Chapters 7–8

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. indefinitely
    to an unknown extent
    Big Uncle was seated in his front room, sipping a cup of tea. He motioned me to a stool opposite him. As usual, he did not waste time in coming to the point. “We cannot support indefinitely a female who contributes nothing to the family.”
  2. foreboding
    a feeling of evil to come
    “If you will stop interrupting, I can explain.” Big Uncle took a sip of tea and studied the pattern of his eggshell porcelain cup. Suddenly I realized he was uncomfortable. That only increased my foreboding.
  3. concubine
    a woman who cohabits with an important man
    “The second son in the Feng family wants another woman for his chamber. He already has two wives, but they’ve produced only girls, and the family isn’t ready to contract for another wife. Therefore, they decided on a concubine for him.”
  4. perpetrator
    someone who commits wrongdoing
    Traditionally the strongest weapon that a Chinese woman had was suicide. Time after time women who had been deeply wronged killed themselves. Even when the wrong had been concealed from outsiders, the angry ghost of the dead woman would haunt the perpetrator.
  5. plod
    walk heavily and firmly, as when weary, or through mud
    I told Miss Gilbertson about the three choices given me by Big Uncle: to become a concubine, a nun, or the wife of a tenant farmer. “Of the three, I prefer to marry a farmer and plod around the rice paddies on my big feet. Maybe I can speak English to the water buffalo.”
  6. sparse
    not dense or plentiful
    As soon as Miss Gilbertson and I were shown in by the houseboy, a very tall, thin foreign man came in. He had sparse brown hair, but to make up for it, he had the bushiest mustache I had ever seen.
  7. kindred
    similar in quality or character
    A younger boy followed them. His face was scowling, and his thumping steps told the world that he was ready to rebel against anything and everything.
    I instantly recognized a kindred spirit.
  8. propel
    cause to move forward with force
    She turned and tried to propel the boy to the front, but he quickly moved around so that he stayed behind her.
  9. desperation
    a state in which all hope is lost or absent
    “Do you think you would be able to be our amah?” asked Mr. Warner. I could see desperation in his light blue eyes.
  10. reckoning
    the act of counting; reciting numbers in ascending order
    But according to Chinese reckoning, a person is one year old at the moment of birth, and another year is added to everyone’s age on New Year’s Day.
  11. thatch
    cover with roofing material made of plant stalks
    My alternatives were to become a concubine of the Fengs, enter a nunnery, or live in a thatched farmhouse with mud walls.
  12. defiant
    boldly resisting authority or an opposing force
    I remembered vividly our interview soon after Father's death, when Big Uncle had threatened to have me strangled and thrown down a well. Nor did I forget my defiant answer, which had not been calculated to soothe his anger.
  13. embolden
    give encouragement to
    The calmness of his voice emboldened me, and I ventured to explain my decision. “I thought it less disgraceful to the family name than becoming a concubine of the Fengs.”
  14. venture
    put forward, of a guess, in spite of possible refutation
    The calmness of his voice emboldened me, and I ventured to explain my decision. “I thought it less disgraceful to the family name than becoming a concubine of the Fengs.”
  15. appalled
    struck with dread, shock, or dismay
    Mother was the one I told next. As I had expected, she was appalled.
  16. surly
    unfriendly and inclined toward anger or irritation
    The houseboy answered the door, and he looked surly when I asked for help in carrying my bags to my room.
  17. cope
    come to terms with
    I knew that Billy would be the difficult one, and I had spent some time thinking over ways to cope with him.
  18. implement
    a piece of equipment or a tool used for a specific purpose
    As it turned out, I made a good start when I began to unpack my belongings. I was placing my writing implements on the desk in my room when I heard a voice. “What are those things?”
  19. unruly
    unable to be governed or controlled
    To Billy I had to teach the alphabet first, and he was an unruly pupil.
  20. ingenuity
    the power of creative imagination
    With Billy I had to use all my ingenuity.
  21. defy
    resist or confront with resistance
    The best way to quiet Billy down was to tell him stories. I loved stories involving plenty of action, and these were the ones that he liked best, too. So I told him stories from Outlaws of the Marsh, a book about a band of 108 outlaws who defied corrupt government officials.
  22. pilgrimage
    a journey to a sacred place
    My own favorite stories were from the classic Journey to the West, about the Monkey King who escorted the priest Xuan Zang on a pilgrimage to India.
  23. trivial
    (informal) small and of little importance
    What I didn’t enjoy was being at the beck and call of the children and having to drop whatever I was doing if one of them wanted my attention. I was in no position to say, “Don’t bother me with such a trivial thing!”
  24. blunder
    an embarrassing mistake
    Whenever I made some social blunder, which happened often during my early days as an amah, I would see him smile with satisfaction.
  25. willpower
    the trait of firmly controlling your own behavior
    I realized that each person was supposed to eat a whole thick piece! It took all my willpower to finish the serving on my plate.
  26. mortification
    strong feelings of embarrassment
    "What’s the matter, Eileen?” asked Grace, who noticed my mortification.
  27. heathen
    not acknowledging the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam
    “Timothy, I don’t want the children to learn a heathen language,” said Mrs. Warner. “She can spend the time teaching Billy to read and write English words.”
  28. objectionable
    causing offense or disapproval
    I didn’t see what Mr. Warner found objectionable. “Why shouldn’t the children hear about Confucianism?” I asked.
  29. idolatry
    the worship of objects or images as gods
    “Don’t interrupt me,” snapped Mr. Warner. “Confucianism involves idolatry....”
  30. impertinent
    improperly forward or bold
    There was something familiar about Mr. Warner’s tone of voice, except that I had last heard it from someone speaking Chinese: Big Uncle. Neither man would tolerate being interrupted by an impertinent slip of a girl.
  31. indignation
    a feeling of righteous anger
    I took down my dictionary and looked up idolatry. Reading the definition made my head swell with indignation.
  32. benevolence
    disposition to do good
    I had grown up learning about the wisdom of Master Confucius, who believed that a country should be ruled by benevolence, not force.
    That constituted idolatry?
  33. constitute
    form or compose
    I had grown up learning about the wisdom of Master Confucius, who believed that a country should be ruled by benevolence, not force. That constituted idolatry?
  34. exile
    expel from a country
    I had been exiled from my own people, and I had entered a world that despised what I had been taught to value.
  35. despise
    look down on with disdain or disgust
    I had been exiled from my own people, and I had entered a world that despised what I had been taught to value.
Created on March 30, 2020 (updated April 8, 2020)

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