attaché cases flat, rectangular cases, as for carrying documents; briefcases; here, referring to the cases being carried by businessmen going to the fight.
big cats here, other African American men.
boardwalk a walk, often made of wood and elevated, placed along a beach or seafront.
Brooklyn a borough of New York city, on western Long Island.
bunions places on the foot showing an inflammation and swelling of the bursa at the base of the big toe, with a thickening of the skin. Here, the term refers to Lou Epstein's bunions.
Cadillac an expensive, top-of-the line automobile made by General Motors. Here, it is symbolic of the most luxurious or highest quality vehicle, a status symbol for Major among his peers in Harlem.
Cassius Clay Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., (1942-) won the light heavyweight championship at the 1960 Olympics. He joined the black Muslims (Nation of Islam) in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, winning the world heavyweight championship three times and earning a worldwide reputation for his outspoken opinions on the Vietnam War, the military draft, politics, religion, and race.
Coney Island beach and amusement park in Brooklyn, New York, on a peninsula, formerly an island, at the southwestern end of Long Island. Here, it is the setting for Alfred's final descent.
duffel bag a large, cylindrical cloth bag, especially of waterproof canvas or duck, for carrying clothing and personal belongings.
Ferris wheel (after George W. G. Ferris [1859-96], U.S. engineer who constructed the first one for the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893) a large, upright wheel revolving on a fixed axle and having seats hanging between two parallel rims, used as an amusement-park ride.
foxes [Slang] persons, especially women, who are attractive, especially sexually attractive.
the Garden Madison Square Garden, a center for sporting activity, especially boxing, in New York City.
Harlem section of New York City, in northern Manhattan; it borders on the Harlem River channel and the East River; here, the area traditionally inhabited by African Americans in the 1900s.
Hudson River a river rising in the Adirondack Mountains in eastern New York State and running generally south to its mouth at New York City, forming part of the New York-New Jersey boundary toward the end of its run.
jack-in-the-box a box from which a little figure on a spring jumps up when the lid is lifted, used as a toy. Here, the term is used to set the scene in Donatelli's Gym when Alfred first arrives.
Joe Louis African American boxer Joseph Louis Barrow (1914-81), world heavyweight boxing champion (1937-49). Louis was revered by blacks for his leadership, athletic prowess, and demeanor.
Lenox Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
The Man [slang] here, a reference to authority, specifically to white authority and the police, even though some policemen in the novel are black.
marquee a rooflike structure or awning projecting over an entrance, as to a theater; here, the marquee at Madison Square Garden, advertising the fights.
medicine balls large, heavy, leather-covered balls, tossed from one person to another for physical exercise.
nationalist rally Here, the term suggests the black nationalist movements of the 1960s, specifically the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), founded by Muhammad's former protégé, Malcolm X (1925-65).
Old Uncle Alfred Major contemptuously implies that Alfred is an "Uncle Tom" [Informal], a black whose behavior toward whites is regarded as fawning or servile. The term refers to the main character, an elderly black slave, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).
Peace Corps an agency of the United States, established in 1961 to provide volunteers skilled in teaching, construction, etc., to assist people of underdeveloped areas abroad; here, the agency Alfred's cousin Jeff may join after graduating from college.
polio short for "poliomyelitis," an accute infectious disease, especially of children, caused by a viral inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord; it is accompanied by paralysis of various muscle groups that sometimes atrophy, often with resulting permanent deformities; here, the disease that crippled Henry Johnson.
probation the suspension of sentence of a person convicted but not imprisoned, on condition of continued good behavior and regular reporting to a probation officer; here, James' punishment for attempting to rob Epstein's grocery store.
Queens the largest borough of New York City, on western Long Island, east of Brooklyn; the home of Alfred's Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Wilson.
racketeers people who obtain money illegally, as by bootlegging, fraud, or, especially, extortion. Here, Lou Epstein uses the term in reference to the bad people he sees affiliated with boxing.
shadowboxing sparring with an imaginary opponent, especially in training as a boxer; here, the exercise Donatelli has Alfred do to train, the exercise Alfred tires of and sees no purpose in.
showed some dog did not give his best effort; a derisive term.
skull caps light, closefiting, brimless caps, usually worn indoors. Here, the reference is to yarmulkes, which are worn by Jewish men in (and sometimes outside of) synagogue as a sign of respect for God.
slipped the jab used a defensive technique in which a boxer moves his head just enough to allow the opponent's leading punch to slip by without contact. (It can best be countered by a combination of punches.)
smart meat [Slang] a negative nickname used by Alfred to refer to Mr. Donatelli.
sneakers shoes with a canvas upper and a continuous sole and heel as of one piece of soft rubber, used for play and sports; the shoes worn by Alfred on his morning run.
spar to box with jabbing or feinting movements, landing few heavy blows, as in exhibition or practice matches.
spoons and needles paraphernalia used in the preparation of drugs, specifically heroin.
squeeze the eagle to be stingy; a reference to the insignia of the eagle on U.S. currency. Here, it implies that the Jewish grocers are reluctant to let go of their money, a racist stereotype.
Sugar Ray Robinson African American boxer; original name, Walker Smith (1921-89); outstanding boxer, world welterweight and five-time middleweight champion.
synagogue a building or place used by Jews for worship and religious study. Here, it relates to the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and is observed by the Epsteins, the owners of the grocery store where Alfred works.
tenpin a specific one of the ten bowling pins. Here, it suggests the way Alfred is knocked over by the medicine ball.
terry-cloth a pile fabric, usually woven of cotton, used to make towels and robes; here, the fabric in the robe Alfred receives before his fight.
Tom [Informal] Uncle Tom; here, another stereotypically derogatory reference to the main character of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Washington Heights a residential district in northern Manhattan, New York City; here, the area of New York in which Bill and Betty Witherspoon live.
welfare the organized efforts of government agencies that grant aid to the poor, the unemployed, etc.; such aid. Here, the term relates to Aunt Pearl's reminders to Alfred that the family is not on welfare, that they have jobs and enough money to pay the rent and buy clothes.