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I'm reading The Sellout by Paul Beatty. In this paragraph I can't understand the meaning of "thumb-sucking charges" in this paragraph:

Ample bosoms first, she hops the rail, bogarts her way past the cops, and bolts toward me, her thumb-sucking charges clinging desperately to her “Don’t You See How Insanely Long, Soft, Shiny, and Expensive This Is? Motherfucker, YOU WILL Treat Me Like a Queen!” Toni Morrison signature model pashmina shawl trailing behind her like a cashmere kite tail.

Now she’s in my face, mumbling calmly but incoherently about black pride, the slave ships, the three-fifths clause, Ronald Reagan, the poll tax, the March on Washington, the myth of the dropback quarterback, how even the white-robed horses of the Ku Klux Klan were racist, and, most emphatically, how the malleable minds of the ever-increasingly redundant “young black youth” must be protected. And lo, the mind of the little waterheaded boy with both arms wrapped about his teacher ’s hips, his face buried in her crotch, definitely needs a bodyguard, or at least a mental prophylactic. He comes up for air looking expectantly to me for an explanation as to why his teacher hates me so. Not getting one, the pupil returns to the warm moistness of his happy place, oblivious to the stereotype that black males don’t go down there.

Is it pointing out to the little boy in next paragraph?

1 Answer 1

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A "charge" refers to, in this context, a person entrusted to another's care. Merriam-Webster defines it like this:

3 b
: a person or thing committed into the care of another
played with her young charges at the day-care center

Young kids often suck their thumbs. It's a thing that a very large percentage of children do.

So yes, in this context, "thumb-sucking charges" refers to small children entrusted to the teacher's care.

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