GRE Subject Test: Literature in English : Identification of American Prose Before 1925

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Example Question #1 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

I can remember the time when I used to sleep quietly without workings in my thoughts, whole nights together, but now it is other ways with me. When all are fast about me, and no eye open, but His who ever waketh, my thoughts are upon things past, upon the awful dispensation of the Lord towards us, upon His wonderful power and might, in carrying of us through so many difficulties, in returning us in safety, and suffering none to hurt us. I remember in the night season, how the other day I was in the midst of thousands of enemies, and nothing but death before me. It is then hard work to persuade myself, that ever I should be satisfied with bread again. But now we are fed with the finest of the wheat, and, as I may say, with honey out of the rock. Instead of the husk, we have the fatted calf. The thoughts of these things in the particulars of them, and of the love and goodness of God towards us, make it true of me, what David said of himself, "I watered my Couch with my tears" (Psalm 6.6).

The excerpted passage was written by __________.

Possible Answers:

Margery Kempe

Mary Rowlandson

Phillis Wheatley

Anne Bradstreet

Marianne Moore

Correct answer:

Mary Rowlandson

Explanation:

This passage comes from Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which is one of the best examples of the genre of American literature known as the "captivity narrative."  In the text, Rowlandson, a Puritan, recounts her experiences as a captive of Native Americans in New England.

Passage adapted from Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson (1682)

Example Question #2 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it is possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was.

The above passage is from a novel by which nineteenth-century reformer?

Possible Answers:

Harriet Tubman

Susan B. Anthony

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Frederick Douglass

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Correct answer:

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Explanation:

As alluded to in the passage, this work is Uncle Tom’s Cabin—specifically, an excerpt from a slaveowner’s speech to his slaves as he sets them free. The novel was published in 1852, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an American abolitionist and sister of the preacher Henry Ward Beecher.

Example Question #3 : Identification Of American Prose

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him—"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."

"How?" said he. "Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"

Who is the author of the above work?

Possible Answers:

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mark Twain

Ernest Hemingway

Herman Melville

Edgar Allan Poe

Correct answer:

Edgar Allan Poe

Explanation:

The above paragraphs are taken from the opening of American writer Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” In the story, the narrator seeks revenge upon the hapless, drunk Fortunato by luring him into a cellar under the pretense of inspecting a cask of Amontillado sherry, walling him up, and leaving him to die.

Example Question #3 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

"When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again."

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

The above two paragraphs are excerpted from a work by which author?

Possible Answers:

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody

Henry David Thoreau

Louisa May Alcott

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Correct answer:

Henry David Thoreau

Explanation:

The above lines are taken from American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s famous Walden, a work published in 1854 and set in the woods of Massachusetts. The work sings the praises of simple living and reflects upon human nature, independence, spirituality, and wilderness survival. (It is not to be confused with work by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who also owned property near Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond).

Example Question #5 : Identification Of American Prose

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? 

The above paragraph serves as the opening to a short story by which American Gothic writer?

Possible Answers:

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Edgar Allan Poe

Washington Irving

Flannery O’Connor

William Faulkner

Correct answer:

Edgar Allan Poe

Explanation:

The excerpt is taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 “The Fall of the House of Usher,” an eerie story about a doomed aristocratic man, a catatonic sister, and a sentient, crumbling mansion.

Example Question #4 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

What famous work of literature does this passage begin?

Possible Answers:

Moby Dick

The Grapes of Wrath

On the Road

The Great Gatsby

The Jungle

Correct answer:

Moby Dick

Explanation:

This passage contains one of the best known opening lines in American literature: "Call me Ishmael." Thus the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is introduced to readers as a man who meditates often upon water and takes to the sea whenever he finds himself in a bad mood. The novel, which was published in 1851, follows the nautical adventures of Captain Ahab and his crew as they pursue a white whale.

Example Question #5 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.

Who wrote the above work?

Possible Answers:

Herman Melville

Washington Irving

Edgar Allan Poe

James Fenimore Cooper

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Correct answer:

Washington Irving

Explanation:

This work is Washington Irving’s short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which was published in 1820 and recounts the infamous tale of the Headless Horseman.

Example Question #6 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

"I am not a prejudiced man, nor one who vaunts himself on his natural privileges, though the worst enemy I have on earth, and he is an Iroquois, daren't deny that I am genuine white," the scout replied, surveying, with secret satisfaction, the faded color of his bony and sinewy hand, "and I am willing to own that my people have many ways, of which, as an honest man, I can't approve. It is one of their customs to write in books what they have done and seen, instead of telling them in their villages, where the lie can be given to the face of a cowardly boaster, and the brave soldier can call on his comrades to witness for the truth of his words. In consequence of this bad fashion, a man, who is too conscientious to misspend his days among the women, in learning the names of black marks, may never hear of the deeds of his fathers, nor feel a pride in striving to outdo them. For myself, I conclude the Bumppos could shoot, for I have a natural turn with a rifle, which must have been handed down from generation to generation, as, our holy commandments tell us, all good and evil gifts are bestowed; though I should be loath to answer for other people in such a matter. But every story has its two sides; so I ask you, Chingachgook, what passed, according to the traditions of the red men, when our fathers first met?"

The above speech is uttered by a character in which author’s novel?

Possible Answers:

Washington Irving

Herman Melville

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Edgar Allan Poe

James Fenimore Cooper

Correct answer:

James Fenimore Cooper

Explanation:

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which was published in 1826, follows the adventures of American settlers and Native Americans during the French and Indian War (1757). The most notable characters include the frontiersman Natty Bumppo and the Indians Chingachgook and Uncas.

Example Question #7 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

"The trouble is," sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively, that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost."

"Yes," she said. "The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life."

Identify the author of the excerpt.

Possible Answers:

Kate Chopin

Zora Neale Hurston

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Oscar Wilde

Correct answer:

Kate Chopin

Explanation:

This is an excerpt from Kate Chopin's 1899 novel, The Awakening. The book focuses on Edna Pontellier's struggle to find her own identity outside of being a mother and wife. It is seen as one of the first feminist literary works.

Example Question #8 : Identification Of American Prose Before 1925

We went tiptoeing along a path amongst the trees back towards the end of the widow's garden, stooping down so as the branches wouldn't scrape our heads. When we was passing by the kitchen I fell over a root and made a noise. We scrouched down and laid still. Miss Watson's big slave, named Jim, was setting in the kitchen door; we could see him pretty clear, because there was a light behind him. He got up and stretched his neck out about a minute, listening. Then he says:

“Who dah?”

He listened some more; then he come tiptoeing down and stood right between us; we could a touched him, nearly. Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that there warn't a sound, and we all there so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn't scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I'd die if I couldn't scratch. Well, I've noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain't sleepy—if you are anywheres where it won't do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upwards of a thousand places.

The author of the above work also wrote which novel?  

Possible Answers:

The Scarlet Letter

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Grapes of Wrath

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Oliver Twist

Correct answer:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Explanation:

The excerpt is taken from Mark Twain’s 1884 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a classic novel that features the adventures of the eponymous narrator and a slave named Jim. Twain also wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a precursor to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The latter novel in particular deals with themes of slavery and racism in the American South.

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