PSAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, and Purpose in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from James Fennimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans (1826). Read the passage and then answer the questions that follow.

 

1          His eyes fell on the still, upright, and rigid form of the “Indian runner,” who

2 had borne to the camp the unwelcome tidings of the preceding evening. Although

3 in a state of perfect repose, and apparently disregarding, with characteristic

4 stoicism, the excitement and bustle around him, there was a sullen fierceness

5 mingled with the quiet of the savage that was likely to arrest the attention of

6 much more experienced eyes than those which now scanned him in unconcealed

7 amazement. The native bore both the tomahawk and knife of his tribe; and yet,

8 his appearance was not altogether that of a warrior. On the contrary, there was

9 an air of neglect about his person, like that which might have proceeded from

10 great and recent exertion, which he had not yet found leisure to repair. The

11 colors of the war paint had blended in dark confusion about his fierce

12 countenance, and rendered his swarthy lineaments still more savage and

13 repulsive than if art had attempted an effect which had been thus produced

14 by chance. His eye, alone, which glistened like a fiery star amid lowering clouds,

15 was to be seen in its state of native wildness. For a single instant, his searching

16 and yet wary glance met the wondering look of the other, and then changing its

17 direction, partly in cunning and partly in disdain, it remain fixed, as if

18 penetrating the air.

What is the most likely purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To contrast the native’s appearance with his personality

To give a highly detailed description of the native

To describe, in an unbiased way, the native’s temperament 

To malign the Native American lifestyle

Correct answer:

To give a highly detailed description of the native

Explanation:

The purpose of the passage is purely descriptive. It depicts the native’s physical appearance, as well as his disposition, even if it is a rather ethnocentric and biased description.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (1922)

True, there's no harm in crying for one's husband, and the tombstone, though plain, was a solid piece of work, and on summer's days when the widow brought her boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats were raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands' arms. Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years; enclosed in three shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so that, had earth and wood been glass, doubtless his very face lay visible beneath, the face of a young man whiskered, shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to change his boots.

"Merchant of this city," the tombstone said; though why Betty Flanders had chosen so to call him when, as many still remembered, he had only sat behind an office window for three months, and before that had broken horses, ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little wild—well, she had to call him something. An example for the boys.

Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it weren't the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that of an invalid's bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or funeral, that was Seabrook's voice—the voice of the dead.

The rooster had been known to fly on her shoulder and peck her neck, so that now she carried a stick or took one of the children with her when she went to feed the fowls.

"Wouldn't you like my knife, mother?" said Archer.

Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her son's voice mixed life and death inextricably, exhilaratingly.

"What a big knife for a small boy!" she said. She took it to please him. Then the rooster flew out of the hen-house, and, shouting to Archer to shut the door into the kitchen garden, Mrs. Flanders set her meal down, clucked for the hens, went bustling about the orchard, and was seen from over the way by Mrs. Cranch, who, beating her mat against the wall, held it for a moment suspended while she observed to Mrs. Page next door that Mrs. Flanders was in the orchard with the chickens.

Mrs. Page, Mrs. Cranch, and Mrs. Garfit could see Mrs. Flanders in the orchard because the orchard was a piece of Dods Hill enclosed; and Dods Hill dominated the village. No words can exaggerate the importance of Dods Hill. It was the earth; the world against the sky; the horizon of how many glances can best be computed by those who have lived all their lives in the same village, only leaving it once to fight in the Crimea, like old George Garfit, leaning over his garden gate smoking his pipe. The progress of the sun was measured by it; the tint of the day laid against it to be judged.

"Now she's going up the hill with little John," said Mrs. Cranch to Mrs. Garfit, shaking her mat for the last time, and bustling indoors. Opening the orchard gate, Mrs. Flanders walked to the top of Dods Hill, holding John by the hand. Archer and Jacob ran in front or lagged behind; but they were in the Roman fortress when she came there, and shouting out what ships were to be seen in the bay. For there was a magnificent view—moors behind, sea in front, and the whole of Scarborough from one end to the other laid out flat like a puzzle. Mrs. Flanders, who was growing stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about her.

What is the main idea of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Seabrook had a loveless marriage.

Betty Flanders has a bad memory.

The epitaph on Seabrook's grave was an exaggeration of the truth. 

Seabrook's wife was not proud of him.

Seabrook had many hobbies.

Correct answer:

The epitaph on Seabrook's grave was an exaggeration of the truth. 

Explanation:

The paragraph explains the reasoning behind the epitaph, or inscription, on Seabrook's grave. It was chosen to set an example for the boys rather than as an accurate version of the truth. We cannot fully infer if the marriage was loveless as it produced many children. Likewise, we cannot totally infer that Betty was not proud of him.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (1908)

Mr. Beebe was right. Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music. She had not really appreciated the clergyman's wit, nor the suggestive twitterings of Miss Alan. Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protect her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honor when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamored of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war—a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.

Lucy does not stand for the medieval lady, who was rather an ideal to which she was bidden to lift her eyes when feeling serious. Nor has she any system of revolt. Here and there a restriction annoyed her particularly, and she would transgress it, and perhaps be sorry that she had done so. This afternoon she was peculiarly restive. She would really like to do something of which her well-wishers disapproved. As she might not go on the electric tram, she went to Alinari's shop.

The passage suggests that “big things” __________.

Possible Answers:

are masculine in nature

are only desired by degenerates

can't exist with women to inspire them

are necessary for people to be truly alive

don’t really exist outside of poems and legends

Correct answer:

are necessary for people to be truly alive

Explanation:

Charlotte explains that "big things" are unladylike because ladies are meant to inspire big things, rather than participate in them. The medieval lady longs to participate in the world and the big things to which men have access: "Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive" (lines 31–34).

Example Question #41 : Prose Fiction

Adapted from "The Sisters" in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window, and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me, "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word “paralysis.” It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word “gnomon” in the Euclid and the word “simony” in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly . . . but there was something queer . . . there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion . . ."

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of those . . . peculiar cases . . . But it's hard to say . . ."

He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My uncle saw me staring and said to me:

"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."

"Who?" said I.

"Father Flynn."

"Is he dead?"

"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."

I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.

"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."

"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.

The relationship between Old Cotter and the narrator can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

one of mutual admiration

polite but strained

cordial and playful

competitive

openly caustic

Correct answer:

polite but strained

Explanation:

What does the passage tell us about how the narrator interacts with Old Cotter? We know that the narrator gets frustrated with Old Cotter when he doesn't finish his sentences in paragraphs two through five: "Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery." We also know that the narrator purposely doesn't react to the news of Father Flynn's death, which Old Cotter has brought, as in paragraph twelve, he says, "I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me." We see how Old Cotter reacts to the narrator's lack of reaction in the passage's last paragraph: "Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate." 

Old Cotter and the narrator are clearly not friendly towards each other, so we can eliminate the answer choices "one of mutual admiration" and "cordial and playful." This leaves us with three potential answer choices: "competitive," "openly caustic," and "polite but strained." Nothing in the passage suggests that the two characters are competitive, so we can eliminate that answer. As for choosing between "openly caustic" and "polite but strained," the narrator never verbally insults Old Cotter—he reports to readers that Old Cotter is a "tiresome old fool," but he doesn't say anything while Old Cotter is speaking. Similarly, Old Cotter's most antagonistic action is "[spitting] rudely into the grate"; he never openly antagonizes the narrator. The tension between these two characters is present beneath the surface of the scene's actions, so the best answer choice is "polite but strained."

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Sisters" in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window, and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me, "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word “paralysis.” It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word “gnomon” in the Euclid and the word “simony” in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly . . . but there was something queer . . . there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion . . ."

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of those . . . peculiar cases . . . But it's hard to say . . ."

He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My uncle saw me staring and said to me:

"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."

"Who?" said I.

"Father Flynn."

"Is he dead?"

"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."

I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.

"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."

"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.

How does the narrator react to the news of Father Flynn’s death?

Possible Answers:

He fears for his own life.

He is both afraid and intrigued.

The narrator hides his emotions about the death of Father Flynn.

He is openly shocked.

He weeps openly.

Correct answer:

The narrator hides his emotions about the death of Father Flynn.

Explanation:

When the narrator is first told of Father Flynn's death, he withholds his reaction: "I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me," he says in paragraph twelve. In the passage's last paragraph, he writes, "Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate." Based on these quotations, we can tell that the narrator hides his emotions about the death of Father Flynn. None of the other answer choices are supported by the passage; "He is both afraid and intrigued" could describe the narrator's reaction to the dying man's paralysis, but not his reaction to hearing the news of Father Flynn's death.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from a book by Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton) (1909)

In this excerpt from an autobiographical essay, the author describes her experiences as growing up in Victorian England.

When I look back over the years I see myself, a little child of scarcely four years of age, walking in front of my nurse, in a green English lane, and listening to her tell another of her kind that my mother is Chinese. “Oh Lord!” exclaims the informed. She turns around and scans me curiously from head to foot. Then the two women whisper together. Though the word “Chinese” conveys very little meaning to my mind, I feel that they are talking about my father and mother and my heart swells with indignation. When we reach home I rush to my mother and try to tell her what I have heard. I am a young child. I fail to make myself intelligible. My mother does not understand, and when the nurse declares to her, “Little Miss Sui is a story-teller,” my mother slaps me. 

Many a long year has passed over my head since that day—the day on which I first learned I was something different and apart from other children, but though my mother has forgotten it, I have not. I see myself again, a few years older. I am playing with another child in a garden. A girl passes by outside the gate. “Mamie,” she cries to my companion. “I wouldn’t speak to Sui if I were you. Her mamma is Chinese.”

“I don’t care,” answers the little one beside me. And then to me, “Even if your mamma is Chinese, I like you better than I like Annie.”

“But I don’t like you,” I answer, turning my back on her. It is my first conscious lie.

I am at a children’s party, given by the wife of an Indian officer whose children were schoolfellows of mine. I am only six years of age, but have attended a private school for over a year, and have already learned that China is a heathen country, being civilized by England. However, for the time being, I am a merry romping child. There are quite a number of grown people present. One, a white-haired old man, has his attention called to me by the hostess. He adjusts his eyeglasses and surveys me critically. “Ah, indeed!” he exclaims. “Who would have thought it at first glance? Yet now I see the difference between her and other children. What a peculiar coloring! Her mother’s eyes and hair and her father’s features, I presume. Very interesting little creature!”

I had been called from play for the purpose of inspection. I do not return to it. For the rest of the evening I hide myself behind a hall door and refuse to show myself until it is time to go home.

The main purpose of this passage is to illustrate __________.

Possible Answers:

the development of cultural awareness

multiethnic tensions in the British Empire

the tactlessness of children

the emotional effects of prejudice

the growth of a writer

Correct answer:

the emotional effects of prejudice

Explanation:

The passage only briefly touches upon the British Empire, it does not discuss Sui's later career as a writer, and adults are just as tactless towards Sui as children. The passage does show the development of Sui's awareness; however, by the end of the passage, she still doesn't appear to have a strong understanding of English or of Chinese culture. She does gain an awareness that because she is of mixed ethnicity, she is "different and apart from other children," and she is clearly made unhappy by the way others treat her.

Example Question #6 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Sisters" in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window, and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me, "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word “paralysis.” It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word “gnomon” in the Euclid and the word “simony” in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly . . . but there was something queer . . . there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion . . ."

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of those . . . peculiar cases . . . But it's hard to say . . ."

He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My uncle saw me staring and said to me:

"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."

"Who?" said I.

"Father Flynn."

"Is he dead?"

"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."

I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.

"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."

"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.

To what does Old Cotter attribute the condition of the dying man?

Possible Answers:

Tuberculosis

He doesn’t provide a distinct opinion on the subject.

Poisoning

Alcoholism

Paralysis

Correct answer:

He doesn’t provide a distinct opinion on the subject.

Explanation:

While Old Cotter aims to express his opinion about the dying man's condition in paragraphs two through five, he never definitively provides his opinion. The best answer is thus "He doesn’t provide a distinct opinion on the subject." Tuberculosis, alcoholism, and poisoning aren't mentioned at all in the passage, and while we know that the dying man's condition involves paralysis from the passage's first paragraph, this isn't Old Cotter's opinion as to the cause of the dying man's condition.

Example Question #7 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (1922)

True, there's no harm in crying for one's husband, and the tombstone, though plain, was a solid piece of work, and on summer's days when the widow brought her boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats were raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands' arms. Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years; enclosed in three shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so that, had earth and wood been glass, doubtless his very face lay visible beneath, the face of a young man whiskered, shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to change his boots.

"Merchant of this city," the tombstone said; though why Betty Flanders had chosen so to call him when, as many still remembered, he had only sat behind an office window for three months, and before that had broken horses, ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little wild—well, she had to call him something. An example for the boys.

Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it weren't the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that of an invalid's bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or funeral, that was Seabrook's voice—the voice of the dead.

The rooster had been known to fly on her shoulder and peck her neck, so that now she carried a stick or took one of the children with her when she went to feed the fowls.

"Wouldn't you like my knife, mother?" said Archer.

Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her son's voice mixed life and death inextricably, exhilaratingly.

"What a big knife for a small boy!" she said. She took it to please him. Then the rooster flew out of the hen-house, and, shouting to Archer to shut the door into the kitchen garden, Mrs. Flanders set her meal down, clucked for the hens, went bustling about the orchard, and was seen from over the way by Mrs. Cranch, who, beating her mat against the wall, held it for a moment suspended while she observed to Mrs. Page next door that Mrs. Flanders was in the orchard with the chickens.

Mrs. Page, Mrs. Cranch, and Mrs. Garfit could see Mrs. Flanders in the orchard because the orchard was a piece of Dods Hill enclosed; and Dods Hill dominated the village. No words can exaggerate the importance of Dods Hill. It was the earth; the world against the sky; the horizon of how many glances can best be computed by those who have lived all their lives in the same village, only leaving it once to fight in the Crimea, like old George Garfit, leaning over his garden gate smoking his pipe. The progress of the sun was measured by it; the tint of the day laid against it to be judged.

"Now she's going up the hill with little John," said Mrs. Cranch to Mrs. Garfit, shaking her mat for the last time, and bustling indoors. Opening the orchard gate, Mrs. Flanders walked to the top of Dods Hill, holding John by the hand. Archer and Jacob ran in front or lagged behind; but they were in the Roman fortress when she came there, and shouting out what ships were to be seen in the bay. For there was a magnificent view—moors behind, sea in front, and the whole of Scarborough from one end to the other laid out flat like a puzzle. Mrs. Flanders, who was growing stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about her.

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

Betty Flanders has five children.

Seabrook Flanders was a hard worker.

George Garfit makes regular excursions from the village.

Seabrook Flanders left nothing for his family.

Betty Flanders is a widow. 

Correct answer:

Betty Flanders is a widow. 

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the author explains that Betty Flanders is a widow. The second paragraph names her as the widow of Seabrook Flanders by talking about her choices over his tombstone.

Example Question #8 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Sisters" in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window, and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me, "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word “paralysis.” It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word “gnomon” in the Euclid and the word “simony” in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly . . . but there was something queer . . . there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion . . ."

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of those . . . peculiar cases . . . But it's hard to say . . ."

He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My uncle saw me staring and said to me:

"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."

"Who?" said I.

"Father Flynn."

"Is he dead?"

"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."

I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.

"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."

"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.

What effect has the third stroke had on the dying man described in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

It has blinded him.

It has resulted in him being partially or completely unable to move.

It has made him unable to keep food down without being sick.

It has made him deaf.

It has given him amnesia.

Correct answer:

It has resulted in him being partially or completely unable to move.

Explanation:

We can infer that the dying man is paralyzed because of the narrator's discussion of paralysis at the end of the first paragraph. Since paralysis is defined as the condition in which one is partially or completely unable to move, "It has resulted in him being partially or completely unable to move" is the correct answer. None of the other answer choices are mentioned in the passage.

Example Question #5 : Content Of Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from a book by Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton) (1909)

In this excerpt from an autobiographical essay, the author describes her experiences as growing up in Victorian England.

When I look back over the years I see myself, a little child of scarcely four years of age, walking in front of my nurse, in a green English lane, and listening to her tell another of her kind that my mother is Chinese. “Oh Lord!” exclaims the informed. She turns around and scans me curiously from head to foot. Then the two women whisper together. Though the word “Chinese” conveys very little meaning to my mind, I feel that they are talking about my father and mother and my heart swells with indignation. When we reach home I rush to my mother and try to tell her what I have heard. I am a young child. I fail to make myself intelligible. My mother does not understand, and when the nurse declares to her, “Little Miss Sui is a story-teller,” my mother slaps me. 

Many a long year has passed over my head since that day—the day on which I first learned I was something different and apart from other children, but though my mother has forgotten it, I have not. I see myself again, a few years older. I am playing with another child in a garden. A girl passes by outside the gate. “Mamie,” she cries to my companion. “I wouldn’t speak to Sui if I were you. Her mamma is Chinese.”

“I don’t care,” answers the little one beside me. And then to me, “Even if your mamma is Chinese, I like you better than I like Annie.”

“But I don’t like you,” I answer, turning my back on her. It is my first conscious lie.

I am at a children’s party, given by the wife of an Indian officer whose children were schoolfellows of mine. I am only six years of age, but have attended a private school for over a year, and have already learned that China is a heathen country, being civilized by England. However, for the time being, I am a merry romping child. There are quite a number of grown people present. One, a white-haired old man, has his attention called to me by the hostess. He adjusts his eyeglasses and surveys me critically. “Ah, indeed!” he exclaims. “Who would have thought it at first glance? Yet now I see the difference between her and other children. What a peculiar coloring! Her mother’s eyes and hair and her father’s features, I presume. Very interesting little creature!”

I had been called from play for the purpose of inspection. I do not return to it. For the rest of the evening I hide myself behind a hall door and refuse to show myself until it is time to go home.

The old man's scrutiny of Sui may best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

benevolent

dilatory

demeaning

appraising

impartial

Correct answer:

demeaning

Explanation:

"Dilatory," which means sluggish, makes no sense in this context. Since it's clear he regards Sui more as an object of curiosity than as a person, even refering to her as a "creature," he is certainly not being benevolent, and he is being demeaning. Since his comments show prejudice, he is not "impartial," and since he doesn't attempt to evaluate her worth, he is not "appraising."

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