woven from soft tufted cord
    In an almost formal manner I was invited into a room with a clean chenille-covered bed, an easy chair, a gas fireplace and a table.
  13. gumption
    fortitude and determination
    In fact, she’d be pleased to think that I had that much gumption, that much of her in my character.
  14. horde
    a vast multitude
    The world was moving so fast, so much money was being made, so many people were dying in Guam, and Germany, that hordes of strangers became good friends overnight.
  15. indignation
    a feeling of righteous anger
    From disappointment, I gradually ascended the emotional ladder to haughty indignation, and finally to that state of stubbornness where the mind is locked like the jaws of an enraged bulldog.
  16. terse
    brief and to the point
    Mother gave me her support with one of her usual terse asides, “That’s what you want to do?
  17. supercilious
    having or showing arrogant superiority to
    While I spoke in supercilious accents, and looked at the room as if I had an oil well in my own backyard, my armpits were being pricked by millions of hot pointed needles.
  18. imposing
    impressive in appearance
    Old buildings, whose gray rococo facades housed my memories of the Forty-Niners, and Diamond Lil, Robert Service, Sutter and Jack London, were then imposing structures viciously joined to keep me out.
  19. aphorism
    a short pithy instructive saying
    She had a store of aphorisms which she dished out as the occasion demanded.
  20. ostensibly
    from appearances alone
    I only knew that one day, which was tiresomely like all the others before it, I sat in the Railway office, ostensibly waiting to be interviewed.
  21. formidable
    extremely impressive in strength or excellence
    The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.
  22. scarcity
    a small and inadequate amount
    I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.
  23. malaise
    a general feeling of discomfort, uneasiness, or depression
    One evening as I walked up the hill suffering from youth’s vague malaise (there was simply nothing to do), the brother I had chosen came walking directly into my trap.
  24. revulsion
    intense aversion
    The little pleasure I was able to take from the fact that if I could have a baby I obviously wasn’t a lesbian was crowded into my mind’s tiniest corner by the massive pushing in of fear, guilt and self- revulsion.
  25. hapless
    unfortunate and deserving pity
    For eons, it seemed, I had accepted my plight as the hapless, put-upon victim of fate and the Furies, but this time I had to face the fact that I had brought my new catastrophe upon myself.

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