MCAT Verbal : Relating general theories to a specific passage

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

We are often told that the world is going from bad to worse, but this righteous uprising in defense of God's trees is telling a different story. The wrongs done to trees are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when light comes the heart of the people is always right. Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras King Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

In noble groves and forests south of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt. One of the smallest of these in the 1874 season sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time, other mills have been built among the Sequoias. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. 

On the other hand, the Calaveras Grove for forty years has been faithfully protected by Mr. Sperry, and with the exception of the two trees mentioned above is still in primeval beauty. Many groves have of late been partially protected by the Federal Government, while the well-known Mariposa Grove has long been guarded by the State.

For the thousands of acres of Sequoia forest outside of reservations and national parks, and in the hands of lumbermen, no help is in sight. Probably more than three times as many Sequoias as are contained in the whole Calaveras Grove have been cut into lumber every year for the last twenty-six years without let or hindrance, and with scarce a word of protest on the part of the public, while at the first whisper of bonding the Calaveras Grove to lumbermen most everybody rose in alarm. Californians’ righteous and lively indignation after their long period of deathlike apathy, in which they have witnessed the destruction of other groves unmoved, seems strange until the rapid growth that right public opinion has made during the last few years is considered and the peculiar interest that attaches to the Calaveras giants. They were the first discovered and are best known. Thousands of travelers from every country come to see them, their reputation is world-wide, and the names of great men have long been associated with them—Washington, Humboldt, Torrey and Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and others. These kings of the forest rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any, nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people.The news from Washington is encouraging. The House has passed a bill providing for the Government acquisition of the Calaveras giants. The danger these Sequoias have been in will do good far beyond the boundaries of the Calaveras Grove, in saving other groves and forests and quickening interest in forest affairs in general. While the iron of public sentiment is hot let us strike hard. In particular, a reservation or national park of the only other species of Sequoia, the sempervirens, or redwood, hardly less wonderful than the gigantea, should be quickly secured. It will have to be acquired by gift or purchase, for the Government has sold every section of the redwood belt from the Oregon boundary to below Santa Cruz.

Which of the following statements would the author be most likely to support?

Possible Answers:

The natural resources of nature belong to the world rather than to individuals or groups, and we as individuals and as groups have a moral obligation to serve as their guardians.

The tourism value of the redwood trees greatly outweighs their value as lumber, and cutting them down in therefore foolish.

Sentiment in California has started to incline towards preserving the redwoods, and after more political power is gathered there will be enough support to protect them.

Those who use Sequoia trees for lumber should plant a tree for every one they cut down. 

It would make no more sense to cut down a fully-grown redwood for lumber than it would to make George Washington into a soup.

Correct answer:

The natural resources of nature belong to the world rather than to individuals or groups, and we as individuals and as groups have a moral obligation to serve as their guardians.


Correct answer: The natural resources of nature belong to the world rather than to individuals or groups, and we as individuals and as groups have a moral obligation to serve as their guardians.

The author would agree with some of the other answers, but this answer matches his tone and ethical claims exactly. In paragraph four, the author states this nearly exactly when he says, "These kings of the forest rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it."

What is important to realize here to answer this question correctly is the importance of this claim to the author's argument. He is writing this essay to convince people to take political action and take on this role of guardianship through the state and federal government. That we cannot escape responsiblity means that there is an obligation. Although the author does not explicitly say that we have individual responsiblity, it is a logical outflow from the belief that the Sequoia trees belong to the world.

"Those who use Sequoia trees for lumber should plant a tree for every one they cut down."

This answer is incorrect because the author explicitly states in the last paragraph that cutting Sequoia trees down and replacing them is insufficient because of the time that it takes trees to grow to maturity.

"It would make no more sense to cut down a fully-grown redwood for lumber than it would to make George Washington into a soup."

The author would agree with this, but it is a supporting, illustrative analogy rather than a main point. The call to guardianship and the ethical belief that natural resources belong to the world is a stronger and more important claim.


"Sentiment in California has started to incline towards preserving the redwoods, and after more political power is gathered, there will be enough support to protect them."

The author states that the time to strike is now, so this is incorrect.


"The tourism value of the redwood trees greatly outweighs their value as lumber, and cutting them down in therefore foolish."

The author doesn't directly talk about the economic value of the tourism, nor does he claim it literally outweighs the trees' economic value as lumber.

Example Question #2 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

M. D'Héricault does not belong to the school of writers who treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line, and set with plain and ineffaceable landmarks. The French Revolution has nearly always been handled in this way, alike by those who think it fruitful in blessings, and by their adversaries, who pronounce it a curse inflicted by the wrath of Heaven. Historians have looked at the Revolution as a plain landsman looks at the sea. To the landsman the ocean seems one huge immeasurable flood, obeying a simple law of ebb and flow, and offering to the navigator a single uniform force. Yet in truth we know that the oceanic movement is the product of many forces; the seeming uniformity covers the energy of a hundred currents and counter-currents; the sea-floor is not even nor the same, but is subject to untold conditions of elevation and subsidence; the sea is not one mass, but many masses moving along definite lines of their own. It is the same with the great tides of history. Wise men shrink from summing them up in single propositions. That the French Revolution led to an immense augmentation of happiness, both for the French and for mankind, can only be denied by the Pope. That it secured its beneficent results untempered by any mixture of evil, can only be maintained by men as mad as Doctor Pangloss. The Greek poetess Corinna said to the youthful Pindar, when he had interwoven all the gods and goddesses in the Theban mythology into a single hymn, that we should sow with the hand and not with the sack. Corinna's monition to the singer is proper to the interpreter of historical truth: he should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe. It is doubtless mere pedantry to abstain from the widest conception of the sum of a great movement. A clear, definite, and stable idea of the meaning in the history of human progress of such vast groups of events as the Reformation or the Revolution, is indispensable for anyone to whom history is a serious study of society. It is just as important, however, not to forget that they were really groups of events, and not in either case a single uniform movement. A sensible man learns, in everyday life, to abstain from praising and blaming character by wholesale; he becomes content to say of this trait that it is good, and of that act that it was bad.

M. D'Héricault's volume naturally suggests such reflections as these. Of all the men of the Revolution, Robespierre has suffered most from the audacious idolatry of some writers, and the splenetic impatience of others. M. Louis Blanc and M. Ernest Hamel talk of him as an angel or a prophet, and the Ninth Thermidor is a red day indeed in their martyrology. Michelet and M. D'Héricault treat him as a mixture of Cagliostro and Caligula, both a charlatan and a miscreant. We are reminded of the commencement of an address of the French Senate to the first Bonaparte: 'Sire,' they began, 'the desire for perfection is one of the worst maladies that can afflict the human mind.' This bold aphorism touches one of the roots of the judgments we pass both upon men and events. It is because people so irrationally think fit to insist upon perfection, that Robespierre's admirers would fain deny that he ever had a fault, and the tacit adoption of the same impracticable standard makes it easier for Robespierre's wholesale detractors to deny that he had a single virtue or performed a single service. The point of view is essentially unfit for history. It is folly for the historian, as it is for the statesman, to strain after the imaginative unity of the dramatic creator. Social progress is an affair of many small pieces and slow accretions, and the interest of historic study lies in tracing, amid the immense turmoil of events and through the confusion of voices, the devious course of the sacred torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. And it is not the bearers who are most interesting, but the torch.

The primary purpose of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to provide a review of another author’s historical analysis

to explain why Robespierre is such a polarizing figure in French history

to provide a brief outline of the events of the French Revolution

to mock a contemporary for inadequate historical practice

to lament the decline in serviceable historical inquiry

Correct answer:

to provide a review of another author’s historical analysis


The primary purpose of this passage is to provide a review of M. D’Héricault’s historical inquiry into Robespierre and the French Revolution. The author intends to utilize D’Héricault’s example to demonstrate correct historical practice and to disparage incorrect practice.

Example Question #3 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from Famous Men of the Middle Ages (1904) by John Henry Haaren and Addison B. Poland.

The study of history, like the study of a landscape, should begin with the most conspicuous features. Not until these have been fixed in memory will the lesser features fall into their appropriate places and assume their right proportions. The famous men of ancient and modern times are the mountain peaks of history. It is logical then that the study of history should begin with the biographies of these men.

Not only is it logical; it is also pedagogical. Experience has proven that in order to attract and hold the child's attention each conspicuous feature of history presented to him should have an individual for its center. The child identifies himself with the personage presented. It is not Romulus or Hercules or Cæsar or Alexander that the child has in mind when he reads, but himself, acting under similar conditions. Prominent educators, appreciating these truths, have long recognized the value of biography as a preparation for the study of history and have given it an important place in their scheme of studies.

The former practice in many elementary schools of beginning the detailed study of American history without any previous knowledge of general history limited the pupil's range of vision, restricted his sympathies, and left him without material for comparisons. Moreover, it denied to him a knowledge of his inheritance from the Greek philosopher, the Roman lawgiver, the Teutonic lover of freedom. Hence the recommendation so strongly urged in the report of the Committee of Ten—and emphasized, also, in the report of the Committee of Fifteen—that the study of Greek, Roman and modern European history in the form of biography should precede the study of detailed American history in our elementary schools. The Committee of Ten recommends an eight years' course in history, beginning with the fifth year in school and continuing to the end of the high school course. The first two years of this course are given wholly to the study of biography and mythology. The Committee of fifteen recommends that history be taught in all the grades of the elementary school and emphasizes the value of biography and of general history.

The series of historical stories to which this volume belongs was prepared in conformity with the foregoing recommendations and with the best practice of leading schools. It has been the aim of the authors to make an interesting story of each man's life and to tell these stories in a style so simple that pupils in the lower grades will read them with pleasure, and so dignified that they may be used with profit as text-books for reading. Teachers who find it impracticable to give to the study of mythology and biography a place of its own in an already overcrowded curriculum usually prefer to correlate history with reading and for this purpose the volumes of this series will be found most desirable.

With which of these would the author of this passage be most likely agree?

Possible Answers:

Historical analysis is wasted on young children and should be saved until the child has reached maturity.

Historical understanding should proceed from the top down.

The American school system greatly neglects the teaching of history and geography.

Biographical writing is generally too boring to hold the attention of young children.

Children learn best when teachers are able to give each student individual focus and attention.

Correct answer:

Historical understanding should proceed from the top down.


There is insufficient evidence in this essay to suggest that the author would support any of these statements, except that historical understanding should proceed from the top down. The author notes in the introduction how the great people are like the foundation from which a deeper understanding can later emerge.

Example Question #4 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from The Frontier in American History (1921) by Frederick Jackson Turner

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people—to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We are great, and rapidly—I was about to say fearfully—growing!" So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; the differentiation of simple colonial governments into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the events of the mid 1800's, which are made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies their important place in American history because of their relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between the wilderness and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier—a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the  outer margin of the "settled area" of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

Which of the following statements would the author most likely support?

Possible Answers:

There is ample evidence of economic and historical analysis of the frontier.

Those who think of the frontier as a physical entity misunderstand its nature.

The colonization of the Great West is now at an end.

The evolution of society and civilization in the US has been homogeneous.

We should be taciturn in discussing the Atlantic coast when talking about the frontier.

Correct answer:

The colonization of the Great West is now at an end.


Looking at the first paragraph of the passage we can see that the author does in fact support the statement that the colonization of the Great West is now at an end as he says: “This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West.” He would certainly not support any of the other statements, as he says things within the passage that contradict them. For instance he declares in the third paragraph that economical and historical analysis of the frontier are somewhat lacking.

Example Question #5 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from "What is Noble?" in Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (1886):

To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (that is to say, of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type "man"): the truth is hard. Let us acknowledge unprejudicedly how every higher civilization hitherto has ORIGINATED! Men with a still natural nature, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey, still in possession of unbroken strength of will and desire for power, threw themselves upon weaker, more moral, more peaceful races (perhaps trading or cattle-rearing communities), or upon old mellow civilizations in which the final vital force was flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity. At the commencement, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first of all in their physical, but in their psychical power—they were more COMPLETE men (which at every point also implies the same as "more complete beasts").

258. Corruption—as the indication that anarchy threatens to break out among the instincts, and that the foundation of the emotions, called "life," is convulsed—is something radically different according to the organization in which it manifests itself. When, for instance, an aristocracy like that of France at the beginning of the Revolution, flung away its privileges with sublime disgust and sacrificed itself to an excess of its moral sentiments, it was corruption:—it was really only the closing act of the corruption which had existed for centuries, by virtue of which that aristocracy had abdicated step by step its lordly prerogatives and lowered itself to a FUNCTION of royalty (in the end even to its decoration and parade-dress). The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the SIGNIFICANCE and highest justification thereof—that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, FOR ITS SAKE, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher EXISTENCE: like those sun-seeking climbing plants in Java—they are called Sipo Matador,—which encircle an oak so long and so often with their arms, until at last, high above it, but supported by it, they can unfold their tops in the open light, and exhibit their happiness.

259. To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one's will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co-relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIETY, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the DENIAL of life, a principle of dissolution and decay. Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation;—but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES, and because life IS precisely Will to Power. On no point, however, is the ordinary consciousness of Europeans more unwilling to be corrected than on this matter, people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which "the exploiting character" is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions. "Exploitation" does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life.

Based on the passage, the author could be labeled as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Being a communist

Supporting a democratic system

Being a royalist

Supporting the socio-political status quo

A supporter of anarchy

Correct answer:

Supporting the socio-political status quo


The author supports the societal structure in place at his time (a division of aristocracy and common people), and argues against the Europeans who try to imagine an egalitarian society, thus one could say the author is supporting the status quo.

The author does state that a system in which the strong exploit the weak is natural, but does not advocate a chaotic system devoid of law, or an anarchical society.

The author does not reference democracy, but does discuss a political system composed of equal members, all of whom are exploited by the government or society; however, the author does not express whether or not he would support this system over the monarchical system.

The author does not express direct support of the monarchy.

The author does not express any opinions on communism.


Example Question #6 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Passage adapted from "Patriotism and Sport" by G.K Chesterton (1908)

I notice that some papers, especially papers that call themselves patriotic, have fallen into quite a panic over the fact that we have been twice beaten in the world of sport, that a Frenchman has beaten us at golf, and that Belgians have beaten us at rowing. I suppose that the incidents are important to any people who ever believed in the self-satisfied English legend on this subject. I suppose that there are men who vaguely believe that we could never be beaten by a Frenchman, despite the fact that we have often been beaten by Frenchmen, and once by a Frenchwoman. In the old pictures in Punch you will find a recurring piece of satire. The English caricaturists always assumed that a Frenchman could not ride to hounds or enjoy English hunting. It did not seem to occur to them that all the people who founded English hunting were Frenchmen. All the Kings and nobles who originally rode to hounds spoke French. Large numbers of those Englishmen who still ride to hounds have French names. I suppose that the thing is important to any one who is ignorant of such evident matters as these. I suppose that if a man has ever believed that we English have some sacred and separate right to be athletic, such reverses do appear quite enormous and shocking. They feel as if, while the proper sun was rising in the east, some other and unexpected sun had begun to rise in the north-north-west by north. For the benefit, the moral and intellectual benefit of such people, it may be worth while to point out that the Anglo-Saxon has in these cases been defeated precisely by those competitors whom he has always regarded as being out of the running; by Latins, and by Latins of the most easy and unstrenuous type; not only by Frenchman, but by Belgians. All this, I say, is worth telling to any intelligent person who believes in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. But, then, no intelligent person does believe in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. No quite genuine Englishman ever did believe in it. And the genuine Englishman these defeats will in no respect dismay.

The genuine English patriot will know that the strength of England has never depended upon any of these things; that the glory of England has never had anything to do with them, except in the opinion of a large section of the rich and a loose section of the poor which copies the idleness of the rich. These people will, of course, think too much of our failure, just as they thought too much of our success. The typical Jingoes who have admired their countrymen too much for being conquerors will, doubtless, despise their countrymen too much for being conquered. But the Englishman with any feeling for England will know that athletic failures do not prove that England is weak, any more than athletic successes proved that England was strong. The truth is that athletics, like all other things, especially modern, are insanely individualistic. The Englishmen who win sporting prizes are exceptional among Englishmen, for the simple reason that they are exceptional even among men. English athletes represent England just about as much as Mr. Barnum's freaks represent America. There are so few of such people in the whole world that it is almost a toss-up whether they are found in this or that country.

Suppose that a small-market baseball team in the United States wins several consecutive championships. Many people quickly become fans of this previously little-known team. They buy lots of merchandise and boast how their team is the best in the country. After injuries put several key players on the sideline, the team cannot maintain its winning ways. Many of the new fans boo at the games and choose to no longer support the team. How do these fans most importantly relate to the ideological values of the “Jingoes” described in the passage?

Possible Answers:

They are very different; one group is justified more than the other for despising those who fail

They are very similar; they both enjoy athletic events 

They are very similar; they both believe in racial superiority

They are very similar; they both admire those who are successful and look down on those who are not

Correct answer:

They are very similar; they both admire those who are successful and look down on those who are not


Comparing baseball fans in the United States with the “Jingoes” described in the passage helps the reader realize the similarity between the groups. In today’s vernacular, both groups are “fair-weather fans,” adoring in good times and condemning in bad times. Although they may both enjoy athletic competition, this fact not a reflection of ideologies. No reasoning was given for either group being justified in their over-zealousness in good or bad times. No evidence was given of the American fans believing that they were racially superior.

Example Question #7 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Passage adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch–the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not Terhear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.

Which of the following situations is most analogous to what the narrator is feeling in this passage?

Possible Answers:

A scientist mixes two chemicals together and causes a violent reaction between them

A student gets an A on a test that he cheated on and contemplates admitting what he did to the teacher

A woman notices that her plants are dying and nurses them back to health

A man enters a haunted house, but leaves halfway through because he is too scared to continue

A child builds a sandcastle at the beach and then knocks it down

Correct answer:

A student gets an A on a test that he cheated on and contemplates admitting what he did to the teacher


When the narrator looks upon his creation, he is overcome with terror and guilt. He makes clear in paragraph three that “horror and disgust filled [his] heart” as a result of his successful experiment. In this same vain, the student who cheated on the test feels guilty and ashamed afterwards – made clear by his desire to tell the teacher.

Example Question #8 : Relating General Theories To A Specific Passage

Adapted from "Bees" in What is Man? And Other Essays (1906) by Mark Twain.

Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.

Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and it is the queen's business to keep the population up to standard—say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more sense.

There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to take her place—ready and more than anxious to do it, although she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life. By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a scimitar, while the others have a straight one.

A common bee will sting anyone or anybody, but a royalty stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up and runs, she is brought back and must try again—once, maybe twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal function—laying eggs.

During substantially the whole of her short life of five or six years the queen lives in the Egyptian darkness and stately seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves, by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life, with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death—and condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!

Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it is the bee. That seems to settle it.  

But that is the way of the scientist, who will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory, then is so happy in this achievement that, as a rule, the chief fact of all is overlooked—that this accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage, the scientist does not answer your letters. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money from them. To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the issue—you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the answers I got.

As outlined by the author, the underlined “way of the scientist” may be equated to which of these general theories?

Possible Answers:

Geniuses are often derided in their own time period.

People are reluctant to accept help from a person they do not respect.

People often develop a theory and then try and collect evidence to fit that theory.

The older and more entrenched in a discipline a person gets, the less likely he or she is to accept revisions to the status quo.

People are disinclined to believe the extraordinary for fear it will make them look like fools.

Correct answer:

People often develop a theory and then try and collect evidence to fit that theory.


The author notes that the “way of the scientist” is to “spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory, then is so happy in this achievement that, as a rule, the chief fact of all is overlooked.” The author is mocking the scientists for being unwilling to discount their original theories in favor of one that actually takes into account the evidence. It is probable that the author is primarily being humorous, but he nonetheless levels this accusation at the scientists.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors