AP English Literature : Motives, Goals, and Actions of Characters

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

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.

"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." Gabriel's feelings in this moment could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

depressed

self-pitying

compassionate

envious

disgusted

Correct answer:

compassionate

Explanation:

"Compassionate" is the best choice. Gabriel's tears are "generous." He is not crying for himself, but for the youthful tragic romance between Michael Furey and his wife. His compassion for them allows him to understand vicariously what it would feel like to be in love.

Example Question #2 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

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.

What is the speaker's primary purpose in making this speech?

Possible Answers:

To curse his enemies and banish them from the city

To warn of an incoming invasion

To announce his departure from the city, and to curse those who banished him

To deride the unsanitary conditions of the city

To announce his intent to invade a foreign nation

Correct answer:

To announce his departure from the city, and to curse those who banished him

Explanation:

The main purpose of the speech is to announce is his departure, and to curse those who banished him. His "banishing" of the listeners is a metaphorical banishment to uncertainty and a lack of safety after he leaves, evidenced by his statement "I banish you;/ And here remain with your uncertainty."

"Have the power still/ to banish your defenders" reveals explicitly that the speaker is the one being banished, and "For you, the city, thus I turn my back: There is a world elsewhere" announces his intention to leave.

Example Question #3 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

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.

The speaker most likely intends the underlined section to function as __________.

Possible Answers:

a plea to rescind his banishment

a confession to the speaker's betrayal of the city to a foreign invading force

an insulting prediction that draws attention to his listeners' faults

an analysis of the underlying political problems in the city meant to show his listeners the errors of their way of governing so that they can correct them

a warning against the impending military assault

Correct answer:

an insulting prediction that draws attention to his listeners' faults

Explanation:

The speaker most likely intends the underlined section to function as an insulting prediction that draws attention to his listeners' faults. The ease with which the speaker predicts the city will be conquered can only be interpreted as intentionally insulting to his listeners.

The prediction is not of a warning against an actual impending assault, and the speaker offers no correctives against any of the problems he outlines. He is not offering a confession, as the invading force is hypothetical, and he is not pleading for anything. While his analysis can be seen as intending to show the underlying political problems in the city, there is no indication that his analysis is intended to help the listeners' correct their mistakes. 

Example Question #4 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

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, what is his main motivation for leaving the city?

Possible Answers:

His fear of a foreign invasion

His having been banished

His desire to meet new people

His hatred of those who banished him

His need to free prisoners of war being held abroad

Correct answer:

His hatred of those who banished him

Explanation:

The speaker frames his desire to leave as primarily derived from his hatred of the people who banished him.

The key phrase in the question is "According to the speaker." While his being banished could possibly be the biggest factor in his leaving, in his speech the speaker frames his decision to leave as his accepting the banishment, and himself banishing the people left in the city to uncertainty and fear in his absence. This implies that his own motivation was more important than the externally imposed banishment.

He refers often to a hypothetical foreign invasion after he leaves, but does not express fear about it. He does not mention meeting new people, nor going abroad to help prisoners of war; rather, he claims that after he leaves the listeners will become prisoners.

Example Question #25 : Characterization And Motivation

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

In the first paragraph, why is the writer is not concerned about his heart problems?

Possible Answers:

He is depressed and is looking forward to the end of his life.

He is concerned, but knows there is nothing he can do about it, so he tries not to worry.

He is curious about the experience of dying.

The notion of being on the brink of death somehow makes him feel more alive.

He does not think they are very serious.

Correct answer:

The notion of being on the brink of death somehow makes him feel more alive.

Explanation:

The writer imagines he may die at any moment because he has a weak heart, but this "did not alarm him." On the contrary, thinking about the prospect of his own sudden death "made him more alive."

Example Question #5 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

For the narrator, the central thought of "The Book of the Grotesque" is best described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Unsettling and shocking

Profound and shocking

Profound and insightful

Complicated and convoluted

Interesting and complex

Correct answer:

Profound and insightful

Explanation:

The central idea had a strong, or profound effect on the narrator, and it provided him with many insights ("I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before"). It could also be said that the narrator found the idea interesting and complex, but what the narrator focuses on is how deeply he was affected by the idea and the insights he gained from it.

Example Question #26 : Characterization And Motivation

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

Throughout the passage, the narrator's attitude towards the writer can best be described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Confused and shocked

Skeptical but intrigued

Dismissive and superior

Curious and intrigued

Respectful and admiring

Correct answer:

Respectful and admiring

Explanation:

The narrator speaks of the writer with respect and admiration. He considers the writer's ideas profound and is deeply influenced by what he reads in "The Book of the Grotesque," the writer's unpublished work that the narrator had a chance to read.

Example Question #6 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

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, how might we describe the Gradgrind's parenting style?

Possible Answers:

Serious

Intelligent

Varied

Stolid

Belligerent

Correct answer:

Serious

Explanation:

We could, of course, describe the Gradgrinds in many ways. They are very serious about the education of their children—indeed, to the point of being suffocating and overbearing, it seems. However, the general point with them is their serious and "no nonsense approach." They seem to apply this approach to all aspects of life, including the raising of their children. The most tempting wrong answer is likely "intelligent," but "serious" best captures the sort of "weightiness" they have about what the children should be doing. It is because of this seriousness that they are somewhat overwhelming in their parenting style. However, they are first and foremost serious in their approach.

Example Question #7 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

Adapted from Notes from the Underground (1864) in White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1919, trans. Garnett)

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than—"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science . . . and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices—that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula—then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances—can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated—because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will—so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even . . . to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent. . . ."

In summary, what is the speaker doing in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Insinuating that a certain outlook is less certain that it appears

Consoling friends in the face of a dire outlook

Rhetorically proposing a position to his listeners

Giving a tight scientific argument for a position

Contrasting the claims of two outlooks, showing the foolishness of one of them

Correct answer:

Rhetorically proposing a position to his listeners

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the speaker is clearly engaging in a kind of rhetoric—trying to convince his listeners that his position is correct. Evidence for this can be found in his light-hearted laugh at the beginning and the way that he entices them by saying, "I confess, I was rather frightened," then attempting to show how he was consoled. Likewise, he includes himself with his listeners, saying, "Let us reckon the chances . . ." Throughout the long last paragraph, he speaks in a very forceful way about his opinions on these matters. All of these details work together to form a kind of rhetoric for his beliefs. He clearly wants his listeners to think that he is correct in the end.

Example Question #8 : Motives, Goals, And Actions Of Characters

Adapted from Hamlet by William Shakespeare, III.i.56-89 (1874 ed., Clark and Wright)

Hamlet: "To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there's the respect 

That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor's wrongs, the proud mans' contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns 

That patient merit of the unowrthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover'd country from whose bourn 

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have 

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action. Soft you now!

The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remember'd."

By the end of this passage, which of the following has Hamlet concluded?

Possible Answers:

Life is painful, but he will not kill himself because of love.

Life is not painful.

Death is not like sleep, but like an undiscovered country.

Life is painful, therefore he will kill himself.

Life is painful, but the uncertainty death brings is even more so.

Correct answer:

Life is painful, but the uncertainty death brings is even more so.

Explanation:

"Life is not painful" is obviously incorrect. "Death is not like sleep, but like an undiscovered country" is incorrect as those metaphors build on each other. They do not compete with each other—it is the dreams that come with sleep that makes death like an undiscovered country. Hamlet does believe life is painful and will not kill himself; he does not do so out of love or consideration for anyone else. The line ending “lose the name of action” highlights how his resolution to kill himself at the beginning of the monologue has abated.

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