AP English Literature : Summarizing or Describing the Passage

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #263 : Ap English Literature And Composition

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 excerpts best captures the overall theme of the passage?

Possible Answers:

"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."

"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."

"So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake."

"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."

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

Correct answer:

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

Explanation:

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age" captures the theme of the passage. Gabriel struggles throughout the passage with his fear of aging and dying slowly without finding meaning in his life, while he admires the young and passionate death of Michael Furey.

Example Question #264 : Ap English Literature And Composition

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's tone could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

alarmed and upset

angry and disgruntled

defeated and forlorn

disbelieving and saddened

complimentary and obsequious

Correct answer:

angry and disgruntled

Explanation:

The best description of the speaker's tone is "angry and disgruntled." His cursing and aggressive insulting of the listeners show his anger. His resentment of his banishment reveals him to be specifically disgruntled with what has been done to him.

He is in no way complimentary, he does not express disbelief or sadness at the banishment, only anger, and his tone is more aggressive than it is alarmed.

Example Question #265 : Ap English Literature And Composition

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.

Which of the following most accurately conveys the meaning of the underlined section, "Despising, / For you, the city, thus I turn my back: / There is a world elsewhere"?

Possible Answers:

The speaker, partially out of his hatred for his listeners and partially in acquiescence to their request, has decided to leave the city, and is no longer loyal to its citizens or government.

The speaker, partially out of his hatred for listeners and partially out of his own desire to live in a cleaner, more prosperous city, has decided to leave.

The speaker is leaving the city, and on his way out is informing his listeners that he has betrayed them, and will now be working with the foreign invaders he described earlier in the passage.

The speaker, partially out of shame for his own actions and partially in acquiescence to his listeners' request, has decided to leave the city and explore foreign lands.

The speaker is leaving the city, and on his way out, is apologizing to his listeners and expressing his self-loathing.

Correct answer:

The speaker, partially out of his hatred for his listeners and partially in acquiescence to their request, has decided to leave the city, and is no longer loyal to its citizens or government.

Explanation:

The speaker, partially out of his hatred for his listeners and partially in acquiescence to their request, has decided to leave the city, and is no longer loyal to its citizens or government. In the underlined passage, the speaker is emphasizing both that he is deciding to leave of his own accord, and has also been banished by his "despise[d]" listeners (in his opinion, foolishly). His decision to "turn his back" is both literal and metaphorical, as he is physically leaving the city and discarding his loyalty to his "despised" banishers.

In the indicated excerpt, he does not express any shame about his actions, nor does he reference a direct, literal betrayal; the earlier description of foreign invaders was hypothetical. While he references "corrupt" air and smells earlier in the passage, it is hardly his main grievance. His "despising" is outwardly directed towards his listeners, and he is hardly apologetic.

Example Question #266 : Ap English Literature And Composition

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl; yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind face groping its way.

She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen, but at no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way) but for her bringing-up.

"Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should have brought your sister to a scene like this."

"I brought him, father," said Louisa, quickly. "I asked him to come."

"I am sorry to hear it. I am very sorry indeed to hear it. It makes Thomas no better, and it makes you worse, Louisa."

She looked at her father again, but no tear fell down her cheek.

Based on the passage, which of the following single words best describes Louisa?

Possible Answers:

Mournful

Overbearing

Independent

Immature

Testy

Correct answer:

Independent

Explanation:

At the beginning of the passage, Louisa is described as being someone who definitely is searching for something—with vigor, even though she does not know what it is she is exactly looking for. Then, later on, her father thinks that she might have been self-willed were it not for her upbringing. Also, we know that she came up with the idea to go look at whatever "scene" the children were at. Thus, she has a kind of independence of outlook and character.

Example Question #267 : Ap English Literature And Composition

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl; yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind face groping its way.

She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen, but at no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way) but for her bringing-up.

"Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should have brought your sister to a scene like this."

"I brought him, father," said Louisa, quickly. "I asked him to come."

"I am sorry to hear it. I am very sorry indeed to hear it. It makes Thomas no better, and it makes you worse, Louisa."

She looked at her father again, but no tear fell down her cheek.

How might we describe Louisa’s reaction to her father’s rebuke?

Possible Answers:

Contrite

Unresponsive

Morose

Vexed

Angered

Correct answer:

Unresponsive

Explanation:

At the very end of the passage, Dickens says that "no tear fell down [Louisa's] cheek." While we might think that she is being self-assertive, it is best to be somewhat careful.  The children are sullen—that is certain at the beginning of the passage. It is best just to note that she is not reacting right now. Hence, "unresponsive" is the best option, at least among those given.

Example Question #268 : Ap English Literature And Composition

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl; yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind face groping its way.

She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen, but at no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way) but for her bringing-up.

"Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should have brought your sister to a scene like this."

"I brought him, father," said Louisa, quickly. "I asked him to come."

"I am sorry to hear it. I am very sorry indeed to hear it. It makes Thomas no better, and it makes you worse, Louisa."

She looked at her father again, but no tear fell down her cheek.

Based on this passage, how might we describe Louisa’s father?

Possible Answers:

Hateful

Wretched

Abusive

Pragmatic

Domineering

Correct answer:

Pragmatic

Explanation:

Do not be tempted to answer negatively of Louisa's father merely because he is disciplining his children in this passage. Certainly, he is being a bit forceful with them, but that is not enough to say much that is very negative about him (at least without further context). In the passage, the one key description of him is found in the words, "in his eminently practical way." When someone is "pragmatic," he or she is practical. Therefore, this well describes Louisa's father. In the rest of Hard Times, it is very obvious that her father is very "no-nonsense." 

Example Question #2 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing 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 is Faustus NOT contemplating in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The validity of academic disciplines when compared to occult practices

A comparison of power with piety

Leaving Wittenberg in order to accept an opportunity to study in Asia

The things he could accomplish with the use of occult powers

The role of his own imagination as compared to external influences in his decision-making

Correct answer:

Leaving Wittenberg in order to accept an opportunity to study in Asia

Explanation:

Faustus is NOT considering leaving Wittenberg in order to accept an opportunity to study in Asia. The latter half of Faustus' speech goes to great lengths to explain that he will no longer be studying conventionally, but will be exploring occult powers. While his early ruminations on what he will do with his power do mention Asia, this is a fantastical listing of potential options, and should not be taken as a legitimate weighing of options.

This is also the most limited and literal of the options. In this speech, Faustus is considering matters of the occult in a broad scope and is broadly dismissing earthly disciplines as a whole, not specific academic postings at different locations.

Example Question #7 : Extrapolating From The Passage

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 best describes Faustus' tone in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Caustic and bitter

Choleric and didactic

Haughty and whimsical

Apathetic and morose

Jovial and reverent

Correct answer:

Haughty and whimsical

Explanation:

The speaker's tone in this passage is best described as haughty and whimsical. The first half of the passage (until the entry of Valdes and Cornelius) functions as Faustus' whimsical imagining of the things he might do with the help of the spirits (or dark arts). His imagining is lengthy and detailed, and shows his willingness to allow his flights of fancy their full depth. His imaginings also, by placing him in a position of unlimited power, hint at his own high self-regard. His tone in the second half shows his own pride and arrogance at his achievements and his intelligence. His renunciations of all other scholars and disciplines shows his low opinion of others.

While he is caustic in his appraisal of the sciences, his tone throughout is more excited about the future than bitter about the past. While he is fairly jovial (or at least pleased with himself), his tone is actively irreverent. Since he is so excited, it would be difficult to characterize his tone as either apathetic or morose. His tone is not didactic since he is mostly speaking to or about himself, and imagining or planning what he will do, he is not giving instructions or trying to teach anyone else.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing Or Describing The Passage

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. . . ."

Which of the following best describes the speaker?

Possible Answers:

Joyful

Vexed

Intelligent

Depressed

Cynical

Correct answer:

Cynical

Explanation:

The speaker opens up by laughing about the weighty matters being discussed in the passage. Throughout the passage, he is very light-hearted about such deep and important human matters, and seems to be aware that his outlook is shocking to human sensibilities. This does show some kind of contempt for his interlocutors. Therefore, it is fair to say that he is cynical—in the extended sense of the term, which would mean mocking or contemptuous. This option is at least better than the other ones provided.

Example Question #2 : Summarizing Or Describing The Passage

Adapted from “The Habit of Perfection” in Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1919)

 

Elected silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorlèd ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear.

 

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:

It is the shut, the curfew sent

From there where all surrenders come

Which only makes you eloquent.

 

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark

And find the uncreated light:

This ruck and reel which you remark

Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

 

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,

Desire not to be rinsed with wine:

The can must be so sweet, the crust

So fresh that come in fasts divine!

 

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend

Upon the stir and keep of pride,

What relish shall the censers send

Along the sanctuary side!

 

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet

That want the yield of plushy sward,

But you shall walk the golden street

And you unhouse and house the Lord.

 

And, Poverty, be thou the bride

And now the marriage feast begun,

And lily-colored clothes provide

Your spouse not labored-at nor spun.

If you could summarize the advice given by this poem in one word, which of the following would be the best summary?

Possible Answers:

Wait

Weep

Abstain

Indulge

Doubt

Correct answer:

Abstain

Explanation:

This whole passage is focused on how certain senses should not partake in various things—though for the sake of higher religious experiences. Therefore, the advice would most likely be "do not enjoy the things of the world." The best one-word summary for such advice is "abstain."

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