"Dead End in Norvelt," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-7

March 13, 2014
Jack Gantos's "Dead End in Norvelt" is a funny take on the typical autobiographical "growing up" novel which includes appearances by a sniper rifle, an obituary column and the Hell's Angels. Eleanor Roosevelt also plays an important role.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-7, Chapters 8-14, Chapters 15-21, Chapters 22-28
"Camouflage" is more often used as a noun or verb, but here it is used as an adjective to describe the markings that would prevent detection. The description of the binoculars makes the narrator seem like a military man, but he is actually a 12 year old boy who is on summer vacation and stealing glimpses of a war movie.
I was holding a pair of camouflage Japanese WWII binoculars to my eyes and focusing across her newly planted vegetable garden, and her cornfield, and over ancient Miss Volker’s roof, and then up the Norvelt road...
and past the brick bell tower on my school, and beyond the Community Center, and the tall silver whistle on top of the volunteer fire department to the most distant dark blue hill, which is where the screen for the Viking drive-in movie theater had recently been erected.
Compare this adjective to the others used in the example sentence (dented, dirty, scorched, bloody) to see the contrast between the kimono-wearing woman and the sniper-holding man.
He had a Japanese flag, a sniper’s rifle with a full ammo clip, a dented canteen, a pair of dirty white gloves with a scorched hole shot right through the bloody palm of the left hand, and a color-tinted photo of an elegant Japanese woman in a kimono.
This is a synonym for "loot" (which is also mentioned in the novel), but here, "swag" with its similarity to "swagger" (which means "act in an arrogant, overly self-assured, or conceited manner") gives more power to the father's words.
In fact, he never let me play with it, because as he put it, “This swag will be worth a bundle of money someday, so keep your grubby hands off it.”
Earlier, the pony had been rubbing himself against the barbed wire around the turkey coop, but the long-necked turkeys got all riled up and pecked his legs.
One of the young marines was holding a prayer book and looking toward heaven, which was a sure Hollywood sign he was about to die with a slug to a vital organ.
“You know I don’t like you watching war movies,” she scolded me with her hands on her hips.
There was no scope on the rifle so I had to use the regular sight—the kind where you lined up a little metal ball on the far end of the barrel with the V- notch above the trigger where you pressed your cheek and eye to the cool wooden stock.
The word is used figuratively because Dad is not literally an electrical device: "blow a fuse" means to get so angry that one figuratively overloads with energy that shoots out in a sudden and unexpected burst of light before getting really dark and quiet.
I really didn’t want Dad knowing what had happened because he would blow a fuse.
In Greek, "an" means "without" and "haima" means "blood"--someone who is suffering from anemia does not have enough oxygen-carrying material in the blood, which often results in a lack of energy.
“The doctor doesn’t want you to become anemic.”
Pizarro then held Atahualpa hostage for a ransom of gold so the Incas brought Pizarro piles of golden life-size people and animals and plants—all sculpted from solid gold as if the Incas had the Midas touch while they strolled through their fantastic cities and farms and jungles and everything they even gently brushed up against turned into pure gold.
But no one will ever again see that life-size golden world because once the conquistadors got their greedy hands on the gold they melted it down.
They melted the gold ore and sent that back to Spain, and when there was no more gold Pizarro broke his promise and strangled the Inca king.
I could tell by the leaf-size flames under the pot that it had to be scalding hot, and right away I was wondering if she was melting herself down.
Note the alliteration in "jabber" and "jittery" that emphasizes the nervous repetition.
“You’ll be fine,” I jabbered about five jittery times in a row, and each time my mind echoed back, “You won’t be fine...you won’t ever be fine because you just melted your hands off!”
“Please...Miss Volker,” I said with my voice quavering.
Note the irony (incongruity between what might be expected and what occurs) between Miss Volker, a former nurse, wanting her brother-in-law dead and her needing of her twin sister to help her write obituaries.
“My twin sister used to write out the obituaries for me but her jug-headed idiot husband moved her to Florida last month. I was hoping he’d just have a spasm and drop dead and she would move in with me—but it didn’t work out that way."
"Motto" comes from the Latin "muttire" which means "to mutter" and refers to any brief statement expressing a principle, goal, or ideal. Anyone can have a motto; the motto mentioned here comes from a profession and not a sect or political group.
“In nursing school,” she said, “I was taught by the doctors that the role of medical science is to relieve human suffering, and I’ve lived by that motto all my life.”
Miss Volker stood by the fireplace mantel and took a breath so deep it straightened out her curved spine.
I remind the reader of the true story of the Slater 'girl' who was captured by Indians in the 1830s, knocked unconscious with a war club and scalped with a knife, but still managed to abscond with her life and survive hairlessly to live to a ripe old age beneath a wig made of curly hamster fur.
At the meeting the Lord Mayor of London stepped forward and stabbed Wat in the neck, then had his head chopped off and spiked onto a tall pole as a gory lesson to all who would defy the king and revolt for equal rights.
The Latin "municipium" means "town" and this can be broken up into "municeps" (citizen) and "munus" (public office) and "capere" (to take).
On it were hand-stitched all the streets and houses and gardens and yard animals and businesses and municipal buildings and creeks.
“Take that one,” she suggested, and pointed the scuffed tip of her hard black shoe at a large book that was decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
He was a heavy breather on account of his asthma, which was why he didn’t fight in the war even though he had a military flattop haircut that looked like an airport for paper airplanes.
Her slave, Paul Jennings, said he was really the one who saved the portrait, but slaves were not allowed to contradict white people.
“Mom’s gonna be on the warpath at any moment.”
I veered off and passed beyond Fenton’s gas station and around the town dump where hundreds of rats were picking through the trash before I circled back down to the baseball fields beside the Roosevelt Community Center to meet my friend, Bunny Huffer.
They were made out of polished aluminum and seemed very sleek with a little glass window where the cadaver’s face could be viewed.
“I’d rather be cremated and have my ashes blasted into orbit like Sputnik and go beeping around the planet for all of eternity.”
And it did make me think that moving out of this town as Dad wanted to do was a good idea, not because I thought the town was a Commie town but because once you got a reputation for one stupid thing it stuck with you forever.
A pivot is an "axis consisting of a shaft supporting something that turns"--when a person pivots, the shaft is the side of the body that stays planted while the rest turns. Compare with "swivel" in this list.
Then she turned and stormed out of the room, did a quick pivot, and stormed right back.
“Sure,” I said, full of enthusiasm.
Dad put on his orange hat and vest and we started to trudge up a tree-covered hill.
Compare with "pivot" in this list. Here, the pivots are the necks supporting the turning heads.
Our heads swiveled back and forth for what seemed like an hour.
I was kind of stunned by imagining all the bloody carnage and I slumped back onto my bed pillow when I noticed a bubbling river of blood running out my nose and across my lips.
I had just stopped the bleeding and hid the wad of bloody tissues behind my bed when Mom came in wearing a crisply ironed summer dress and told me to put on some “ respectable” clothes.
He also concluded I would need to schedule an appointment to have the inside of my nasal passages cauterized in order to burn away the number of leaky capillaries and stop the bleeding.
As soon as she mentioned money I pretended to be distracted and fortunately, in the doctor’s office, there were plenty of plastic medical models of internal organs to study.
“Got a basement full of them,” he replied just as quickly, and before Mom could offer another barter he said, “I wish I didn’t have to ask you for cash, but I do.”
“You can replant that whole field of corn, tend to it, harvest it, and turn it into food for poor old folks.”

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