"Native Son," Vocabulary from Book 2

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. impel
    urge or force to an action; constrain or motivate
    Gripped by the same impelling excitement that had had hold of him when he was carrying Mary up the stairs, he stood in the middle of the room.
  2. inarticulate
    without or deprived of the use of speech or words
    He felt in the quiet presence of his mother, brother, and sister a force, inarticulate and unconscious, making for living without thinking, making for peace and habit, making for a hope that blinded.
  3. hankering
    a yearning for something or to do something
    Though he felt he was cut off from them forever, he had a strange hankering for their presence.
  4. benevolent
    generous in providing aid to others
    Ultimately, though, his hate and hope turned outward from himself and Gus: his hope toward a vague benevolent something that would help and lead him, and his hate toward the whites
  5. quavering
    (of the voice) quivering as from weakness or fear
    He heard Mrs. Dalton’s voice again, quavering with doubt and fear.
  6. teeming
    abundantly filled with especially living things
    The world of sound fell abruptly away from him and a vast picture appeared before his eyes, a picture teeming with so much meaning that he could not react to it all at once.
  7. feigned
    not genuine
    “What money?” he asked in a tone of feigned surprise.
  8. desperation
    a state in which all hope is lost or absent
    He was enjoying her agony, seeing and feeling the worth of himself in her bewildered desperation.
  9. latent
    not presently active
    Because he could go now, run off if he wanted to and leave it all behind, he felt a certain sense of power, a power born of a latent capacity to live.
  10. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    “Yessuh,” Bigger whispered, struggling to control his feelings, hating Jan violently because he knew he was hurting him; wanting to strike Jan with something because Jan’s wide, incredulous stare made him feel hot guilt to the very core of him.
  11. atone
    make amends for
    Yet he knew of no way to atone for his guilt; he felt he had to act as he was acting.
  12. iota
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    He was feeling as he had felt when he stood over Mary’s bed with the white blur drawing near; an iota more of fear would have sent him plunging again into murder.
  13. suffuse
    become overspread as with a fluid, a color, or light
    Like an enraged beast, the furnace throbbed with heat, suffusing a red glare over everything.
  14. lurid
    glaringly vivid and graphic; marked by sensationalism
    He rested his black fingers on the edge of the white table and a silent laugh burst from his parted lips as he saw himself for a split second in a lurid objective light: he had killed a rich white girl and had burned her body after cutting her head off and had lied to throw the blame on someone else and had written a kidnap note demanding ten thousand dollars and yet he stood here afraid to touch food on the table, food which undoubtedly was his own.
  15. distraught
    deeply agitated especially from emotion
    He saw in his mind a picture of the Dalton family distraught and horrified when they found that Mary was kidnapped.
  16. torrid
    extremely hot
    The torrid cracks of the furnace gleamed in the crimson darkness and he heard the throaty undertone of the draft devouring the air.
  17. meek
    humble in spirit or manner
    But they would never think that he had done it; not a meek black boy like him.
  18. reluctance
    a certain degree of unwillingness
    “Well,” Bigger said, feigning reluctance, “he told me that some day there wouldn’t be no rich folks and no poor folks...”
  19. repulsive
    offensive to the mind
    He knew that sex relations between blacks and whites were repulsive to most white men.
  20. deference
    a disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others
    He knew that whites thought that all Negroes yearned for white women, therefore he wanted to show a certain fearful deference even when one’s name was mentioned in his presence.
  21. slander
    attack the good name and reputation of someone
    He said that Mr. Dalton’s trying to slander the Communist Party by having him arrested.
  22. notorious
    known widely and usually unfavorably
    It also mentioned that Mary had been in the “company of Erlone until early Sunday morning at a notorious South Side cafe in the Black Belt.”
  23. strew
    spread by scattering
    The man with the shovel stood in front of the furnace and looked down into the ashes strewn over the floor.
  24. clandestine
    conducted with or marked by hidden aims or methods
    Bigger’s eyes skimmed the words: “ clandestine meetings offered opportunities for abduction,”
  25. unfathomable
    impossible to come to understand
    And yet, whether in running away or in fighting, he had felt the need of the clean satisfaction of facing this thing in all its fullness, of fighting it out in the wind and sunlight, in front of those whose hate for him was so unfathomably deep that, after they had shunted him off into a corner of the city to rot and die, they could turn to him, as Mary had that night in the car, and say: “I’d like to know how your people live.”
  26. labyrinth
    complex system of paths in which it is easy to get lost
    Sometimes, in his room or on the sidewalk, the world seemed to him a strange labyrinth even when the streets were straight and the walls were square; a chaos which made him feel that something in him should be able to understand it, divide it, focus it.
  27. cordon
    a series of sentinels or posts enclosing some place or thing
    Immediately a cordon of five thousand police, augmented by more than three thousand volunteers, was thrown about the Black Belt.
  28. accomplice
    a person who joins with another in carrying out some plan
    Police are not yet satisfied with the account Erlone has given of himself and are of the conviction that he may be linked to the Negro as an accomplice; they feel that the plan of the murder and kidnapping was too elaborate to be the work of a Negro mind.
  29. taut
    subjected to great tension; stretched tight
    Holding the paper in taut fingers, he read phrases: “Negro ordered to clean out ashes...reluctant to respond...dreading discovery...smoke-filled basement...tragedy of Communism and racial mixture...possibility that kidnap note was work of Reds...”
  30. coax
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    He tried not to listen, but it seeped into his feelings, whispering of another way of life and death, coaxing him to lie down and sleep and let them come and get him, urging him to believe that all life was a sorrow that had to be accepted.
  31. contrite
    feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    It would have been easy to have lived in it, for it was his mother’s world, humble, contrite, believing.
  32. mystic
    beyond ordinary understanding
    He had an almost mystic feeling that if he were ever cornered something in him would prompt him to act the right way, the right way being the way that would enable him to die without shame.
  33. ambush
    concealing yourself and lying in wait to attack by surprise
    He had to find some place to hide, some ambush from which he could fight.
  34. bedlam
    a state of extreme confusion and disorder
    The bedlam in the street rose higher; more men climbed through trapdoors to the roof.
  35. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Under it all some part of his mind was beginning to stand aside; he was going behind his curtain, his wall, looking out with sullen stares of contempt.

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