"Native Son," Vocabulary from Book 1

Richard Wright proposes that utter poverty and societal racism lead to criminal activity in "Native Son" (which is still powerful, not to mention controversial, more than 70 years after it was written).

Learn these word lists for the novel: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. mercy
    showing great kindness toward the distressed
    The woman on the bed sank to her knees and buried her face in the quilts and sobbed: “Lord, Lord, have mercy...”
  2. ignorance
    the lack of knowledge or education
    “What’s the matter?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
  3. gallows
    an instrument from which a person is executed by hanging
    “If you don’t stop running with that gang of yours and do right you’ll end up where you never thought you would. You think I don’t know what you boys is doing, but I do. And the gallows is at the end of the road you traveling, boy. Just remember that.”
  4. reckon
    expect, believe, or suppose
    “I reckon I’ll be dead then. I reckon God’ll call me home.”
  5. taboo
    a ban resulting from social custom or emotional aversion
    They had the feeling that the robbing of Blum’s would be a violation of ultimate taboo; it would be a trespassing into territory where the full wrath of an alien white world would be turned loose upon them; in short, it would be a symbolic challenge of the white world’s rule over them; a challenge which they yearned to make, but were afraid to.
  6. pensive
    deeply or seriously thoughtful
    There was in his eyes a pensive, brooding amusement, as of a man who had been long confronted and tantalized by a riddle whose answer seemed always just on the verge of escaping him, but prodding him irresistibly on to seek its solution.
  7. adulation
    exaggerated flattery or praise
    “Yessuh, Mr. Morgan,” Bigger said, his eyes filled with mock adulation and respect.
  8. compel
    force somebody to do something
    He hated Gus because he knew that Gus was afraid, as even he was; and he feared Gus because he felt that Gus would consent and then he would be compelled to go through with the robbery.
  9. linger
    remain present although waning or gradually dying
    His teeth gritted and the last image he had seen of Gus going through the door lingered in his mind.
  10. succumb
    consent reluctantly
    Bigger felt an urgent need to hide his growing and deepening feeling of hysteria; he had to get rid of it or else he would succumb to it.
  11. ebb
    flow back or recede
    These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger—like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away, invisible force.
  12. exasperated
    greatly annoyed; out of patience
    Bigger paused and looked round the poolroom with a wild and exasperated expression, his lips tightening with resolution.
  13. debutante
    a young woman making her debut into society
    This little collection of debutantes represents over four billion dollars of America’s wealth and over fifty of America’s leading families.
  14. spurn
    reject with contempt
    He heard the commentator’s voice: Mary Dalton, daughter of Chicago’s Henry Dalton, 4605 Drexel Boulevard, shocks society by spurning the boys of La Salle Street and the Gold Coast and accepting the attentions of a well-known radical while on her recent winter vacation in Florida.
  15. denounce
    to accuse or condemn openly as disgraceful
    There was a slow fade-out, while the commentator’s voice ran on: Shortly after a scene like this, shocked Mama and Papa Dalton summoned Mary home by wire from her winter vacation and denounced her Communist friend.
  16. mollify
    cause to be more favorably inclined
    “Don’t tell the world what we’re trying to do,” Jack whispered in a mollifying tone.
  17. gratify
    yield to; give satisfaction to
    That was the way he lived; he passed his days trying to defeat or gratify powerful impulses in a world he feared.
  18. intimidate
    make timid or fearful
    He had not expected anything like this; he had not thought that this world would be so utterly different from his own that it would intimidate him.
  19. involuntarily
    against your will
    “Yessuh,” he whispered; not speaking, really; but hearing his words roll involuntarily from his lips.
  20. bewildered
    perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements
    Bigger paused, bewildered; then he saw coming slowly toward him a tall, thin, white woman, walking silently, her hands lifted delicately in the air and touching the walls to either side of her.
  21. conviction
    an unshakable belief in something without need for proof
    There was an organic conviction in him that this was the way white folks wanted him to be when in their presence; none had ever told him that in so many words, but their manner had made him feel that they did.
  22. glower
    look angry or sullen as if to signal disapproval
    “No’m,” he mumbled, his head down and his eyes glowering.
  23. pity
    a feeling of sympathy and sorrow for misfortunes of others
    “Oh, yessum,” he said, trying to get into his voice some of the pity for Mrs. Dalton that he thought Peggy expected him to feel.
  24. indelible
    no able to be removed or erased
    He was still feeling his hand strangely; it seemed that the pressure of Jan’s fingers had left an indelible imprint.
  25. exuberant
    joyously unrestrained
    Bigger listened to the tone of their voices, to their strange accents, to the exuberant phrases that flowed so freely from their lips.
  26. contaminate
    make impure
    He stepped backward, as though she were contaminated with an invisible contagion.
  27. convey
    serve as a means for expressing something
    He groped for neutral words, words that would convey information but not indicate any shade of his own feelings.
  28. engulf
    flow over or cover completely
    The rum’s soft heat was spreading fanwise out from his stomach, engulfing his whole body.
  29. rouse
    cause to become awake or conscious
    Momentarily, she roused herself and looked at him with blank eyes.
  30. furtive
    secret and sly or sordid
    Her lips, faintly moist in the hazy blue light, were parted and he saw the furtive glints of her white teeth.
  31. veritable
    not counterfeit or copied
    He kissed her again and felt the sharp bones of her hips move in a hard and veritable grind.
  32. irrevocable
    incapable of being retracted
    As he took his hands from the pillow he heard a long slow sigh go up from the bed into the air of the darkened room, a sigh which afterwards, when he remembered it, seemed final, irrevocable.
  33. loathing
    hate coupled with disgust
    He all but shuddered with the intensity of his loathing for this house and all it had made him feel since he had first come into it.
  34. balk
    something immaterial that interferes with or delays action
    Thought and feeling were balked in him; there was something he was trying to tell himself, desperately, but could not.
  35. tremulous
    quivering as from weakness or fear
    Wistfully, he gazed at the edge of the blade resting on the white skin; the gleaming metal reflected the tremulous fury of the coals.

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