"Stranger in the Village"

In 1955, the author James Baldwin went to a tiny Swiss village in which "from all available evidence no black man had ever set foot." He reflects on this experience in an essay, compares it to later visits, and connects it the history of the American Negro.

Here are all the word lists to support the reading of Grade 12 Unit 1's texts from SpringBoard's Common Core ELA series: My Papa's Waltz, in just-, The Last Word, Mushrooms, I Remember, Invisible Man, Four Skinny Trees, Dirty Work, On Seeing England for the First Time, Speaking with Hands, The White Man's Burden, The Poor Man's Burden, Shooting an Elephant, Lindo Jong: Double Face, Stranger in the Village
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Full list of words from this list:

  1. complexion
    texture and appearance of the skin of the face
    I took this to mean that people of my complexion were rarely seen in Switzerland, and also that city people are always something of a "sight" outside of the city.
  2. bistro
    a small informal restaurant; serves wine
    There are four or five hotels, all closed now, and four or five bistros, of which, however, only two do any business during the winter.
  3. sanctity
    the quality of being holy
    This lends the village, at the height of the season, a rather terrifying air of sanctity, as though it were a lesser Lourdes.
  4. astonishment
    the feeling that accompanies something extremely surprising
    Yet people remain people, on crutches or indeed on deathbeds; and wherever I passed, the first summer I was here, among the native villagers or among the lame, a wind passed with me--of astonishment, curiosity, amusement and outrage.
  5. phenomenon
    a remarkable person, thing, or development
    My smile was simply another unheard-of phenomenon which allowed them to see my teeth--they did not, really, see my smile and I began to think that, should I take to snarling, no one would notice any difference.
  6. infernal
    characteristic of or resembling Hell
    All of the physical characteristics of the Negro which had caused me, in America, a very different and almost forgotten pain were nothing less than miraculous--or infernal--in the eyes of the village people.
  7. jocular
    characterized by jokes and good humor
    It was jocularly suggested that I might let it all grow long and make myself a winter coat.
  8. gingerly
    with extreme care or delicacy
    If I sat in the sun for more than five minutes some daring creature was certain to come along and gingerly put his fingers on my hair, as though he were afraid of an electric shock, or put his hand on my hand, astonished that the color did not rub off.
  9. concede
    acknowledge defeat
    In all of this, in which it must be conceded there was the charm of genuine wonder and in which there was certainly no element of intentional unkindness, there was yet no suggestion that I was human: I was simply a living wonder.
  10. solicitude
    a feeling of excessive concern
    This was reported to me with pride by the wife of one of the bistro owners and I was careful to express astonishment and pleasure at the solicitude shown by the village for the souls of black folks.
  11. dissembling
    pretending with intention to deceive
    There are, no doubt, as many ways of coping with the resulting complex of tensions as there are black men in the world, but no black man can hope ever to be entirely liberated from this internal warfare--rage, dissembling, and contempt having inevitably accompanied his first realization of the power of white men.
  12. exotic
    strikingly strange or unusual
    The black man insists, by whatever means he finds at his disposal, that the white man cease to regard him as an exotic rarity and recognize him as a human being.
  13. naivete
    lack of sophistication or worldliness
    This is a very charged and difficult moment, for there is a great deal of will power involved in the white man's naivete.
  14. residuum
    something left after other parts have been taken away
    Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.
  15. hazard
    put forward, of a guess, in spite of possible refutation
    There is, I should hazard, an instantaneous necessity to be divorced from this so visibly unsaved stranger, in whose heart, moreover, one cannot guess what dreams of vengeance are being nourished
  16. metier
    an occupation for which you are especially well suited
    Some of the men drink with me and suggest that I learn how to ski--partly, I gather, because they cannot imagine what I would look like on skis--and want to know if I am married, and ask questions about my metier.
  17. abyss
    a bottomless gulf or pit
    There is a dreadful abyss between the streets of this village and the streets of the city in which I was born, between the children who shout Neger! today and those who shouted Nigger! yesterday--the abyss is experience, the American experience.
  18. occasion
    bring about
    But I am not a stranger in America and the same syllable riding on the American air expresses the war my presence has occasioned in the American soul.
  19. supposition
    a hypothesis that is taken for granted
    But even had this supposition persisted with undiminished force, the American Negro slave could not have used it to lend his condition dignity
  20. tenuous
    lacking substance or significance
    When one considers the history of the Negro in America it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the moral beliefs of a person, or a people, are never really as tenuous as life--which is not moral--very often causes them to appear
  21. bulwark
    an embankment built around a space for defensive purposes
    It was impossible, for one thing, for Americans to abandon their beliefs, not only because these beliefs alone seemed able to justify the sacrifices they had endured and the blood that they had spilled, but also because these beliefs afforded them their only bulwark against a moral chaos as absolute as the physical chaos of the continent it was their destiny to conquer.
  22. supremacy
    power to dominate or defeat
    But in the situation in which Americans found themselves, these beliefs threatened an idea which, whether or not one likes to think so, is the very warp and woof of the heritage of the West, the idea of white supremacy.
  23. heretic
    a person whose religious beliefs conflict with church dogma
    Perhaps they are struck by the power of the spires, the glory of the windows; but they have known God, after all, longer than I have known him, and in a different way, and I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced.
  24. estrangement
    separation resulting from hostility
    Yet, if the American Negro has arrived at his identity by virtue of the absoluteness of his estrangement from his past, American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black men do not exist.
  25. distinguish
    mark as different
    One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa.
Created on March 4, 2015 (updated March 4, 2015)

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