Chapters 5–6

In this historical novel, an upper-class Chinese girl refuses to have her feet bound and must face the social consequences of her decision.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. agonize
    suffer anguish
    “You’re right, our families were very close,” Mrs. Liu murmured. She looked up at me, and after a moment she sighed. “I want to tell you that our decision about breaking your engagement was a very hard one. We agonized over it for many months. I’m truly sorry, Ailin.”
  2. provisional
    under terms not final or fully worked out or agreed upon
    Father looked less worried. “The provisional government set up by Sun Yat-sen here in Nanjing seems stable enough. He certainly shows no sign of wanting to make himself emperor.”
  3. glower
    look angry or sullen as if to signal disapproval
    He glowered at me for a moment and turned back to Father. “What were you thinking of when you sent this girl to a foreign school? They’ll fill her head with strange ideas. As if she didn’t have enough of them to start with!”
  4. outrage
    a feeling of righteous anger
    Big Uncle’s face turned red with outrage, I didn’t know which made him angrier: Mother’s daring to break into a serious conversation about the outside world or the idea of my studying to become a teacher.
  5. lurch
    move abruptly
    My heart lurched.
  6. tuberculosis
    infection transmitted by inhalation or ingestion of bacilli
    Did this mean that Father was suffering from tuberculosis, the dreaded lung disease that had killed my aunt?
  7. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    The world history class was taught by Miss Scott, a gaunt woman with frizzy yellow hair.
  8. novelty
    originality by virtue of being new and surprising
    Tin cans were a great novelty to us, and I couldn’t imagine actually wearing them, much less fighting in a suit made of them.
  9. hectic
    marked by intense activity or agitation
    But Father was a sick man. He was coughing a lot now, and his cheeks often had a hectic flush.
  10. meek
    evidencing little spirit or courage
    “You haven’t really lost much if Hanwei meekly follows his parents’ orders,” said Xueyan. "It was his mother who decided to break the engagement, wasn’t it?”
  11. decree
    decide with authority
    Hanwei seemed still interested in me, and it was Mrs. Liu who had decreed that big feet were unacceptable.
  12. submissive
    inclined or willing to give in to orders or wishes of others
    "According to Master Confucius, women should be submissive to men. Having bound feet certainly made us helpless and therefore submissive.”
  13. excruciating
    extremely painful
    Generations of girls had to suffer excruciating pain because somebody unknown had decreed that big feet were unacceptable in upper-class society.
  14. bureaucracy
    a government administered primarily by nonelective officials
    I knew he hadn’t been going to work, and I tried to convince myself that it was because not all the government bureaucracies had been running smoothly.
  15. telltale
    disclosing unintentionally
    But it was getting harder to ignore the telltale signs of Father’s lung disease: the fits of coughing, which ended with blood on his handkerchiefs.
  16. rite
    an established ceremony prescribed by a religion
    The funeral rites were not as elaborate as those for Grandmother, and I felt a burning resentment as I stood weeping loudly with my sisters and the other women.
  17. stingy
    unwilling to spend
    I stared at Big Uncle with hatred, condemning him for his stinginess.
  18. impassive
    having or revealing little emotion or sensibility
    Big Uncle’s eyes bulged, but otherwise he kept his face impassive. “Since you always eavesdrop on adult conversations, you must know that we have to cut down on unnecessary expenses. The tuition for your school is an unnecessary expense.”
  19. eavesdrop
    listen without the speaker's knowledge
    Big Uncle’s eyes bulged, but otherwise he kept his face impassive. “Since you always eavesdrop on adult conversations, you must know that we have to cut down on unnecessary expenses. The tuition for your school is an unnecessary expense.”
  20. insolence
    the trait of being rude and impertinent
    “This insolence is the result of your going to a foreign school!” cried Big Uncle.
  21. beckon
    summon with a wave, nod, or some other gesture
    As Big Uncle struggled for breath, I heard a rustle behind me. Big Uncle’s first wife beckoned. “You’d better come into my room and sit with me for a while. It’s not safe for you when he’s like that.”
  22. browbeat
    discourage or frighten with threats or a domineering manner
    I knew she was right. Following her, I thought this was the bravest thing this slender, browbeaten woman had ever done.
  23. melodious
    having a musical sound; especially a pleasing tune
    At Miss Gilbertson’s kindness I broke down and wept, something I hadn’t done under Big Uncle’s attacks. It was not the easy, melodious wailing I had participated in at funerals, but a painful sobbing that scraped my throat.
  24. gruff
    brusque and surly and forbidding
    “Here, use this,” said Miss Gilbertson gruffly, offering me a handkerchief.
  25. sodden
    wet through and through; thoroughly wet
    When I finished wiping my face and tried to return the sodden ball of linen, Miss Gilbertson smiled and shook her head. "You can keep the handkerchief, Eileen.”
  26. coy
    affectedly shy especially in a playful or provocative way
    As the term approached its end, the girls who were graduating began making sentimental farewells. Some of them coyly hinted that marriages were being arranged for them by their families.
  27. pang
    a sudden sharp feeling
    I felt a pang every time marriage plans were mentioned.
  28. lethargy
    inactivity; showing an unusual lack of energy
    Nanjing, called one of the Three Ovens of China, became a city of hazy lethargy.
  29. languidly
    in a lethargic manner
    Even the beggars were quiet as they languidly held out their begging bowls to passersby.
  30. intoxicate
    fill with high spirits; fill with optimism
    We were both intoxicated: she by the joy of teaching and I by the joy of learning.
Created on March 30, 2020 (updated April 8, 2020)

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