AP English Literature : Word Choice and Effect

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #15 : Content

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.

In context, the use of the underlined and bolded word “unembittered” serves which purpose?

Possible Answers:

By being used in the phrase “roving in unembittered unison,” it hints at the romantic relationship between the speaker and the personified “solitary death” discussed throughout the rest of the poem.

By being addressed to “solitary death,” “unembittered” creates irony and sets the reader up to view the personified “solitary death” negatively throughout the rest of the poem.

It helps alert the reader to the unconventionally positive characterization of “solitary death” in the rest of the poem.

It helps alert the reader to a pre-existing negative relationship between the speaker and the personified “solitary death” that will be explored later in the poem.

It helps alert the reader to the speaker’s status as an immortal observer of “solitary death” rather than a being who is subject to it.

Correct answer:

It helps alert the reader to the unconventionally positive characterization of “solitary death” in the rest of the poem.

Explanation:

In this context, “unembittered” serves as a signpost alerting the reader to how the poem characterizes death as a companion instead using a more conventional negative characterization. As such, “unembittered” is intended to be read sincerely, rather than ironically. The relationship between death and the speaker is specifically not characterized as romantic. The speaker is not presented as an immortal observer of death, but an invested and curious potential participant.

Example Question #21 : Content

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.

The use of the underlined and bolded term “Solitary” at the opening of the poem serves which of the following purposes?

Possible Answers:

The use of “solitary” at the opening of the poem situates the narrator as a lonely person so in need of companionship that she is willing to court even death.

Figuring personified “Death” as solitary at the opening of the poem situates death as a negative and limiting force.

The use of “solitary” at the opening of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is concerned with the grief and loneliness that often follows a death.

Figuring personified “Death” as solitary at the opening of the poem adds emotional resonance to the speaker's address to Death advocating for them to be companions.

Characterizing Death as “solitary” at the opening of the poem suggests the fundamental, unbridgeable gap between abstract concepts and mortal beings.

Correct answer:

Figuring personified “Death” as solitary at the opening of the poem adds emotional resonance to the speaker's address to Death advocating for them to be companions.

Explanation:

Opening the poem with personified “Death” as a solitary figure adds emotional resonance and purchase to the speaker’s subsequent plea to Death for them to be companions. This way, the closing image of Death embracing the speaker completes an emotional journey; Death started the poem alone and ends in an embrace. This change can be seem as mutually beneficial and supportive, rather than the speaker simply using Death or vice-versa. 

Example Question #1 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

Why does the monster use the word “slave” in the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

As part of his attempt to show a reversal of roles that has taken place

As a way of questioning the intelligence of Dr. Frankenstein

As a way to work toward the abolition of slavery in broader culture

As a way of being playful to his master

As a way of redefining the social classes of his day

Correct answer:

As part of his attempt to show a reversal of roles that has taken place

Explanation:

Even if you do not know that story of Frankenstein, the overall context of this selection makes it clear that the monster has become more powerful than Dr. Frankenstein in some ways. He has become the master, as he says at the end of the paragraph in which the indicated sentence appears. Certainly, he does wish to insult Dr. Frankenstein with his remark—and this insult may well include an insult regarding Frankenstein's intelligence. However, the primary motive for this title is to make clear the role reversal that has taken place—he now is the master, and Frankenstein is the slave.

Example Question #83 : Interpreting Words

Adapted from "Amoretti: Sonnet 75" by Edmund Spenser (1594)

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
"Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise."
"Not so," (quod I) "let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

The tone of the poem can best be described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Melancholy

Sententious

Whimsical

Triumphant

Pedantic

Correct answer:

Triumphant

Explanation:

While the poet's attempts to write his lover's name in the sand are frustrated, and while the woman herself accuses him of folly for trying to fight the inevitable ravages of time, he ultimately remains defiantly sure that his poetry will "eternize" his lover and their relationship, and that he will overcome death through his poetic art.

Example Question #84 : Interpreting Words

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

"Dorian," cried Hallward, "that is not the question. England is bad enough I know, and English society is all wrong. That is the reason why I want you to be fine. You have not been fine. One has a right to judge of a man by the effect he has over his friends. Yours seem to lose all sense of honor, of goodness, of purity. You have filled them with a madness for pleasure. They have gone down into the depths. You led them there. Yes: you led them there, and yet you can smile, as you are smiling now. And there is worse behind. I know you and Harry are inseparable. Surely for that reason, if for none other, you should not have made his sister's name a by-word."

"Take care, Basil. You go too far."

"I must speak, and you must listen. You shall listen. When you met Lady Gwendolen, not a breath of scandal had ever touched her. Is there a single decent woman in London now who would drive with her in the park? Why, even her children are not allowed to live with her. Then there are other stories—stories that you have been seen creeping at dawn out of dreadful houses and slinking in disguise into the foulest dens in London. Are they true? Can they be true? When I first heard them, I laughed. I hear them now, and they make me shudder. What about your country-house and the life that is led there? Dorian, you don't know what is said about you. I won't tell you that I don't want to preach to you. I remember Harry saying once that every man who turned himself into an amateur curate for the moment always began by saying that, and then proceeded to break his word. I do want to preach to you. I want you to lead such a life as will make the world respect you. I want you to have a clean name and a fair record. I want you to get rid of the dreadful people you associate with. Don't shrug your shoulders like that. Don't be so indifferent. You have a wonderful influence. Let it be for good, not for evil. They say that you corrupt every one with whom you become intimate, and that it is quite sufficient for you to enter a house for shame of some kind to follow after. I don't know whether it is so or not. How should I know? But it is said of you. I am told things that it seems impossible to doubt. Lord Gloucester was one of my greatest friends at Oxford. He showed me a letter that his wife had written to him when she was dying alone in her villa at Mentone. Your name was implicated in the most terrible confession I ever read. I told him that it was absurd—that I knew you thoroughly and that you were incapable of anything of the kind. Know you? I wonder do I know you? Before I could answer that, I should have to see your soul."

"To see my soul!" muttered Dorian Gray, starting up from the sofa and turning almost white from fear.

"Yes," answered Hallward gravely, and with deep-toned sorrow in his voice, "to see your soul. But only God can do that."

A bitter laugh of mockery broke from the lips of the younger man. "You shall see it yourself, tonight!" he cried, seizing a lamp from the table. "Come: it is your own handiwork. Why shouldn't you look at it? You can tell the world all about it afterwards, if you choose. Nobody would believe you. If they did believe you, they would like me all the better for it. I know the age better than you do, though you will prate about it so tediously. Come, I tell you. You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face."

There was the madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stamped his foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent manner. He felt a terrible joy at the thought that someone else was to share his secret, and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin of all his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with the hideous memory of what he had done.

What is the purpose of the expression "face to face" in the underlined and bolded selection?

Possible Answers:

To anticipate the horror that Basil will soon experience

To express how two people can stand in front of each other for the purposes of vision

To remove an obstacle from Basil's way regarding this matter

To express a kind of experiential immediacy in contrast to removed speculation

To shock and surprise the reader and Basil

Correct answer:

To express a kind of experiential immediacy in contrast to removed speculation

Explanation:

In the selection, Dorian states, "You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face." He contrasts "chattering" with seeing something "face to face." The general idea is that Basil has heretofore merely been talking about the corruption on Dorian's character. Dorian intends to show it to him with experiential immediacy. Indeed, it will be a visual spectacle, as readers of the text likely know.

Example Question #4 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from Othello by William Shakespeare (1604)

 

IAGO: Three great ones of the city,                                                  

In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,

Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man,

I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:

But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,

Evades them, with a bombast circumstance

Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war;

And, in conclusion,

Nonsuits my mediators; for, 'Certes,' says he,

'I have already chose my officer.'

And what was he?

Forsooth, a great arithmetician,

One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,

A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;

That never set a squadron in the field,

Nor the division of a battle knows

More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,

Wherein the toga’d consuls can propose

As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,

Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:

And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof

At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds

Christian and heathen, must be be-lee'd and calm'd

By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,

He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,

And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship's ancient.

The speaker compares Michael Cassio to “the bookish theoric” (underlined and bolded) primarily to demonstrate __________.

Possible Answers:

that he prefers action over thought

that he will be a successful Lieutenant

that he has no misgivings regarding his passion for learning

that he is considering becoming a professor

that he is not adequately trained as a soldier

Correct answer:

that he is not adequately trained as a soldier

Explanation:

The speaker compares Cassio to “the bookish theoric” to demonstrate that he is not adequately trained as a soldier. The speaker (Iago) is outraged that Cassio has been chosen instead of him for a military position. This outrage is heightened by Iago’s observation that Cassio is unqualified to be a soldier. There is no mention that Cassio might be considering a career in academia, or that he has a passion for learning, per se. Instead, the speaker emphasizes Cassio’s thoughtful disposition in order to discredit him as a soldier. 

Example Question #5 : Word Choice And Effect

From The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.

He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greek-like struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed.

The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods that the guns had exploded without their permission. The youth, on guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.

"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller." This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him temporarily regret war.

Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an' brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech stomachs ain't a'lastin' long," he was told. From the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.

Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies. They persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were in no wise to be trusted.

However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.

Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.

A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give serious attention to it.

What is the effect of the language used by the character in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

To express the biases of the South during the American Civil War

To express Northern biases about the South during the American Civil War

To show the informality of friends in times of war

To exemplify an aspect of the soldiers' culture

To show how unintelligent the soldiers are

Correct answer:

To exemplify an aspect of the soldiers' culture

Explanation:

The strange transcription of the discussion is the author's attempt to express the phonetics of the soldiers. This requires him to avoid using standard spellings. While we could infer that the soldiers are perhaps not too intelligent, the author's primary purpose here is to capture and express the sound of the speaker's talking.

Example Question #3 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

From The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1875)

After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.

He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greek-like struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed.

The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods that the guns had exploded without their permission. The youth, on guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.

"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller." This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him temporarily regret war.

Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an' brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech stomachs ain't a'lastin' long," he was told. From the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.

Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies. They persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were in no wise to be trusted.

However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.

Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.

A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give serious attention to it.

In the underlined selection, what is meant by the expression "recruits were their prey"?

Possible Answers:

Veterans could demand the respect of recruits without expressing any kindness for them.

Veterans could use the naivety of recruits to their advantage.

Veterans could torture recruits quickly upon their entry.

Veterans almost always found recruits to be nuisances in the midst of training exercises.

Veterans would potentially have to use recruits for food during the hard times of war.

Correct answer:

Veterans could use the naivety of recruits to their advantage.

Explanation:

In the selection, it is intimated that the veterans might be purveying lies to the recruits. They talk of smoke, fire, and blood (and presumably other things as well). However, who knows if these tales are mere lies meant to impress the young recruits? Therefore, to say that the recruits are "prey" is to intimate that they are left at the mercy of the veterans in this regard—namely as regard the telling of tales. Thus, it would seem that the veterans use the naivety of the recruits to their advantage in tale-telling.

 

Example Question #1 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from King Henry V by William Shakespeare (III.i.1092-1125)

 

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit

To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!

Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,

Have in these parts from morn till even fought

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.

Be copy now to men of grosser blood,

And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,

Whose limbs were made in England, show us here

The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!"

The author most likely uses connotatively rich words like "tiger" and "greyhounds" because they __________.

Possible Answers:

call to mind the beauty of nature

capture the primitive thinking of the soldiers

allude to the eager brutality of warfare

establish a natural order to things

reveal the speaker's uncontrollable bloodlust

Correct answer:

allude to the eager brutality of warfare

Explanation:

The two animals mentioned are generally seen as very eager in their pursuits. Henry wants his soldiers to match this eagerness in their warfare.

Example Question #2 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)

1

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.



2

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
 

3

It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

The use of the underlined phrase "usual costumes" in line 3 serves to highlight which of the following?

I. The normality of the scene
II. The contingent, nonessential nature of how people dress
III. The many notable clothing styles present
IV. How strange the scene seems to the speaker

Possible Answers:

I, II, III, and IV

I, II, and IV only

I and IV only

I and II only

I, II, and III only

Correct answer:

I, II, and IV only

Explanation:

"Usual" highlights how common the scene is, and "costumes" suggests fashion is historically, culturally, and socially contingent. The juxtaposition of the two creates a sense of uncanniness. No emphasis is placed on the particulars of how people are dressed.

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