"Native Son," Vocabulary from Book 3

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. stupor
    marginal consciousness
    He was not so much in a stupor, as in the grip of a deep physiological resolution not to react to anything.
  2. despise
    look down on with disdain
    And regulating his attitude toward death was the fact that he was black, unequal, and despised.
  3. genial
    diffusing warmth and friendliness
    In speech and manner he lacks the charm of the average, harmless, genial, grinning southern darky so beloved by the American people.
  4. indifferent
    showing no care or concern in attitude or action
    But the brutish Negro seemed indifferent to his fate, as though inquests, trials, and even the looming certainty of the electric chair held no terror for him.
  5. segregate
    separate by race or religion
    Crimes such as the Bigger Thomas murders could be lessened by segregating all Negroes in parks, playgrounds, cafes, theatres, and street cars.
  6. appropriation
    money set aside for a specific purpose, as by a legislature
    If separate schools were maintained, it would be fairly easy to limit the Negroes’ education by regulating the appropriation of moneys through city, county, and state legislative bodies.
  7. deterrent
    something immaterial that interferes with action or progress
    Still another psychological deterrent can be attained by conditioning Negroes so that they have to pay deference to the white person with whom they come in contact.
  8. remorse
    a feeling of deep regret, usually for some misdeed
    For the first time in his life a white man became a human being to him; and the reality of Jan’s humanity came in a stab of remorse: he had killed what this man loved and had hurt him.
  9. oppress
    come down on or keep down by unjust use of one's authority
    This boy comes from an oppressed people. Even if he’s done wrong, we must take that into consideration.
  10. futile
    producing no result or effect
    he longed to stop those tears and that anger because he knew that they were futile, that the people who stood along the wall back of him had the destiny of him and his family in their hands.
  11. alibi
    proof that someone accused of a crime could not have done it
    He proved an alibi and he’s free.
  12. implicate
    bring into intimate and incriminating connection
    “He didn’t have nothing to do with it,” said Bigger, feeling a keen desire on the man’s part to have him implicate Jan.
  13. befall
    become of; happen to
    What aroused your suspicions that something had befallen your daughter?
  14. indict
    accuse formally of a crime
    You’re trying to indict a race of people and a political party!
  15. conscience
    motivation deriving from ethical or moral principles
    “So, the profits you take from the Thomas family in rents, you give back to them to ease the pain of their gouged lives and to salve the ache of your own conscience?”
  16. imperative
    requiring attention or action
    “Owing to the peculiar nature of this crime, and owing to the fact that the deceased’s body was all but destroyed, I deem it imperative that you examine one additional piece of evidence. It will help shed light upon the actual manner of the death of the deceased,” the coroner said.
  17. welter
    a confused multitude of things
    He looked out upon the world and the people about him with a double vision: one vision pictured death, an image of him, alone, sitting strapped in the electric chair and waiting for the hot current to leap through his body; and the other vision pictured life, an image of himself standing amid throngs of men, lost in the welter of their lives with the hope of emerging again, different, unafraid.
  18. staunch
    firm and dependable especially in loyalty
    In relation to the Negro’s mental condition, Dr. Calvin H. Robinson, a psychiatric attaché of the police department, declared: “There is no question but that Thomas is more alert mentally and more cagy than we suspect. His attempt to blame the Communists for the murder and kidnap note and his staunch denial of having raped the white girl indicate that he may be hiding many other crimes.”
  19. deliberation
    careful consideration
    “Your Honor,” Max said, “after long and honest deliberation, I have determined to make a motion in this court to withdraw our plea of not guilty and enter a plea of guilty."
  20. vile
    morally reprehensible
    The array of witnesses for the State, the confession made and signed by the defendant himself, and the concrete evidence will reveal the unnatural aspect of this vile offense against God and man more eloquently than I could ever dare.
  21. mitigate
    lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of
    The counsel for the defense claims, and would have this Court believe, that the mere act of entering a plea of guilty to this indictment should be accepted as evidence mitigating punishment.
  22. mawkish
    effusively or insincerely emotional
    I shall tell them that our courts, swamped with mawkish sentimentality, are no longer fit instruments to safeguard the public peace!
  23. prejudice
    a partiality preventing objective consideration of an issue
    The complex forces of society have isolated here for us a symbol, a test symbol. The prejudices of men have stained this symbol, like a germ stained for examination under the microscope.
  24. unremitting
    uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
    The unremitting hate of men has given us a psychological distance that will enable us to see this tiny social symbol in relation to our whole sick social organism.
  25. abolish
    do away with
    Rather that courts be abolished and each man buy arms and proceed to protect himself or make war for what he thinks is rightfully his own, than that a man should be tried by men who have already made up their minds that he is guilty.
  26. banish
    drive away
    Let us banish from our minds the thought that this is an unfortunate victim of injustice.
  27. delicate
    difficult to handle; requiring great tact
    Kill him! Burn the life out of him! And still when the delicate and unconscious machinery of race relations slips, there will be murder again.
  28. pretense
    the act of giving a false appearance
    My job is to show how nonsensical it is to seek revenge on this boy under the pretense that we are making a great fight for justice.
  29. redress
    act of correcting an error or a fault or an evil
    But the question may be asked, ‘If this boy thought that he was somehow wronged, why did he not go into a court of law and seek a redress of his grievances? Why should he take the law into his own hands?’
  30. retaliation
    action taken in return for an injury or offense
    This boy’s crime was not an act of retaliation by an injured man against a person who he thought had injured him.
  31. subversive
    in opposition to an established system or government
    Excluded from, and unassimilated in our society, yet longing to gratify impulses akin to our own but denied the objects and channels evolved through long centuries for their socialized expression, every sunrise and sunset makes him guilty of subversive actions.
  32. confer
    To send him to prison would be more than an act of mercy. You would be for the first time conferring life upon him. He would be brought for the first time within the orbit of our civilization. He would have an identity, even though it be but a number.
  33. exemplify
    be characteristic of
    This will not solve the problem which this crime exemplifies. That remains, perhaps, for the future. But if we say that we must kill him, then let us have the courage and honesty to say: ‘Let us kill them all. They are not human. There’s no room for them.’
  34. vindictive
    disposed to seek revenge or intended for revenge
    My voice may sound vindictive when I say: Make the defendant pay the highest penalty for his crimes! But what I am really saying is that the law is sweet when it is enforced and protects a million worthy careers, when it shields the infant, the aged, the helpless, the blind and the sensitive from the ravishing of men who know no law, no self-control, and no sense of reason.
  35. plight
    a situation from which extrication is difficult
    His mother prevailed upon him, pled with him; but the plight of his mother, worn out from a life of toil, had no effect upon this hardened black thing.
  36. rapacious
    devouring or craving food in great quantities
    Had he begun to feel his duty toward himself and his family? No! Those were not the considerations that drove this rapacious beast from his den into the open! He consented only when his mother informed him that the relief would cut off their supply of food if he did not accept.
  37. enthralled
    filled with wonder and delight
    This newsreel showed Mary Dalton in a bathing suit upon a Florida beach. Jack Harding, a friend of Bigger Thomas, under persistent questioning, admitted that Bigger Thomas was enthralled by the idea of driving such a girl around the city.
  38. stave off
    prevent the occurrence of; prevent from happening
    He heard the steel door clang shut and he knew that he was alone. He did not stir; he lay still, feeling that by being still he would stave off feeling and thinking, and that was what he wanted above all right now.
  39. mull
    reflect deeply on a subject
    When tired of mulling over his feelings, he would say to himself that it was he who was wrong, that he was no good.
  40. reproach
    a mild rebuke or criticism
    “But sometimes I wish you hadn’t asked me them questions,” Bigger said in a voice that had as much reproach in it for Max as it had for himself.

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