Prologue-Chapter 6

In Ralph Ellison's classic novel, a nameless narrator struggles with his sense of identity in a world that treats him like he is invisible.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. anguish
    extreme distress of body or mind
    You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you're a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you.
  2. ingenuity
    the power of creative imagination
    Yet when you have lived invisible as long as I have you develop a certain ingenuity.
  3. imperceptible
    impossible or difficult to sense
    Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead.
  4. serenity
    the absence of mental stress or anxiety
    It was exhausting—as though I had held my breath continuously for an hour under the terrifying serenity that comes from days of intense hunger.
  5. offend
    act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises
    And if he had yelled for a policeman, wouldn't I have been taken for the offending one?
  6. pertain
    be relevant to
    About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand.
  7. humility
    a lack of arrogance or false pride
    On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress.
  8. detract
    take away a part from; diminish
    And besides, I suspected that fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity of my speech.
  9. anticipatory
    in expectation
    We were a small tight group, clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with anticipatory sweat; while up front the big shots were becoming increasingly excited over something we still could not see.
  10. detached
    showing lack of emotional involvement
    As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her.
  11. prone
    lying face downward
    I lay prone, pretending that I was knocked out, but felt myself seized by hands and yanked to my feet.
  12. melee
    a noisy riotous fight
    I played one group against the other, slipping in and throwing a punch then stepping out of range while pushing the others into the melee to take the blows blindly aimed at me.
  13. languid
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    It was a dream fall, my body languid and fastidious as to where to land, until the floor became impatient and smashed up to meet me.
  14. despair
    a state in which all hope is lost or absent
    I was going out into the dim alley in despair when I was stopped and told to go back.
  15. cultivate
    foster the growth of
    And like him I say, and in his words, 'To those of my race who depend upon bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is his next-door neighbor, I would say: "Cast down your bucket where you are"—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.'
  16. fervor
    the state of being emotionally aroused and worked up
    I spoke automatically and with such fervor that I did not realize that the men were still talking and laughing until my dry mouth, filling up with blood from the cut, almost strangled me.
  17. distracted
    having the attention diverted especially because of anxiety
    The room filled with the uproar of laughter until, no doubt, distracted by having to gulp down my blood, I made a mistake and yelled a phrase I had often seen denounced in newspaper editorials, heard debated in private.
  18. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    That had all passed now with his disgrace, and what on the part of the school officials had been an attitude of contempt blunted by tolerance, had now become a contempt sharpened by hate.
  19. submissive
    inclined or willing to give in to orders or wishes of others
    Some were hostile, some cringing, some horrified; some, who when among themselves were most violent, now appeared as submissive as children.
  20. yearn
    desire strongly or persistently
    An utterly stupid proposition, and these hands so lovingly trained to master a scalpel yearn to caress a trigger.
  21. repress
    conceal or hide
    Already he's learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity.
  22. amorphous
    having no definite form or distinct shape
    To you he is a mark on the score-card of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less—a black amorphous thing.
  23. pragmatist
    a person who takes a practical approach to problems
    He believes in that great false wisdom taught slaves and pragmatists alike, that white is right.
  24. unambiguous
    having or exhibiting a single clearly defined meaning
    And in the chapel on Sunday evenings upon the platform, hadn't he always taught us to live content in our place in a thousand unambiguous words?
  25. esteem
    an attitude of admiration
    I had hoped that by serving him the rest of the week I could win back his esteem.
  26. impunity
    exemption from punishment or loss
    I too had touched a white man today and I felt that it had been disastrous, and I realized then that he was the only one of us whom I knew—except perhaps a barber or a nursemaid—who could touch a white man with impunity.
  27. intercede
    act between parties with a view to reconciling differences
    I wondered to which of them I might go to intercede for me with Dr. Bledsoe, but within myself I knew that there was no one.
  28. rebuke
    an act or expression of criticism and censure
    I sat thinking of the dread possibility of having to leave all this, of being expelled; imagining the return home and the rebukes of my parents.
  29. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Then around me everyone was singing Lead me, lead me to a rock that is higher than I. And as though the sound contained some force more imperious than the image of the scene of which it was the living connective tissue, I was pulled back to its immediacy.
  30. persist
    refuse to stop
    And you know how he escaped and made his way across mountain and valley to that place of learning and how he persisted and worked noontimes, nights and mornings for the privilege of studying, or, as the old folk would say, of 'rubbing his head against the college wall.'
  31. yonder
    distant but within sight
    Ah, yes, those indescribably glorious days, in which the Founder was building the dream not only here in this then barren valley, but hither and yonder throughout the land, instilling the dream in the hearts of the people.
  32. crescendo
    a gradual increase in loudness
    I closed my eyes as I heard the deep moaning sound that issued from him, and the rising crescendo of the student body joining in.
  33. formulate
    put into words or an expression
    I kept trying to formulate what I would say to Dr. Bledsoe, and the boys must have turned into their building, for suddenly finding myself outside the gates of the campus and heading down the highway, I turned and ran back to the building.
  34. incalculable
    not capable of being computed or enumerated
    Your poor judgment has caused this school incalculable damage.
  35. surreal
    characterized by fantastic and incongruous imagery
    Trueblood, Mr. Norton, Dr. Bledsoe and the Golden Day swept around my mind in a mad surreal whirl.
Created on October 7, 2013 (updated January 10, 2018)

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