ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language in History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Upper Level Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1784)

At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New York and Philadelphia the printers were indeed stationers; they sold only paper, etc., almanacs, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the ale-house, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that room, where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us.

Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from books more common by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of the plan and rules that would be necessary, and got a skilful conveyancer, Mr. Charles Brockden, to put the whole in form of articles of agreement, to be subscribed, by which each subscriber engaged to pay a certain sum down for the first purchase of books, and an annual contribution for increasing them. So few were the readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not able, with great industry to find more than fifty persons, mostly young tradesmen, willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum. On this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was opened one day in the week for lending to the subscribers, on their promissory notes to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns and in other provinces. The libraries were augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people, having no public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books, and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better instructed and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.

Franklin's tone in this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

gently chiding

modestly self-congratulatory

humorous

didactic

Correct answer:

modestly self-congratulatory

Explanation:

Franklin gives himself credit for his proposals but does not do so in a way that is overbearing, so his self-congratulations are modest at best.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918)

You remember that, at the close of Theodore Roosevelt's second term as President, he went over to Africa to make war on some of his ancestors. You remember that, at the close of his expedition, he visited the capitals of Europe, and that he was wined and dined, dignified and glorified by all the Kaisers and Czars and Emperors of the Old World. He visited Potsdam while the Kaiser was there, and, according to the accounts published in the American newspapers, he and the Kaiser were soon on the most familiar terms. They were hilariously intimate with each other, and slapped each other on the back. After Roosevelt had reviewed the Kaiser's troops, according to the same accounts, he became enthusiastic over the Kaiser's legions and said: "If I had that kind of an army, I could conquer the world." He knew the Kaiser then just as well as he knows him now. He knew that he was the Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. And yet, he permitted himself to be entertained by that Beast of Berlin; had his feet under the mahogany of the Beast of Berlin; was cheek by jowl with the Beast of Berlin. And, while Roosevelt was being entertained royally by the German Kaiser, that same Kaiser was putting the leaders of the Socialist Party in jail for fighting the Kaiser and the Junkers of Germany. Roosevelt was the guest of honor in the White House of the Kaiser, while the Socialists were in the jails of the Kaiser for fighting the Kaiser. Who then was fighting for democracy? Roosevelt? Roosevelt, who was honored by the Kaiser, or the Socialists who were in jail by order of the Kaiser? "Birds of a feather flock together."

When the newspapers reported that Kaiser Wilhelm and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt recognized each other at sight, were perfectly intimate with each other at the first touch, they made the admission that is fatal to the claim of Theodore Roosevelt, that he is the friend of the common people and the champion of democracy; they admitted that they were kith and kin; that they were very much alike; that their ideas and ideals were about the same. If Theodore Roosevelt is the great champion of democracy—the arch foe of autocracy—what business had he as the guest of honor of the Prussian Kaiser? And when he met the Kaiser, and did honor to the Kaiser, under the terms imputed to him, wasn't it pretty strong proof that he himself was a Kaiser at heart? Now, after being the guest of Emperor Wilhelm, the Beast of Berlin, he comes back to this country, and wants you to send ten million men over there to kill the Kaiser, to murder his former friend and pal. Rather queer, isn't it? And yet, he is the patriot, and we are the traitors. I challenge you to find a Socialist anywhere on the face of the earth who was ever the guest of the Beast of Berlin, except as an inmate of his prison.

The author’s attitude towards Kaiser Wilhelm could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

amiable 

disdainful 

respectful 

laudatory

fearful 

Correct answer:

disdainful 

Explanation:

The author refers to Kaiser Wilhelm numerous times as “the Beast of Berlin” and condemns his imprisonment of Socialist supporters. It is clear from his descriptions and tone that the author’s attitude towards the Kaiser is negative. Of the five answer choices, only fearful and disdainful are negative. The author does not use any fearful or scared language so that answer choice can be eliminated, leaving only disdainful. Laudatory means praising or congratulatory; amiable means friendly.

Example Question #24 : Authorial Purpose

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession - where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire the Emperor was chosen by seven electors which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries. And, the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

What can you infer about the author’s use of quotations around the word “elected”?

Possible Answers:

That he is deriding the influence of the Hapsburgs on European history

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

That he wishes to emphasize the personal wealth needed to stand for the position of Holy Roman Emperor

That he is mocking the Luxembourg family for their spectacular fall from grace

That he wants to highlight the democratic nature of the Holy Roman Empire

Correct answer:

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

Explanation:

When authors use quotation marks in text without actually describing something that someone has directly said, it is usually done to suggest that what the author is mocking or expressing his disbelief in something. So, when the author says, “The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their 'elected' position for almost four centuries," he really means that the position was clearly not an elected position.

Example Question #361 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The author’s tone in the final sentence is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

awed

determined

contemplative 

resigned 

jubilant 

Correct answer:

determined

Explanation:

The last sentence of this passage is similar, but not identical, in tone the whole of the passage. Whereas most of the passage is primarily respectful or somber in tone—focusing on remembrance of past events—the conclusion provides a guide for future conduct. The author says that “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The use of the phrase “highly resolve” is an indicator that the author’s tone is primarily determined. Awed implies a mixture of wonder and fear; contemplative means thoughtful; jubilant means very happy; resigned means to accept reluctantly.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Attitude In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The author’s description of those “who neither know victory nor defeat” is __________.

Possible Answers:

derisive 

respectful 

ambivalent 

friendly 

incomprehensible

Correct answer:

derisive 

Explanation:

The author contrasts those who do not even try to compete (those that do not know victory or defeat) with those “worthy” men who are not afraid to throw themselves into any challenge or competition. It is clear from the author’s tone in this passage that he believes in the greatness of men who boldly meet competition and therefore that he would feel the opposite about those who shrink away. The author even describes those “who neither know victory nor defeat” as “cold and timid.”

Example Question #2 : Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

urgent and serious

apathetic and miserly

jubilant and celebratory

whimsical and sardonic

angry and emotive

Correct answer:

urgent and serious

Explanation:

The overall tone of this passage is urgent and serious. This is clear throughout as the author employs several phrases to demonstrate the urgency and severity of the situation. Most obviously, and helpfully, the author uses the word “urgent.” The only other possible correct answer choice could be “angry and emotive.” However, the author uses very little angry or aggressive language and instead focuses on highlighting the seriousness of the situation.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

The author’s description of working-class children (“I see them . . . hopes blasted.”) highlights __________.

Possible Answers:

the immorality of the American government

the lack of accessible healthcare for working class children

the manageable conditions of the factories and mines

the abuses committed by the industrialists

the workability of the American economic system

Correct answer:

the abuses committed by the industrialists

Explanation:

The author describes the experience of working class children in the following manner: “The little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood . . . there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted.” The intent here is to highlight the abuses committed on the children by the industrial class in order to reap large profits. You will notice that the children's suffering is the main focus of the quotation. The author employs evocative language to condemn the individuals responsible for causing the suffering.

Example Question #65 : Language In History Passages

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

The author’s tone in this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

funny and dismissive

lighthearted and edifying

eloquent and reserved

abrasive and cold

whimsical and unpredictable

Correct answer:

lighthearted and edifying

Explanation:

The author’s tone is primarily “lighthearted and edifying.” Before we go into detail about why, let us just briefly define all the options here so as to avoid confusion. “Lighthearted” means happy and not focusing on anxiety or worries and “edifying” means giving moral or intellectual instruction, or teaching; “whimsical” means quirky; “eloquent” means well-spoken; “reserved” means shy and not outgoing; “dismissive” means not considering or declaring as unimportant; and “abrasive” means rude, harsh and unpleasant. So, when we say the author’s tone is “lighthearted and edifying,” we mean that it is carefree and aims to teach. An example of the “lighthearted” tone can be seen with the author’s description of Newton’s attempts to test the impact of the sun on human vision: “The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.” And, an example of the author’s “edifying” tone can be seen in the conclusion where the author attempts to impart some lesson to the reader: “however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.”

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.

This passage is most likely written from the perspective of which of the following people or groups?

Possible Answers:

A single man

A group of men

A group of children

A single woman

A group of women

Correct answer:

A group of women

Explanation:

Since the writers invoke a plural "we" at the beginning of the second paragraph and refer to women several times, it seems most likely that the passage was written by several women.

Passage adapted from “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and others (1848)

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.

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

Possible Answers:

Optimistic 

Forceful

Carefree

Sad

Happy

Correct answer:

Forceful

Explanation:

Since the authors of this passage are arguing quite strongly for a set of demands this passage can best be described as a forceful one. It is not carefree or particularly happy.

Passage adapted from “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and others (1848)

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