AP English Literature : Character and Subject Relationships

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Character And Subject Relationships

From “The Dead” in Dubliners by James Joyce (1915)

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did no like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

In the first paragraph, Gabriel's attitude towards his wife can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

despairing, as he knows she never loved him

curious and detached, as he looks at her as if she were a stranger

resigned and angry, as he knows she never loved him

pity, as he finds her lingering emotions about a youthful romance pathetic and sad

triumphant, as she ultimately chose him over Michael Fury

Correct answer:

curious and detached, as he looks at her as if she were a stranger

Explanation:

Gabriel looks at his wife as if she were a stranger, as if they had not shared many years of their life together. He has just learned of her youthful romance with Michael Fury, but still looks at her "unresentfully" and with "curious eyes," implying a sense of emotional detachment.

Example Question #2 : Character And Subject Relationships

From “The Dead” in Dubliners by James Joyce (1915)

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did no like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Which of the following characters are we told is deceased at the time at which this passage takes place?

Possible Answers:

Gabriel's Aunt Kate

Gabriel's Aunt Julia

Gabriel

Patrick Morkan

Gabriel's wife

Correct answer:

Patrick Morkan

Explanation:

The only character of those listed who we are told is deceased is Patrick Morkan. The passage's third paragraph tells us this using the figurative language of "becoming a shade" when it says, "Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse." At the time at which the passage takes place, Gabriel's Aunt Julia is still alive; Gabriel anticipates her death, but it has not actually taken place yet.

Example Question #3 : Passage Content

Adapted from Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (III.iii.152-167)

 

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate

As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize

As the dead carcasses of unburied men

That do corrupt my air, I banish you;

And here remain with your uncertainty!

Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts!

Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,

Fan you into despair! Have the power still

To banish your defenders; till at length

Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,

Making not reservations of yourselves,

Still your own foes, deliver you as most 

Abated captives to some nation

That won you without blows! Despising,

For you, the city, thus I turn my back:

There is a world elsewhere.

How does the speaker characterize himself in relation to his listeners?

Possible Answers:

Parsimonious

Powerless

Powerful

Generous

Patient

Correct answer:

Powerful

Explanation:

Throughout the passage, the speaker characterizes himself as powerful in relation to his listeners. He does this by re-framing their banishment of him as his banishment of them into uncertainty, and his leaving as his own decision to "turn [his] back". His emphasis on the inability of the city to defend itself without him simultaneously figures the listeners as powerless, and himself as powerful. Even though he is being banished, his entire speech is focused on his own power.

He hardly seems generous, makes little mention of money, and does not draw attention to his patience.

Example Question #3 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (III.iii.152-167)

 

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate

As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize

As the dead carcasses of unburied men

That do corrupt my air, I banish you;

And here remain with your uncertainty!

Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts!

Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,

Fan you into despair! Have the power still

To banish your defenders; till at length

Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,

Making not reservations of yourselves,

Still your own foes, deliver you as most 

Abated captives to some nation

That won you without blows! Despising,

For you, the city, thus I turn my back:

There is a world elsewhere.

According to the speaker, for what reason will the city will be vulnerable in the future?

Possible Answers:

The city is running out of funding, due to political corruption.

The city's defenders are being sent away by ignorant politicians.

There is a specific enemy force waiting to attack.

The city has been corrupted by pollution.

The city is poorly maintained, and does not have big enough walls.

Correct answer:

The city's defenders are being sent away by ignorant politicians.

Explanation:

The main reason the city will be vulnerable, according to the speaker, is that the city's best defenders (namely himself) are being sent away by ignorant politicians.

The enemies he speaks of attacking are not a specific force nearby, but a hypothetical one that could come at any time once the defenders have been sent away. 

While he does think the city is polluted and malodorous, he does not cite this as the reason for its vulnerability.

He makes no mention of funding, nor of city walls.

Example Question #6 : Characterization And Motivation: Drama

Adapted from Act 1, Scene 1, ln. 78-119 of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1604) in Vol. XIX, Part 2 of The Harvard Classics (1909-1914)

 

FAUSTUS: How am I glutted with conceit of this!

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,

Resolve me of all ambiguities,

Perform what desperate enterprise I will?

I’ll have them fly to India for gold,

Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,

And search all corners of the new-found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates;

I’ll have them read me strange philosophy

And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;

I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass,

And make swift Rhine circle fair Wittenberg;

I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,

Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad;

I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,

And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,

And reign sole king of all the provinces;

Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war

Than was the fiery keel at Antwerp’s bridge,

I’ll make my servile spirits to invent.

[Enter VALDES and CORNELIUS]

Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,

And make me blest with your sage conference.

Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,

Know that your words have won me at the last

To practice magic and concealed arts:

Yet not your words only, but mine own fantasy

That will receive no object, for my head

But ruminates on necromantic skill.

Philosophy is odious and obscure,

Both law and physic are for petty wits;

Divinity is basest of the three,

Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile:

’Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish’d me.

Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt;

And I that have with concise syllogisms

Gravell’d the pastors of the German church,

And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg

Swarm to my problems, as the infernal spirits

On sweet Musaeigus, when he came to hell,

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,

Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.

Which of the following most accurately reflects Faustus' characterization of his relationship with the occult?

Possible Answers:

The occult has captivated his imagination and made all other forms of academic inquiry boring to him.

He finds the occult inspiring, and, with the help of Valdes and Cornelius, he plans to make it the subject of his next book.

Although he finds the occult inspiring, he is growing concerned that his study of the occult has led him to question his faith.

Although he finds the occult inspiring, he is growing concerned that it has distracted him from serious academic study.

The occult has captivated his imagination and made him both afraid and excited to pursue it at the expense of conventional disciplines.

Correct answer:

The occult has captivated his imagination and made all other forms of academic inquiry boring to him.

Explanation:

Faust most accurately characterizes the occult as having captivated his imagination and made all other forms of academic inquiry boring to him. His fascination is both directly stated ("how I am glutted . . .", "magic, magic hath ravaged me") and implied with his prolonged rumination on what he would do with magic powers. His dismissive treatment of all other disciplines during his explanation of his fascination with the occult suggests that this fascination has contributed to his disinclination towards more conventional disciplines.

He does not express any fear or trepidation in relation to the occult, nor does he mention writing a book. He expresses no concern about being distracted from academic study, nor questioning his faith; in fact he brags about questioning priests and confounding them.

Example Question #3 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what’s the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"

He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.

"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa, haughtily, without lifting up her eyes, "and father caught us."

"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."

"Dear me," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas! I wonder at you. I declare you’re enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn’t. Then what would you have done, I should like to know?"

Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favorably impressed by these cogent remarks. He frowned impatiently.

"As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn’t go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "You know, as well as I do, no young people have circus masters, or keep circuses in cabinets, or attend lectures about circuses. What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."

"That’s the reason!" pouted Louisa.

"Don’t tell me that’s the reason, because it can’t be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be somethingological directly." Mrs. Gradgrind was not a scientific character, and usually dismissed her children to their studies with this general injunction to choose their pursuit.

In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective, but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures, and, secondly, she had "no nonsense" about her. By nonsense he meant fancy, and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot ever was.

The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.

"Bounderby," said Mr. Gradgrind, drawing a chair to the fireside, "you are always so interested in my young people—particularly in Louisa—that I make no apology for saying to you, I am very much vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of the reason of my family. The reason is (as you know) the only faculty to which education should be addressed. And yet, Bounderby, it would appear from this unexpected circumstance of today, though in itself a trifling one, as if something had crept into Thomas’s and Louisa’s minds which is—or rather, which is not—I don’t know that I can express myself better than by saying—which has never been intended to be developed, and in which their reason has no part."

Which of the following might describe Mr. Gradgrind’s negative assessment of Mrs. Gradgrind?

Possible Answers:

She does not have the best physical figure.

She is not hard enough on the children.

She doesn't know as much as he would like her to know.

She is too caught up in the details of the children's lives.

She is a complete fool with a moody personality.

Correct answer:

She doesn't know as much as he would like her to know.

Explanation:

The key clue for this question is the line "Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective." The implication is that she did not have enough knowledge—at least enough to meet Mr. Gradgrind's specifications. He did have other reasons for finding her to be a good wife—two of which are listed directly after this point. However, it still stands that she just does not seem to know as much as he would like—that she doesn't have a large enough "stock of facts."

Example Question #4 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what’s the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"

He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.

"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa, haughtily, without lifting up her eyes, "and father caught us."

"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."

"Dear me," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas! I wonder at you. I declare you’re enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn’t. Then what would you have done, I should like to know?"

Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favorably impressed by these cogent remarks. He frowned impatiently.

"As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn’t go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "You know, as well as I do, no young people have circus masters, or keep circuses in cabinets, or attend lectures about circuses. What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."

"That’s the reason!" pouted Louisa.

"Don’t tell me that’s the reason, because it can’t be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be somethingological directly." Mrs. Gradgrind was not a scientific character, and usually dismissed her children to their studies with this general injunction to choose their pursuit.

In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective, but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures, and, secondly, she had "no nonsense" about her. By nonsense he meant fancy, and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot ever was.

The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.

"Bounderby," said Mr. Gradgrind, drawing a chair to the fireside, "you are always so interested in my young people—particularly in Louisa—that I make no apology for saying to you, I am very much vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of the reason of my family. The reason is (as you know) the only faculty to which education should be addressed. And yet, Bounderby, it would appear from this unexpected circumstance of today, though in itself a trifling one, as if something had crept into Thomas’s and Louisa’s minds which is—or rather, which is not—I don’t know that I can express myself better than by saying—which has never been intended to be developed, and in which their reason has no part."

Why did Louisa prefer the circus to her parent’s particular plans for her and her brother?

Possible Answers:

She hates staying at home because of the boring environment.

Her father is verbally abusive, and she wishes to be away from that.

She loves the sights and smells of the circus in comparison with the dull life of the Gradgrind house.

She is tired of the way her parents are making her learn.

She is overwhelmed with stress from her studies and wishes to have a way to be light-hearted once in a while.

Correct answer:

She is tired of the way her parents are making her learn.

Explanation:

The best clue for this question is found in Mrs. Gradgrind's words, "What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."  

To this, Louisa responds, "That's the reason." 

She is responding to the fact that even Mrs. Gradgrind cannot even remember the names of the facts that she should be learning. This whole passage is a satire on a kind of approach to learning (facts, facts, facts). Louisa wanted to go to the circus precisely because of the nature of her learning—a kind of knowledge that is so dull that even her mother cannot remember half the names of the facts that are to be memorized and attended to.

Example Question #8 : Passage Content

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what’s the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"

He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.

"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa, haughtily, without lifting up her eyes, "and father caught us."

"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."

"Dear me," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas! I wonder at you. I declare you’re enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn’t. Then what would you have done, I should like to know?"

Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favorably impressed by these cogent remarks. He frowned impatiently.

"As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn’t go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "You know, as well as I do, no young people have circus masters, or keep circuses in cabinets, or attend lectures about circuses. What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."

"That’s the reason!" pouted Louisa.

"Don’t tell me that’s the reason, because it can’t be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be somethingological directly." Mrs. Gradgrind was not a scientific character, and usually dismissed her children to their studies with this general injunction to choose their pursuit.

In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective, but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures, and, secondly, she had "no nonsense" about her. By nonsense he meant fancy, and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot ever was.

The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.

"Bounderby," said Mr. Gradgrind, drawing a chair to the fireside, "you are always so interested in my young people—particularly in Louisa—that I make no apology for saying to you, I am very much vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of the reason of my family. The reason is (as you know) the only faculty to which education should be addressed. And yet, Bounderby, it would appear from this unexpected circumstance of today, though in itself a trifling one, as if something had crept into Thomas’s and Louisa’s minds which is—or rather, which is not—I don’t know that I can express myself better than by saying—which has never been intended to be developed, and in which their reason has no part."

Which of the following best describes Mr. Gradgrind’s attitude toward Mr. Bounderby in this selection?

Possible Answers:

Questioning

Irate

Perplexed

Overwhelmed

Annoyed

Correct answer:

Annoyed

Explanation:

Mr. Gradgrind says that he is "vexed" by the fact that Mr. Bounderby is interested in his children (and is influencing them). Although we might take this to mean that Mr. Gradgrind is angered at Mr. Bounderby, the best thing to do is presume the most "minimal" meaning possible. "Vexed" most directly means annoyed. Therefore, this is the best answer choice.

Example Question #5 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what’s the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"

He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.

"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa, haughtily, without lifting up her eyes, "and father caught us."

"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."

"Dear me," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas! I wonder at you. I declare you’re enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn’t. Then what would you have done, I should like to know?"

Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favorably impressed by these cogent remarks. He frowned impatiently.

"As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn’t go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "You know, as well as I do, no young people have circus masters, or keep circuses in cabinets, or attend lectures about circuses. What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."

"That’s the reason!" pouted Louisa.

"Don’t tell me that’s the reason, because it can’t be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be somethingological directly." Mrs. Gradgrind was not a scientific character, and usually dismissed her children to their studies with this general injunction to choose their pursuit.

In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective, but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures, and, secondly, she had "no nonsense" about her. By nonsense he meant fancy, and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot ever was.

The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.

"Bounderby," said Mr. Gradgrind, drawing a chair to the fireside, "you are always so interested in my young people—particularly in Louisa—that I make no apology for saying to you, I am very much vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of the reason of my family. The reason is (as you know) the only faculty to which education should be addressed. And yet, Bounderby, it would appear from this unexpected circumstance of today, though in itself a trifling one, as if something had crept into Thomas’s and Louisa’s minds which is—or rather, which is not—I don’t know that I can express myself better than by saying—which has never been intended to be developed, and in which their reason has no part."

Based on this passage, what might we presume Mr. Bounderby functions as an image of for Dickens?

Possible Answers:

Immaturity and brashness in the face of parental authority

The questioning mind of a child in the peak of life

Human existence unfettered by a cramped view of reason

The peasant stock that was dying out during Dickens' day

The richness of the life of simple pleasures

Correct answer:

Human existence unfettered by a cramped view of reason

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the Gradgrind adults are portrayed as having a very strict and limited view of human reason. This is the reason for all the talk about facts as well as the fact that they do not like the idea of someone having an active imagination. Mr. Bounderby, by his interest in the children and their going to the circus, functions as a character opposed to the Gradgrinds, especially Mr. Gradgrind, who is vexed with him because of this difference. By such an opposition, Mr. Bounderby functions as an image for human reason and life that is not as limited as that found in Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind.

Example Question #2 : Inferences

Adapted from “Solitary Death, make me thine own” in Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses by Michael Field (pseudonym of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) (1893)

 

Solitary Death, make me thine own,

And let us wander the bare fields together;

          Yea, thou and I alone

Roving in unembittered unison forever.

 

I will not harry thy treasure-graves,

I do not ask thy still hands a lover;

            My heart within me craves

To travel till we twain Time’s wilderness discover.

 

To sojourn with thee my soul was bred,

And I, the courtly sights of life refusing,

            To the wide shadows fled,

And mused upon thee often as I fell a-musing.

 

Escaped from chaos, thy mother Night,

In her maiden breast a burthen that awed her,

           By cavern waters white

Drew thee her first-born, her unfathered off-spring toward her.

 

On dewey plats, near twilight dingle,

She oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses

           In thine ears a-tingle,

Pours her cool charms, her weird, reviving chaunt rehearses.

 

Though mortals menace thee or elude,

And from thy confines break in swift transgression.

            Thou for thyself art sued

Of me, I claim thy cloudy purlieus my possession.

 

To a long freshwater, where the sea

Stirs the silver flux of the reeds and willows,

            Come thou, and beckon me

To lie in the lull of the sand-sequestered billows:

 

Then take the life I have called my own

And to the liquid universe deliver;

            Loosening my spirit’s zone,

Wrap round me as thy limbs the wind, the light, the river.

"Night” is characterized in relation to “Death” as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

An innocent maiden who helps Death, unaware of Death’s actions against mortal beings

A marginalized, obsolete being

A paternal, patriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a stifling amount of control over Death’s actions

Correct answer:

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

Explanation:

“Night” is personified and explicitly figured as Death’s “mother.” She is figured as having given birth to death “unfathered,” and as maintaining a close, supportive maternal relationship with Death (“she oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses . . . pours her cool charms”).

Her relationship to Death is presented as helpful as opposed to stifling or controlling. She is spoken of as protective and relevant to Death, not obsolete. And while she is referred to as a “maiden” Night is also specifically figured as aware of the consequences of Death’s actions (“men’s sobs and curses”).

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