332nd Fighter Group a highly decorated group of black World War II fighter pilots. The 332nd Fighter Group included the legendary 99th Fighter Squadron, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Calling themselves the "Lonely Eagles," the Tuskegee Airmen became known as the "Black Birdmen" by their enemies because of their courageous, daring, and highly successful missions. A total of 450 black pilots fought in the aerial wars over North Africa, Sicily, and Europe during World War II.
A.M.E. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Incorporated in New York in 1801, the A.M.E. Zion Church is the oldest black church in the United States. In 1821, the church was formally founded and held its first annual conference. Its worship services generally incorporate traditional African and Afro-centric elements.
Accra the capital of Ghana, West Africa. (On August 27, 1963, renowned writer, scholar, and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, who greatly influenced Morrison, died in Accra, his adopted home, at age ninety-five.)
acridness bitterness; constant irritation.
AKC American Kennel Club, the premier organization of dog breeders in the United States.
Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) French philosopher and theologian; awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
Algonquins a Native-American people who lived in the Ottawa River area, in southern east-central Canada, around 1600. Driven from their homeland by the Iroquois, eventually they were absorbed into other Canadian tribes.
amanuensis a person who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.
anaconda a large South American snake that suffocates its victims. Morrison characterizes Hagar's feelings for Milkman as an "anaconda love" because Hagar's love is all-consuming.
Argo cornstarch a brand name of cornstarch, a thickener in cooking.
Armistice Day November 11 of every year; originally celebrated in the United States to commemorate the United States' signing the armistice that ended World War I, today it is part of Veterans Day, which honors all veterans of the armed forces.
B. B. Riley "B. B." King (b. 1925), a famous blues singer.
B-52 an American military bomber plane, used extensively during the Vietnam War (1954–75).
baked Alaska a dessert made of angel food cake, ice cream, and meringue, and often topped with heated brandy, which is set ablaze for a dramatic presentation.
bath salts a perfumed salt solution used for softening bath water.
Belleau Wood a small forest in northern France, site of a World War I battle (1918) in which United States military forces stopped a German advance on Paris.
bier a stand on which a coffin is placed — for example, during a funeral.
Bilbo country Here, Freddie alludes to the South as "Bilbo country." Because "Bilbo" is capitalized, the initial reference is to the infamous, racist two-term governor of Mississippi and its multi-term senator, Theodore G. Bilbo, whose name is synonoymous with prejudice and corruption. Coincidentally, "bilbo," with a lower-case "b," refers to an iron bar to which ankle clamps are attached; it was used to shackle slaves during slavery and to shackle chain gangs during the 1950s.
the Blood Bank The name of Southside's notorious neighborhood alludes to Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950), a world-renowned surgeon, scientist, and educator. The pioneer of blood plasma preservation, Dr. Drew established the first successful blood plasma bank. In 1950, while on his way to a medical convention at Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Drew was fatally injured in an automobile accident. Denied treatment at a nearby white hospital because of his black skin color, he was refused the blood transfusions that might have saved his life. Here, the term for the neighborhood is used ironically, for this part of town is notorious for crime and murder — bloodletting, the opposite of blood banking.
Bo Diddley Otha "Bo Diddley" McDaniels (b. 1928), renowned rock-and-roll singer.
bodice the fitted part of a dress from the waist to the shoulder.
Bohemian carefree; a person who disregards conventional standards of behavior.
bolero an open-front, short jacket.
brambles a prickly shrub or bush, including blackberry and raspberry plants.
brocade a heavy fabric with a raised design.
Bryn Mawr located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, a private women's college founded in 1880.
calico a brightly printed cloth.
cane-bottomed chair a chair whose seat is made of interweaving cane, a strong but flexible stem from certain reed plants.
caught the eagle got paid. The phrase alludes to the African-American folk saying "The eagle flies on Friday" — Friday is payday.
caul According to superstition, a baby born with a caul — part of the membrane that protects the fetus — was destined to have good luck. According to African legend, a baby born with a caul has the power to combat evil spirits and the ability to see ghosts.
celluloid a colorless material used to make photographic film.
Cherry smash a brand name of soda pop.
chromosomes strands of DNA that carry hereditary genes. Guitar reverses the white-supremacist argument that characteristics such as intelligence are race-based and genetically determined.
chubby a waist-length jacket, often made of fake fur.
clarion call a trumpet call that signals the start of a hunt. The phrase emphasizes Milkman's inability to fly and his eagerness for the hunt.
cloche a bell-shaped hat that fits snugly over the ears and forehead.
clove an evergreen tree native to the Molucca Islands, also known as the Spice Islands, a group of islands in Indonesia. The tree's small purple flower clusters are dried to produce cloves, a common spice used in cooking.
cod-liver oil oil extracted from the livers of cod, fish of northern Atlantic waters; a source of vitamins A and D.
Committee on Civil Rights a committee established on December 5, 1946, by President Truman, that eventually recommended anti-lynching and anti-poll-tax legislation, and the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, an oversight commission charged with eradicating racism and unfair labor practices in the workplace.
communion the part of a Mass in which the Eucharist — the host — is received in remembrance of Christ's death.
Congo an African country that gained independence from France in 1960.
Contes de Daudet French, meaning The Short Stories of Daudet; Alphonse Daudet (1840–97) was a French short-story writer noted for his humorous characterization of life.
cop here, slang for steal.
corduroy a heavy fabric with vertical ribs.
Corpus Domini Nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam Latin, meaning "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who watches over our souls."
corsets constricting undergarments worn by women to shape their waists and give them "hourglass" figures.
crackers slang for poor white people, usually uneducated and usually racially prejudiced.
cracklin browned, crisp rinds of roast pork, especially popular in the South.
the crash of 1929 refers to the United States stock market crash of 1929, which precipitated the Great Depression and contributed to a worldwide financial collapse.
crock an earthenware container.
cupola architecturally, a domed structure atop a roof.
Cutty Sark the name brand of a blended scotch liquor.
dahlias tall, spindly, coarse-blossomed flowers with large, showy heads of white, yellow, red, or purple.
a deuce and a quarter a Buick Electra 225. Popular during the 1960s, the car was noted for its sleek, streamlined style and powerful engine.
diabetes a common metabolic disease in which the body does not produce a sufficient amount of insulin, which regulates the body's use of carbohydrates and fats. Diabetics suffer from increased sugar in the blood and urine, excessive thirst, and frequent urination.
divinity traditionally, a white, creamy Christmas candy, usually made with nuts.
dragnet a systematic law-enforcement operation to catch criminals; a "sting" operation.
Earl Grey an expensive brand of brewing tea.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was known for her outspoken advocacy and support of the struggle for equality and race relations.
enema injecting liquid into the rectum, which then expels the liquid and all waste.
entrez French, meaning enter.
Erie Lackawanna here, a railroad. The U.S.S. Lackawanna was a United States warship stationed in Hawaiian waters during the 1860s, supposedly to guard American interests in Hawaii's sugar plantations. In 1893, American military troops invaded Hawaii and overthrew its government; in 1898, Hawaii was forcibly annexed to the United States. By linking the name of the warship with the name of the fictitious railroad, Morrison links the devastating impact of United States colonialism in Hawaii with British colonialism in Africa. In both instances, white colonialism led to the annihilation of many indigenous people and the destruction of their cultures.
ether a colorless, highly flammable liquid that has an aromatic odor and a sweet taste. Ether is used as an anesthetic in medical practice, which helps explain how Dr. Foster could so easily get the substance that ultimately killed him.
Father Divine a storefront preacher popular during the 1930s, hailed by some as a black messiah. Here, Father Divine "reigns" in Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love," the home of the Liberty Bell, and the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The reference emphasizes the ironic fact that African Americans were being denied the "divine right" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Fats a reference either to pianist and composer Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904–43), or to Antoine "Fats" Domino (b. 1928), renowned pianist and rhythm-and-blues singer.
Fisk, Howard, Talledega, Tougaloo secondary educational institutions whose students are predominantly black.
fluky odd; eccentric.
fluted plates plates whose edges are grooved, like the outer crust of a pie.
Four Roses a brand of blended bourbon not widely sold today.
four-in-hand a necktie tied in a slipknot with the ends left hanging.
Freedmen's Bureau officially, the United States War Department's Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Established in 1865 to aid thousands of people (black and white) left displaced and homeless after the American Civil War, the bureau was discontinued in 1872 by congressional inaction.
fuchsia bright purplish red.
galley a kitchen.
galoshes rubber overshoes used to protect footwear during inclement weather.
geraniums hearty, heavily scented house or garden plants that have white, pink, or red flowers.
ginger a plant native to tropical Asia and Indonesia whose tuberous roots are used in cooking; ginger has a pungent, spicy taste.
gnome a mythological dwarflike creature who lives underground.
the gold Longines obviously, an heirloom from Milkman's father. Longines were very expensive, very elegant watches, dating back to the nineteenth century.
greenbacks slang for paper money.
grits ground dried-and-hulled corn kernels that are boiled and eaten.
grosgrain ribbon a ribbon made from grosgrain, a coarse-textured silk or rayon fabric.
gross equaling 144 items.
gumbo a soup made with okra and commonly eaten in the South. The word "gumbo" was originally introduced by slaves forcibly captured in Africa and brought to the United States.
haint ghost, from the vernacular spelling of haunt.
hickey here, a bump on the head.
hickories hickory trees, grown in the eastern United States for timber and nut production.
hip-roofed barn a barn whose roof and sides slope out outward.
hoot owl According to West African legend, the owl is the king of witches. If an owl's hooting disturbs the tranquility of a campsite, it is considered a warning that one of the inhabitants is destined to die.
Hoover Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), the thirty-first president of the United States (1929-33). The people from whom Mr. Smith collects insurance money jokingly wonder if Hoover knows of Mr. Smith's regularity in collecting their money; Hoover failed to correct the financial crash of 1929, which began the Great Depression.
host a consecrated wafer that is consumed by Christians, predominantly of the Catholic faith, during Communion in remembrance of Christ's death. The wafer symbolizes the body of Christ.
humidor a container used to store cigars at a constant level of humidity so that the cigars do not dry out.
India rubber erasers erasers made from India rubber, cultivated from the rubber plant, an evergreen fig plant native to India and Malaysia.
infanticide infant-killing; a person who kills an infant.
iodine here, a reference to iodic acid, a disinfectant powder used to clean surfaces.
iridescent brilliantly glowing.
Jack Daniel's a medium-priced whiskey.
Jelly Roll Ferdinand Joseph "Jelly Roll" Morton (1885–1941), renowned jazz composer.
jumpers protective one-piece garments worn over clothes.
Katherine Hepburn (b. 1909) gravelly voiced American film actress best known for her starring role in The African Queen (1951), with Humphrey Bogart, and her long-term love affair with Spencer Tracy, with whom she starred in nine films.
Kennedy or Elijah refers to President John F. Kennedy (1917–63), who was renowned for his promotion of civil rights legislation, and Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975), who founded the Nation of Islam, a religious organization that promotes self-reliance.
King of the Mountain a children's game in which participants try to topple the person standing on top of a mound, usually made of dirt; also, an allusion the fairy tale "King of the Golden Mountain." Both references are from the realm of fantasy/make-believe and indicate that Milkman is only "playing" at being a man, believing he has usurped his father's leadership role in the family.
knickers loose, baggy pants that are gathered just below the knee, exposing the calves.
Lead-belly Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter (1885–1949), a folk singer.
legal tender currency, or money.
Lemon "Blind Lemon" Jefferson (1897–1930), the most influential African-American blues singer and guitarist of his time.
lilt a happy, upbeat manner of speaking.
Lindbergh Charles Lindbergh (1902–74), the American aviator who made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris, in 1927.
linseed oil an oil made from the seeds of flax, a plant widely cultivated for its seeds and stems, and used in paints and varnishes.
lip here, the edge of a cave.
loafers comfortable, flat-soled shoes.
lodestar a star by which one directs one's course; a guiding principle or ideal.
Louise Beaver[s] and Butterfly McQueen black actors known for their servile maid-Mammy roles in white films. Louise Beavers (1908–1962) played Claudette Colbert's maid in the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, famous for its portrayal of the "tragic mulatto." Butterfly (Thelma) McQueen (1911–1995) played Prissy, Olivia de Havilland's scatterbrained slave, in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. She uttered the regrettably unforgettable line, "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies!" Because she refused to keep playing similar parts, her professional career was ruined and she ended up working as a clerk and dishwasher.
lye a white, crystalline substance, derived from ash and lime water, used to make paper, detergent, soap, and aluminum.
macadam small, broken stones, mixed with tar, and used in making roads.
mangoes edible citrus fruit from the mango tree, native to Asia.
maws stewed pig stomachs, usually served with greens or beans.
Mayflower Restaurant and Sears By juxtaposing the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to North America in 1620 with the name of a modern department store, Morrison alludes to the progress of white Americans in the United States. She also emphasizes that for black Americans, not much has changed, as they are still denied full participation in American society.
men of the Ninety-second an all-black United States Army regiment that fought during World War I.
men rose like giants from dragon's teeth alludes to the story of Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece. To prove himself worthy of the Golden Fleece, Jason sowed a freshly plowed field with dragon's teeth, which then sprang up as armed men who attacked him. Jason defeated the dragon-teeth men and escaped with the Golden Fleece.
MGM Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a major United States movie studio whose most famous years were around the middle of the twentieth century.
miscegenation a sexual relationship between two people of different races.
Muddy Waters McKinley Morganfield (b. 1915), famous blues singer.
muslin a sturdy cotton fabric.
nape the back of the neck.
Neanderthals disparaging slang for illiterate, primal-like people.
nicotiana commonly called flowering tobacco and native to South America; an annual or perennial flower with branching stalks and starburst-like flowers of white, pink, yellow, red, or green.
normal school a school that trains teachers for the elementary grades.
nutwagon here, an insane person.
ocher an orangish yellow color.
okra a pod-shaped vegetable, commonly grown in the South.
old man Lipton's instant refers to a brand name of a popular instant tea.
Only The Shadow knows refers to the 1950s mystery radio program The Shadow.
onyx skin Onyx is a crystal-like substance indigenous to India and South America and found in many colors; onyx skin would be a deep, black-colored skin.
Orval Faubus a former governor of Arkansas. On September 4, 1957, Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, to keep nine black prospective students from entering. Despite the United States Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed segregation of public schools, Faubus was determined to keep the schools segregated. The nine students later became known as "The Little Rock Nine."
Ovaltine the brand name of a powdered nutrient supplement for babies, mixed with milk, for children.
Packard the name brand of a family-oriented automobile produced by Packard Motor, Inc., which was founded in 1900 and merged with Studebaker Corporation in 1954. In Chapter 1, Macon Dead drives a green Dodge sedan on Sunday afternoon outings.
Pall Mal a brand of cigarettes.
peck basket A peck equals eight quarts of any dry material; the peck basket that Ruth drops could hold a maximum of eight quarts of red velvet rose petals.
perspiration shields pads, probably made from cotton, that women wore underneath their armpits so that their sweat would not soil their clothes.
Philly Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
phosphorous a poisonous chemical that is highly reactive. Milkman avoids Guitar's eyes because he knows he will see a venomous, agitated look in them.
pistil the seed-bearing sex organ of a flower.
placidly calmly, or complacently and without emotion.
placket a slit in a piece of clothing, such as a dress or skirt.
Planter's a brand of peanut products, including peanut butter.
polio poliomyelitis, an infectious viral disease that affects children and adults. Polio causes inflammation of the spinal cord and brainstem and can lead to paralysis and the deterioration of muscles.
poot slang for "lousy" or "inferior." Pilate says that Macon could not cook worth "poot" — he was a lousy cook.
pot of mustards "Mustards" refers to mustard greens, leafy plants whose leaves are rinsed and cooked much like spinach.
potbellied stove popular in the 1930s, a cast-iron stove having a round chamber — a "pot belly" — in which wood or coal is burned.
pregnant-woman bow Traditionally, pregnant women attached decorative bows to their clothes at the stomach to announce that they were pregnant.
President Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945), the thirty-second president of the United States (1933–45), was crippled by polio.
Prince Charming here, meaning the perfect man. In Walt Disney's film-length cartoon Snow White and the 7 Dwarves (1937), Prince Charming kisses the sleeping Snow White and releases her from an evil witch's enchantment.
print peignoir a loose-fitting dressing gown. Michael-Mary's has a print design, probably very bright, showy, and somewhat ostentatious, or gaudy.
pussy willow a deciduous North American shrub having clusters of large, silvery, fuzzy flowers.
Quakers the Society of Friends, a religious denomination. Quakers were instrumental in helping runaway slaves reach freedom in the North.
quarry an excavation pit from which ore is mined.
Queen Mary a luxury British steamship, launched in 1934 and retired in 1967.
racial-uplift groups During the early 1900s, white liberals and black nationalists founded several organizations dedicated to "uplifting the race." These pioneering groups included the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); the National Urban League; and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Radiathor an experimental drug used to test the effects of atomic radiation on humans. The term alludes to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
reaper meaning the Grim Reaper, traditionally a symbol of death.
Red Cap a brand name of beer.
Red Cap a brand of beer. Interestingly, "Red Cap" is also a term originally used to describe black railroad porters and attendants, who could be identified by their red caps.
relief check here, a government-issued check made payable to low-income individuals and families.
"Remember them soldiers in 1918?" The men in Hospital Tommy's barbershop recall the atrocious behavior toward black soldiers who fought in World War I. After suffering discrimination in the military, they returned to the United States to face extreme hostility for daring to think that their military service had earned them the right to equal treatment in society. The hostilities led to the lynching of hundreds of African Americans, many of them soldiers still dressed in their uniforms, and culminated in the violent "Red Summer" of 1919, during which race riots erupted around the country, especially in such major cities as Detroit and Chicago.
rennet dessert a cheeselike dessert in which rennet, a dried extract made from the stomach lining of a small animal, usually a calf, is the major ingredient.
rheumy mucous-covered; filmy.
rhododendron a common shrub or small tree found in North America, Europe, and Asia that prefers cool temperatures and acidic soil. They have white, pink, or purple flowers and tough leaves.
ridge here, a chain of hills.
"Right on time." Pilate's words allude to the African-American proverb, "He [Jesus] may not come when you call Him, but He's always right on time."
a root worker a fortune teller, or spell caster, using various root concoctions.
Rothschild '29 and Beaujolais two expensive wines, symbolic of aristocracy and elitism.
rummy slang for a drunkard.
rutabaga Also called a Swede turnip, it is a vegetable whose edible root is purplish with yellow flesh.
sabbatical a leave of absence.
saddle shoes Popular in the 1950s and '60s, saddle shoes are flat-looking white shoes with a leather band — usually black — across the instep.
salt According to African myth, black people could fly until they ate salt, introduced by the white man; according to superstition, putting salt on a bird's tail keeps it from flying away; and in the Bible, as Lot and his wife flee the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt when she turns to watch the cities burning (Genesis 19:15–22). By linking apocalyptic biblical imagery with allusions to hunting and grounded birds, Morrison not only creates a vivid image of the powerful bond between Milkman and Guitar; she also foreshadows the rift between the two friends, brought about by their hunt for Pilate's gold.
salt cellar a salt shaker or a small, shallow bowl from which salt is pinched.
Sam Sheppard In 1954, a Cleveland jury found Dr. Sheppard guilty of second-degree murder of his wife, Marilyn. In 1966, a new jury found him not guilty. In the late 1990s, Sheppard's son, Sam, authored Mockery of Justice and filed for DNA testing to further clear his father's reputation.
Scarlett O'Hara the female protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, which was released as an epic film in 1939. Along with Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, which dramatized the American Civil War and Reconstruction, was denounced by blacks for its racist portrayal of blacks as unfit for freedom and was criticized for ending any hopes for getting anti-lynching legislation through the United States Congress.
Scotch pine a pine tree native to Europe and Asia having a flattened top and triangular cones.
scrapple a boiled mixture of ground pork and cornmeal, which is poured into a mold, chilled and left to gel, and then sliced and fried.
sedan a two- or four-door car; the term "sedan" has become somewhat antiquated today.
Shalimar a word derived from "sheol," Hebrew for pit, cavern, womb, or underworld. In its earliest forms, sheol was the virgin's "enclosed garden of flowers, fruits, fountains and fairy-nymphs," called Shal-Mari ("land of souls") in Tibet and Shalimar in India (Women's Encyclopedia).
Shine a black folk hero who — like Stagolee, John Henry, and High John the Conqueror — epitomizes the "bad nigger," or outlaw trickster.
Shirley Temple Adored by American film audiences, Shirley Temple, with her hallmark dimples, corkscrew golden curls, and twinkling blue eyes, was the highest-paid child actress of the 1930s and early 1940s.
shotgun houses narrow, single-level houses with the rooms arranged in a straight line, one directly behind the other. A bullet fired from the front room would pass through all the other rooms and exit through the back.
Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice the Michigan state motto; Latin, meaning "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you."
slicks slang for glossy, high-end magazines that cater to the social and economic elite.
slop jar a container used to collect body wastes.
sluicing leaking and sloshing water.
snood a cap made of fine netting that women use to hold their hair in place.
Society of Friends the Quakers, a religious denomination. Quakers were instrumental in helping runaway slaves reach freedom in the North.
St. Lawrence the major river that defines the boundary between southeast Canada and the northeast United States. The St. Lawrence River stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Ontario.
Staggerlee The story of Stagolee (also known as "Stackolee" or "Staggerlee") originated in a black folk ballad about two gamblers, Stagolee and Billy. When Stagolee catches Billy cheating, he shoots him dead, then brags about his deed and steals Billy's wife.
stake here, to offer monetary support.
stile generally, a set of steps used for crossing a fence or wall.
stove eye slang for a stove's opening.
straights here, long pants without gatherings; the opposite of straights are knickers.
sunshine cake a light, airy, circular cake, made with either a yellow cake batter or a white cake batter and then frosted with yellow icing.
Susquehanna a river that begins in central New York, runs through Pennsylvania to the northeast corner of Maryland, and empties into Chesapeake Bay, which contains the body of water between the east coast of Virginia and the Maryland peninsula.
sweet gum tree native to North and Central America, a tree with prickly fruit clusters and used to make furniture.
talcum a soft powder made from talc, a fine-grained mineral.
Tampa Red Whittaker Hudson (1903–81), a blues singer also known as "the Guitar Wizard."
tarpaulin a protective canvas against moisture.
tee double you ay a vulgarized pronunciation of TWA, or Trans World Airline, a major United States airline carrier.
tetter spots skin eruptions caused by various skin diseases, including psoriasis and herpes; tetter is common chiefly in the southern United States.
that red-headed Negro named X refers to Malcolm X (1925–65), formerly Malcolm Little (the letter X designates a rejection of his slave name). Malcolm X was a Black Nationalist leader during the 1960s. As a member of the Black Muslims (Nation of Islam), he supported the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, which held that all whites are "devils." In 1964, Malcolm made a pilgrimage to Mecca; upon his return to the United States, he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, renounced the Black Muslims, and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965, in Harlem, New York.
Till The reference is to Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Chicago black youth who visited relatives in Money, Mississippi, in August 1955. Unused to the South's fierce racism, he allegedly spoke to a white woman. A few days later, he was abducted by several white men, beaten, mutilated, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River.
to truck slang, meaning to get into a dispute with.
Tom Sawyer Land Hannibal, Missouri, the fictional setting for Mark Twain's classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). The sarcasm is directed toward the ignorance of any black man who thinks that the South is as harmless as the plot elements of Tom Sawyer. In that novel, "danger" is always synonymous with fun-filled adventures for young boys.
town crier an antiquated term for a person hired to make public announcements in the streets; here, a public gossiper, a person who feels it necessary to tell everyone's business to everybody.
tripe here, something that presents itself as valuable but really is worthless.
truculent in a fighting mood.
Truman Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), the thirty-third president of the United States (1945–53).
tuberculosis sanatorium Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by tubercle bacteria and characterized by fatigue, weight loss, coughing, and hemorrhaging of the lungs. In 1903, a person with the disease would have been sent to a sanatorium to prevent further infection of the general public; today, methods of early detection have reduced the incidence of the disease.
Walden a book of eighteen essays by Henry David Thoreau, published in 1854. The book records Thoreau's experiences of living a solitary life in the woods for over two years.
war bond promissory notes issued by a government to finance a war. When the bond reaches maturity, the person who purchased the bond receives the amount of money originally paid for the bond plus interest.
water moccasins a type of water snake.
Waterford bowl a glass bowl made in Waterford, Ireland, a town known for its craftspeople's intricate glass-carving.
Weimaraners a breed of hunting dog developed in the former German Republic of Weimar, which was dissolved in 1933 after Hitler became chancellor.
Wells Fargo founded in 1852, originally an express-service and banking company noted for its overland mail and stagecoach business. Today, the company is a successful banking conglomerate.
Western Union a communications company best known for its telegraph division. In 1861, the company completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in the United States.
we've been tight Here, "tight" means "good friends."
White Castle the name of a restaurant chain that serves small hamburgers.
a white robe Milkman's reference to a white robe can be interpreted two ways: an angel's robe, or a Klansman's.
Wild Turkey a brand of straight bourbon.
wild turkey a wild variety of turkey and the ancestor of the domesticated North American turkey.
wing-back chair a high-backed chair from which enclosing side pieces are attached.
witch hazel a shrub or small tree found especially in the eastern United States. Sweet uses a liquid solution made from the bark and leaves of witch hazel to soothe Milkman's swollen neck.
a yard and a half slang for $1500.