Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts : Interpret Figures of Speech in Context: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.5.A

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understand Nuanced Word Meanings And Relationships: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.9 10.5

Adapted from The Hypocrisy of American Slavery (1852) by Frederick Douglass

Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. Then would my task be light and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation (Babylon) whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is "American Slavery." I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing here, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July.

Which of the given rhetorical tools is used in the bolded and underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Canonical questions



Rhetorical questions

Correct answer:

Rhetorical questions


This question straightforwardly asks you to recognize the rhetorical tools and terms and to apply your knowledge of those terms to a portion of the passage. So, first things first, what do the given answer option terms mean?

"Rhetorical questions" are questions intended to make a point, rather than to sincerely ask a question seeking information. "Allegory" is a story or tale with a secondary, usually moral, message. "Contrasts" draw attention to differences between two ideas to help facilitate an author's argument. "Canonical questions" are not an actual rhetorical tool; this was a decoy option.

So, let's turn our attention to the highlighted section of the passage. The author is here 1) directly addressing his readers ("Fellow citizens...") 2) asking questions 3) not comparing or contrasting anything. The question we must ask is as follows: Does he actually wonder why he is there and being asked to "express devout gratitude"? The answer, given the context of the rest of the passage, is that these are not legitimate questions. Douglass is arguing that it is ridiculous that he is being asked to make this "humble offering to the national altar," and his questions are intended to drive home the insensitive and ridiculous demands that are placed on slaves in times of national unity, since the unity being celebrated has unified to oppress and exploit them.

Example Question #11 : Language

Passage adapted from Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist:
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could not laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a-flame
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven's Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered,
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres!

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a DEATH? and are there two?
Is DEATH that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-Mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
"The game is done! I've won! I've won!"
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun's rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o'er the sea.
Off shot the spectre-bark.

The bolded and underlined lines contain examples of which literary devices?

Possible Answers:

Repetition only


Repetition and personification


Correct answer:

Repetition and personification


This question asks you to analyze a selection of the text, and to apply your knowledge of basic literary terms to that selection. 

Firstly, let's make sure we have properly defined all of these literary devices. "Repetition" simply refers to repeating a given word, phrase, or construction for effect. A "metaphor" is a word or idea that is used to have a non-literal meaning. For instance, a rose can metaphorically stand for love. A "simile" is a comparison made between two things or people using "like" or "as." It might be helpful to think of a metaphor as such a structure without the "like" or "as."

"I am as beautiful as a day-old clump of barely-mashed potatoes," is a simile. "I am a beautiful day-old clump of barely-mashed potatoes," is a metaphor (assuming the speaker is not, in fact, an aged collection of inexpertly mashed potatoes).

"Personification" occurs when you ascribe human characteristics to an animal or inanimate object. "My malevolent desk chair," is an example of personification, because desk chairs don't have feelings or thoughts (or, at least, none that they've let us know about yet).

Now, let's examine the two lines specified in the question to see which of these devices appear.

"A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,"

Because we, as test-takers, are strategically as well as literarily-minded, we will start by scanning these two lines for the words "like" or "as," and, not seeing them, we will swiftly increase our odds of answering the question correctly by 25% by eliminating the "simile" answer option. 

Now that we've started with something we did not see in the lines, what is that we do see? Hey! it looks like there are three uses of the word "weary," which, in the space of two lines, is certainly an ample amount to justify the label of a repetition. Since the repetition is undeniably there, we can swiftly eliminate the "metaphor" option, since it does not contain a mention of this technique. 

So, now all we have to do is read these two lines carefully to establish whether or not a personification also occurs, or if the only device present is the repetition we just discovered. Can "time" be "weary"? Feeling "weary" is a human emotion. Time can never feel weary because it can never feel, even as it marches unceasingly into the infinity of a universe too vast, beautiful, and multi-dimensional to ever traverse. 

The correct answer is "repetition and personification."

All Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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