PSAT Critical Reading : Context-Dependent Meaning of Phrases or Sentences in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences 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          A young man, in the dress of an officer, conducted to their steeds two

2 females, who, as it was apparent by their dresses, were prepared to encounter

3 the fatigues of a journey in the woods. One, and she was the most juvenile in her

4 appearance, though both were young, permitted glimpses of her dazzling

5 complexion, fair golden hair, and bright blue eyes to be caught, as she artlessly

6 suffered the morning air to blow aside the green veil which descended low from

7 her beaver. The flush which still lingered above the pines in the western sky was

8 not more bright nor delicate than the bloom on her cheek; nor was the opening

9 day more cheering than the animated smile which she bestowed on the youth, as

10 he assisted her into the saddle. The other, who appeared to share equally in the

11 attentions of the young officer, concealed her charms from the gaze of the

12 soldiery, with a care that seemed better fitted to the experience of four or five

13 additional years. It could be seen, however, that her person, though molded

14 with the same exquisite proportions, of which none of the graces were lost by

15 the travelling dress she wore, was rather fuller and more mature than that of

16 her companion.

What does the author mean by “their dresses, were prepared to encounter the fatigues of a long journey in the woods” (Line 2–3)?

Possible Answers:

The girls’ dresses are thick and warm for the cold weather.

The girls’ dresses will serve as comfortable beds.

The girls have a positive attitude about their future journey.

The girls are carrying weapons to defend themselves.

Correct answer:

The girls’ dresses are thick and warm for the cold weather.

Explanation:

These lines are referring to the girls’ dresses, not the girls themselves. The author means to say that the dresses are suitable for cold weather in the woods. We can tell the setting is a cold climate because one of the girls is wearing a beaver and suffers from the morning air (Lines 6–7).

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences 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 does the author mean by, “there was an air of neglect about his person” (Lines 8–9)?

Possible Answers:

The native smells foul.

The native does not take good care of his physique.

The native looks disheveled.

The native seems like he could be abusive.

Correct answer:

The native looks disheveled.

Explanation:

This must mean that the person looks disheveled (not put together), as though he had just used “great and recent exertion” (Line 10), probably in a physical sense.

Example Question #7 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

I was now, in the months of November and December, expecting my crop of barley and rice. The ground I had manured and dug up for them was not great; for, as I observed, my seed of each was not above the quantity of half a peck, for I had lost one whole crop by sowing in the dry season. But now my crop promised very well, when on a sudden I found I was in danger of losing it all again by enemies of several sorts, which it was scarcely possible to keep from it; as, first, the goats, and wild creatures which I called hares, who, tasting the sweetness of the blade, lay in it night and day, as soon as it came up, and eat it so close, that it could get no time to shoot up into stalk.

This I saw no remedy for but by making an enclosure about it with a hedge; which I did with a great deal of toil, and the more, because it required speed. However, as my arable land was but small, suited to my crop, I got it totally well fenced in about three weeks’ time; and shooting some of the creatures in the daytime, I set my dog to guard it in the night, tying him up to a stake at the gate, where he would stand and bark all night long; so in a little time the enemies forsook the place, and the corn grew very strong and well, and began to ripen apace.

But as the beasts ruined me before, while my corn was in the blade, so the birds were as likely to ruin me now, when it was in the ear; for, going along by the place to see how it throve, I saw my little crop surrounded with fowls, of I know not how many sorts, who stood, as it were, watching till I should be gone. I immediately let fly among them, for I always had my gun with me. I had no sooner shot, but there rose up a little cloud of fowls, which I had not seen at all, from among the corn itself.

This touched me sensibly, for I foresaw that in a few days they would devour all my hopes; that I should be starved, and never be able to raise a crop at all; and what to do I could not tell; however, I resolved not to lose my corn, if possible, though I should watch it night and day. In the first place, I went among it to see what damage was already done, and found they had spoiled a good deal of it; but that as it was yet too green for them, the loss was not so great but that the remainder was likely to be a good crop if it could be saved.

I stayed by it to load my gun, and then coming away, I could easily see the thieves sitting upon all the trees about me, as if they only waited till I was gone away, and the event proved it to be so; for as I walked off, as if I was gone, I was no sooner out of their sight than they dropped down one by one into the corn again. I was so provoked, that I could not have patience to stay till more came on, knowing that every grain that they ate now was, as it might be said, a peck-loaf to me in the consequence; but coming up to the hedge, I fired again, and killed three of them. This was what I wished for; so I took them up, and served them as we serve notorious thieves in England—hanged them in chains, for a terror to others. It is impossible to imagine that this should have such an effect as it had, for the fowls would not only not come at the corn, but, in short, they forsook all that part of the island, and I could never see a bird near the place as long as my scarecrows hung there. This I was very glad of, you may be sure, and about the latter end of December, which was our second harvest of the year, I reaped my corn.

As it is used in the passage, the phrase “in the ear” underlined in the third paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

rotting

failing

dying

finished growing

ripening

Correct answer:

ripening

Explanation:

We can infer that by "in the ear," the narrator means "ripening," because if cornstalks begin to develop ears of corn, it means they are ripening. Also, in this part of the passage, the birds are now attacking the crops for the new grown seed which the narrator refers to as “green” in the fourth paragraph. Further clues can be found in the parallel structure of the sentences surrounding the expression “in the ear,” in which it the author is using a number of idioms and colloquialisms to describe the ripening.

Example Question #3 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Candide by Voltaire (1918 trans.)

"Grandeur," said Pangloss, "is extremely dangerous according to the testimony of philosophers. For, in short, Eglon, King of Moab, was assassinated by Ehud; Absalom was hung by his hair, and pierced with three darts; King Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was killed by Baasa; King Ela by Zimri; Ahaziah by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the Kings Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity. You know how perished Croesus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Cæsar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II of England, Edward II, Henry VI, Richard III, Mary Stuart, Charles I, the three Henrys of France, the Emperor Henry IV! You know—" 

"I know also," said Candide, "that we must cultivate our garden." 

"You are right," said Pangloss, "for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle." 

"Let us work," said Martin, "without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: "There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde, if you had not been put into the Inquisition, if you had not walked over America, if you had not stabbed the Baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado, you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

To what does the little society mentioned in the underlined sentence refer?

Possible Answers:

The society in which the characters all live

Humanity in the garden of Eden

The province in which this story is taking place

The group of characters in the narrative

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

The group of characters in the narrative

Explanation:

All that we know about this passage is that these people are speaking together about working. Martin proposes that they work "without disputing." While perhaps a greater familiarity with the Voltaire's book might lead you to interpret this differently, all that we can tell is that this small group is setting about to work together in a simple manner. (This is actually the case in the context of the text as a whole as well.)

Example Question #422 : Prose Fiction

Passage adapted from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (1857)

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

In the same moment with his advent, he stepped aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle, on the point of starting for New Orleans. Stared at, but unsaluted, with the air of one neither courting nor shunning regard, but evenly pursuing the path of duty, lead it through solitudes or cities, he held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.

As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Pausing at this spot, the stranger so far succeeded in threading his way, as at last to plant himself just beside the placard, when, producing a small slate and tracing some words upon if, he held it up before him on a level with the placard, so that they who read the one might read the other. The words were these:—

"Charity thinketh no evil.”

When the author uses the phrase “unalloyed gratulation,” underlined in the third paragraph, he means __________.

Possible Answers:

absolute frustration

careful cataloguing

unreserved celebration

untested ideas

suspicious concern

Correct answer:

unreserved celebration

Explanation:

The author uses the phrase “unalloyed gratulation” in the following sentence:

“another peddler . . . hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.”

So, what’s going on in this sentence? The author is discussing how the criminals who are the subjects of the books being hawked to the passengers have all been “exterminated” like wolves, “leaving comparatively few successors.” He then says that this “would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation.” Which of the answer choices would make sense as a response by the general public to criminals being captured and killed? “Ideas,” “frustration,” and “concern” don’t make sense, so we can ignore the answer choices “untested ideas,” “absolute frustration,” and “suspicious concern.” This leaves us with “careful cataloguing” and “unreserved celebration.” At this point, we need to focus on the last part of the sentence, where the author says, “which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.” So, everyone experiences “unalloyed gratulation” except for the people who think that after the wolves are gone, the foxes increase. Given that the wolves have been compared with criminals in the passage, foxes get a negative connotation as a sneaky animal taking the wolves’ place. The people believing the foxes increase seem to not be as happy about the criminals being captured as those experiencing “unalloyed gratulation,” suggesting that “careful cataloguing” is not the answer, and “unreserved celebration” is. After all, whether or not you thought more criminals would spring up, that would have nothing to do with “careful cataloguing,” but believing more criminals would show up would feasibly stop someone from celebrating unreservedly.

Example Question #4 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (1857)

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

In the same moment with his advent, he stepped aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle, on the point of starting for New Orleans. Stared at, but unsaluted, with the air of one neither courting nor shunning regard, but evenly pursuing the path of duty, lead it through solitudes or cities, he held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.

As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Pausing at this spot, the stranger so far succeeded in threading his way, as at last to plant himself just beside the placard, when, producing a small slate and tracing some words upon if, he held it up before him on a level with the placard, so that they who read the one might read the other. The words were these:—

"Charity thinketh no evil.”

Based on the way it is used in the passage, which of the following is the meaning of the underlined phrase “ex-officio” in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

refusing to interact with

related to

in the role of

having once been

as opposed to

Correct answer:

in the role of

Explanation:

“Ex-officio” is likely a phrase that you have never encountered before, but you can figure out what it means by carefully considering the way it is used in the passage’s second paragraph: 

“. . . during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards . . . ”

You can figure out the answer by substituting each answer choice into the sentence where “ex-officio” is used. It doesn’t make sense to say that one man bought a money-belt from another who was “opposed to” a peddler of money-belts, nor does “refusing to interact with” make sense, for the same reason. “Having once been” doesn’t work either, as the man being described is clearly acting as a peddler of money-belts, as he sells one. “Related to” doesn’t add any important information to the sentence, but “in the role of” makes sense: one man purchases a money belt from another, who is acting in the role of a peddler of money-belts.

Example Question #1022 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. 

How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.

In stating in the sixth paragraph that “there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match,” Emma is consoling herself in that __________.

Possible Answers:

Mr. Weston asked Emma for permission to marry Miss Taylor

she didn’t deign to talk to Mr. Weston at all

she discouraged Miss Taylor from accepting Mr. Weston’s offer of marriage

she warned Miss Taylor about Mr. Weston’s sordid past

she approved of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston seeing each other

Correct answer:

she approved of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston seeing each other

Explanation:

We are told that Emma “had always wished and promoted the match” between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston; this tells us that she approved of their seeing each other. Nothing in the passage supports any of the other answer choices; Emma does not dislike Mr. Weston, but goes out of her way to praise his qualities in paragraph six, and nothing suggests he has a sordid past or that Mr. Weston asked Emma for permission to marry Miss Taylor.

Example Question #5 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

When the mole says "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" to the rabbits, this statement is meant to be __________.

Possible Answers:

a demand

a nickname

lyrics to a song

a taunt

a clue to a mystery

Correct answer:

a taunt

Explanation:

Let's look at the context in which the mole says "Onion-sauce!" At this point in the passage, the mole has just ignored the elderly rabbit's demand for him to pay a toll to use the private road. The passage then says, that the mole "trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply." We are told that he says "Onion-sauce!" "jeeringly," or in a taunting way, and we know that the rabbits could not "think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply" in time. Also, he is said to be "chaffing" the rabbits. "Chaffing" means mocking or taunting. Given these context clues, we can safely say that the mole's call of "Onion-sauce!" is a taunt, or an insult, as he says it "tauntingly" and the rabbits cannot think of a reply in time, and one might want to think of a reply to an insult.

Example Question #3 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

What can we infer from the underlined phrase in the first paragraph, “and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin”?

Possible Answers:

D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker.

D'Artagnan cursed his attacker vehemently.

Monsieur de Wardes wanted to help d'Artagnan, but d'Artagnan injured him.

D'Artagnan snuck away before Monsieur de Wardes could demand he keep his end of a promise the two men had made.

D'Artagnan repaid Monsieur de Wardes the money he owed him, but d'Artagnan stole that money.

Correct answer:

D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker.

Explanation:

Interpreting the sentence literally might lead you to select as the correct answer "D'Artagnan repaid Monsieur de Wardes the money he owed him, but d'Artagnan stole that money." However, figurative speech is being used; recognizing this, and considering how the "sword thrust" that injured d'Artagnan is mentioned immediately before the underlined phrase, you can come to the conclusion that "D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker." While the answer choice "Monsieur de Wardes wanted to help d'Artagnan, but d'Artagnan injured him" may look potentially correct because it does involve D'Artagnan injuring Monsieur de Wardes, we can tell that Monsieur de Wardes did not want to help d'Artagnan, because we can infer that he is the one who injured d'Artagnan from the use of the verb "repaid."

Example Question #5 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled — but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

He had a weak point — this Fortunato — although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself upon his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially; — I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

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

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

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

“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!”

“I have my doubts.”

“Amontillado!” 

“And I must satisfy them.”

“Amontillado!”

“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me ——”

“Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”

“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.”

“Come, let us go.”

“Whither?”

“To your vaults.”

"[A wrong] is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." In this line, the narrator indicates that he wants what to happen?

Possible Answers:

He wants Fortunato to know why he is being punished.

He wants to understand how Fortunato feels about having offended him.

He wants to avenge a harm done to Fortunato.

He wants to make Fortunato feel pain.

He wants to make Fortunato apologize.

Correct answer:

He wants Fortunato to know why he is being punished.

Explanation:

In this line, the narrator says that his revenge will not be complete if his reasons for punishing Fortunato (as "the avenger") are not made known to Fortunato. There's no indication in this paragraph that he wants Fortunato to feel pain or to apologize; and he feels the harm he's avenging has been done to him, not to Fortunato.

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