"No Name Woman"

Kingston integrates mythology into this memoir about growing up as a Chinese immigrant in California.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. protruding
    extending out above or beyond a surface or boundary
    I remember looking at your aunt one day when she and I were dressing; I had not noticed before that she had such a protruding melon of a stomach.
    This visual image of the protruding stomach both literally and symbolically represents the aunt's crime. The actual pregnancy is evidence of the aunt's adultery; the idea of "extending out above or beyond a boundary" emphasizes that the aunt is stretching beyond herself and the tight social controls of the village.
  2. acrid
    strong and sharp, as a taste or smell
    They overturned the great waist-high earthenware jugs; duck eggs, pickled fruits, vegetables burst out and mixed in acrid torrents.
    Another definition of "acrid" is "harsh and corrosive in tone"--this also fits the example sentence because it could describe the message that the villagers are sending with their destruction of the aunt's family's food supplies during a time of hunger.
  3. frivolous
    not serious in content, attitude, or behavior
    Whenever we did frivolous things, we used up energy; we flew high kites.
  4. adultery
    extramarital sexual relations
    Adultery, perhaps only a mistake during good times, became a crime when the village needed food.
  5. extravagance
    the quality of exceeding appropriate limits
    Adultery is extravagance.
  6. prodigal
    recklessly wasteful
    Could people who hatch their own chicks and eat the embryos and the heads for delicacies and boil the feet in vinegar for party food, leaving only the gravel, eating even the gizzard lining—could such people engender a prodigal aunt?
  7. avert
    turn away or aside
    Instead of letting them start separate new lives like the Japanese, who could become samurais and geishas, the Chinese family, faces averted but eyes glowering sideways, hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers.
  8. glower
    look angry or sullen as if to signal disapproval
    Instead of letting them start separate new lives like the Japanese, who could become samurais and geishas, the Chinese family, faces averted but eyes glowering sideways, hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers.
  9. deflect
    draw someone's attention away from something
    Perhaps they had thrown her out to deflect the avengers.
  10. delineate
    represented accurately or precisely
    But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space.
  11. enormity
    the quality of extreme wickedness
    Fear at the enormities of the forbidden kept her desires delicate, wire and bone.
  12. rollicking
    given to merry frolicking
    It could very well have been, however, that my aunt did not take subtle enjoyment of her friend, but, a wild woman, kept rollicking company.
  13. eccentricity
    strange and unconventional behavior
    On a farm near the sea, a woman who tended her appearance reaped a reputation for eccentricity.
    The lead-in to "eccentricity" with the words "reap" and "reputation" almost makes it sound like a good thing, but in a community where wholeness is important, another definition ("a circularity that deviates from a circular path") could be used to justify punishing eccentric behavior.
  14. glare
    an angry stare
    A preoccupied child who took his bowl with one hand got a sideways glare.
  15. singularity
    the quality of being one of a kind
    Children and lovers have no singularity here, but my aunt used a secret voice, a separate attentiveness.
    Singularity does not sound like a quality that should be punished (Kingston emphasizes this throughout the chapter by showing her sympathy for and similarities with her aunt), but in the aunt's village and time, it was a quality that can cause one to be seen as dangerously eccentric.
  16. abhorrent
    offensive to the mind
    He may have been somebody in her own household, but intercourse with a man outside the family would have been no less abhorrent.
  17. maelstrom
    a powerful circular current of water
    But one human being flaring up into violence could open up a black hole, a maelstrom that pulled in the sky.
  18. severe
    unsparing and uncompromising in discipline or judgment
    If my aunt had betrayed the family at a time of large grain yields and peace, when many boys were born, and wings were being built on many houses, perhaps she might have escaped such severe punishment.
  19. infidelity
    the quality of being unfaithful
    The villagers were speeding up the circling of events because she was too shortsighted to see that her infidelity had already harmed the village, that waves of consequences would return unpredictably, sometimes in disguise, as now, to hurt her.
  20. inexorable
    impossible to prevent, resist, or stop
    Awaken her to the inexorable.
    The definition is for "inexorable" as an adjective, but the example sentence is using it as a noun to refer to the spiritual forces that would punish the entire village for the aunt's crime. Although these forces cannot be appeased by pleas or reason, the village did try to lessen both their own and the inexorable's anger by punishing the aunt.
  21. culpability
    a state of guilt
    People who refused fatalism because they could invent small resources insisted on culpability.
  22. flay
    strip the skin off
    Flayed, unprotected against space, she felt pain return, focusing her body.
  23. obliterate
    remove completely from recognition or memory
    Sometimes a vision of normal comfort obliterated reality: she saw the family in the evening gambling at the dinner table, the young people massaging their elders’ backs.
  24. incite
    provoke or stir up
    I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here.
  25. inflict
    impose something unpleasant
    The real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family’s deliberately forgetting her.
Created on February 20, 2013 (updated August 1, 2018)

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