Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Analyze nuances of words with similar denotations: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.11-12.5.B

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Example Question #2 : Figurative Language, Word Relationships, And Nuances In Word Meanings: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.11 12.5

Adapted from “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” (1900) by William James

Some years ago, while journeying in the mountains of North Carolina, I passed by a large number of 'coves,' as they call them there, or heads of small valleys between the hills, which had been newly cleared and planted. The impression on my mind was one of unmitigated squalor. The settler had in every case cut down the more manageable trees, and left their charred stumps standing. The larger trees he had girdled and killed, in order that their foliage should not cast a shade. He had then built a log cabin, plastering its chinks with clay, and had set up a tall zigzag rail fence around the scene of his havoc, to keep the pigs and cattle out. Finally, he had irregularly planted the intervals between the stumps and trees with Indian corn, which grew among the chips; and there he dwelt with his wife and babes--an axe, a gun, a few utensils, and some pigs and chickens feeding in the woods, being the sum total of his possessions.

The forest had been destroyed; and what had 'improved' it out of existence was hideous, a sort of ulcer, without a single element of artificial grace to make up for the loss of Nature's beauty. Ugly, indeed, seemed the life of the squatter, scudding, as the sailors say, under bare poles, beginning again away back where our first ancestors started, and by hardly a single item the better off for all the achievements of the intervening generations.

“Talk about going back to nature!” I said to myself, oppressed by the dreariness, as I drove by. Talk of a country life for one's old age and for one's children! Never thus, with nothing but the bare ground and one's bare hands to fight the battle! Never, without the best spoils of culture woven in! The beauties and commodities gained by the centuries are sacred. They are our heritage and birthright. No modern person ought to be willing to live a day in such a state of rudimentariness and denudation.

Then I said to the mountaineer who was driving me, "What sort of people are they who have to make these new clearings?" "All of us," he replied. "Why, we ain't happy here, unless we are getting one of these coves under cultivation." I instantly felt that I had been losing the whole inward significance of the situation. Because to me the clearings spoke of naught but denudation, I thought that to those whose sturdy arms and obedient axes had made them they could tell no other story. But, when they looked on the hideous stumps, what they thought of was personal victory. The chips, the girdled trees, and the vile split rails spoke of honest sweat, persistent toil and final reward. The cabin was a warrant of safety for self and wife and babes. In short, the clearing, which to me was a mere ugly picture on the retina, was to them a symbol redolent with moral memories and sang a very pæan of duty, struggle, and success.

I had been as blind to the peculiar ideality of their conditions as they certainly would also have been to the ideality of mine, had they had a peep at my strange indoor academic ways of life at Cambridge.

Which of the following accurately reflects the difference in the way the settler has set up the "rail fence" and the "stumps and trees with Indian corn?"

Possible Answers:

The fence follows a set, if aesthetically unappealing pattern, while the corn is planted randomly, with no pattern at all

The fence has been set up correctly, while the corn has been planted incorrectly

The corn has been planted following a set, if aesthetically unappealing pattern, while the fence has simply been set up in a random fashion

There is no difference; both the fence and the corn have been organized in a random, aesthetically unappealing manner

Correct answer:

The fence follows a set, if aesthetically unappealing pattern, while the corn is planted randomly, with no pattern at all

Explanation:

The key here was understanding the nuances in the meaning of two similar descriptive terms: "zigzag" and "irregularly." Both of these words are used to characterize the general set up of the log cabin as "squalid," "ugly," and poorly organized. The difference is that while "zigzags" are often a feature of poorly organized fences, it does refer to a specific pattern, one that moves from size to side. "Irregular" patterns do not have any pattern that consistent. The terms, although they describe slightly different ways of organizing, do not ascribe any specific value to this organization, and the author does not privilege one over the other: both are ugly and poorly set-up. The fence follows an ugly zig-zag pattern, while the corn has simply been planted at random spaces.

All Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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