SAT II Literature : Figurative Language: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Prose

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddlebags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame-like as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid jade-faced painters of Tokio who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement, and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.

Based on context, what do the “dusty gilt horns” belong to (paragraph 2)?

Possible Answers:

An insect

A plant

A painter

A crown

An artist’s subject

Correct answer:

A plant

Explanation:

By reading closely, you can see that “woodbine,” to which the “dusty gilt horns” belong, is something outside in the garden that bees circle. A good conjecture will lead you to surmise that this woodbine is a type of plant.

Passage adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Prose

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled forever.

Based on context, what does the narrator mean by “things in general were settled forever” (paragraph 2)?

Possible Answers:

The subjects’ socioeconomic fates have already been preordained

France and England had compromised and settled for unfavorable outcomes in order to maintain the general peace

The characters had generally grown complacent and stuck in place

All arguments between England and France had finally been put to rest 

The lands in France and England had already been claimed and conquered 

Correct answer:

The subjects’ socioeconomic fates have already been preordained

Explanation:

Recognizing that this passage comes from the famous opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities may have helped you with this question. The implication here is that the monarchs and lords believe that matters of socioeconomic class have already been preordained and decided and that nothing will change the current system.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Example Question #3 : Figurative Language: Prose

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled forever.

Based on context, who might the narrator mean by “some of its noisiest authorities”?

Possible Answers:

The most vocal police officers

Self-proclaimed experts on current events

The most vociferous members of government

The Church of England

The King of France

Correct answer:

Self-proclaimed experts on current events

Explanation:

This reference is not made to anyone specific; rather, it generally refers to loudmouths and self-proclaimed experts, the type of people who consider themselves authorities on the present time. You can eliminate the other choices based on their specificity. There is nothing in the passage to indicate that the narrator was focused on an individual country or occupation when he made the statement in question.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Example Question #2 : Figurative Language: Prose

And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh against poetry, may justly be objected that they go very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will they now play the hedgehog, that, being received into the den, drave out his host? Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents?

Let learned Greece in any of her manifold sciences be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named, who, having been the first of that country that made pens deliver of their knowledge to their posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority—although in itself antiquity be venerable—but went before them, as causes to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts,—indeed stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Livius Andronicus and Ennius; so in the Italian language the first that made it aspire to be a treasure-house of science were the poets Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower and Chaucer, after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent fore-going, others have followed to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as in other arts.  

(1595)

In the metaphor of the vipers in paragraph 1, the vipers' "parents" are compared to __________________.

Possible Answers:

poetry

the Greeks

the author

the hedgehogs

the people who criticize poetry

Correct answer:

poetry

Explanation:

The author argues that, because poetry enriches a culture and indeed even makes it possible for a culture to be formed, people who criticize poetry ungratefully attack something that in fact is responsible for many good things in their lives. As a way of illustrating this, at the end of the first paragraph the author compares the people who criticize poetry to vipers, who ungratefully kill their parents. The parents, then, stand for poetry, which certain people attack even though it nurtures them and the world they live in.

Passage adapted from The Defense of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney (1595).

Example Question #3 : Figurative Language: Prose

After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between man and man, or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial. I have turned over various books written on the subject of education, and patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of schools; but what has been the result?—a profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore; and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity.—One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than wives; and the understanding of the sex has been so bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.

(1792)

The ailing and untended flowers are presented as a metaphor for ________________.

Possible Answers:

women's physical strength

women's minds

women's beauty

women's manners

books written by women

Correct answer:

women's minds

Explanation:

The unhealthy flowers are presented as a metaphor, specifically, for women's minds. Women's beauty and manners are mentioned, but the author observes that these are well-cultivated. The intellectual life of women in the time when this passage was written, however, is precisely what the author believes is being neglected and left to decay.

Passage adapted from Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

Example Question #4 : Figurative Language: Prose

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

“Who dah?”

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

What does “with the quality” (paragraph 3) likely mean?

Possible Answers:

Behaving in highly ethical ways

Abiding by the widow’s rules

Dressed in elegant clothing

In the company of the police

In the company of high-class people

Correct answer:

In the company of high-class people

Explanation:

This question requires close reading and good inference skills. The line in question is an example of anthimeria, the use of one part of speech (here, the adjective “quality”) in place of another part of speech (a noun). In other words, the author is substituting “quality” to mean “a thing or person of high quality.” There is only one choice that fits this substitution and that makes sense in the context of not being able to itch oneself.

Passage adapted from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Example Question #5 : Figurative Language: Prose

One Saturday evening, at a time when he had not yet gone into housekeeping with Mademoiselle Mimi, who will shortly make her appearance, Rodolphe made the acquaintance at the table he frequented of a ladies' wardrobe keeper, named Mademoiselle Laure. Having learned that he was editor of "The Scarf of Iris" and of "The Beaver," two fashion papers, the milliner, in hope of getting her goods puffed, commenced a series of significant provocations. To these provocations Rodolphe replied by a pyrotechnical display of madrigals, sufficient to make Benserade, Voiture, and all other dealers in the fireworks of gallantry jealous; and at the end of the dinner, Mademoiselle Laure, having learned that he was a poet, gave him clearly to understand that she was not indisposed to accept him as her Petrarch. She even, without circumlocution, made an appointment with him for the next day.

Based on context, what does “getting her goods puffed” (sentence 2) mean?

Possible Answers:

Selling her clothing in a major boutique

Having her clothing improved by more stylish designers

Having all her clothing bought out

None of these choices

Having her clothing promoted in writing

Correct answer:

Having her clothing promoted in writing

Explanation:

We read that the milliner hopes for this occurrence after she learns that her dinner companion is an editor of a fashion magazine. It stands to reason that an editor could promote the milliner’s clothes in writing; all the other options don’t fit with Rodolphe’s career. (Think also of the phrase “puff piece” to describe a glowing, uncritical description of something in a newspaper.)

Passage adapted from Henry Murger’s Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (1888).

Example Question #3 : Figurative Language: Prose

One Saturday evening, at a time when he had not yet gone into housekeeping with Mademoiselle Mimi, who will shortly make her appearance, Rodolphe made the acquaintance at the table he frequented of a ladies' wardrobe keeper, named Mademoiselle Laure. Having learned that he was editor of "The Scarf of Iris" and of "The Beaver," two fashion papers, the milliner, in hope of getting her goods puffed, commenced a series of significant provocations. To these provocations Rodolphe replied by a pyrotechnical display of madrigals, sufficient to make Benserade, Voiture, and all other dealers in the fireworks of gallantry jealous; and at the end of the dinner, Mademoiselle Laure, having learned that he was a poet, gave him clearly to understand that she was not indisposed to accept him as her Petrarch. She even, without circumlocution, made an appointment with him for the next day.

Based on context, what does “fireworks of gallantry” (sentence 3) mean?

Possible Answers:

Expensive gifts for a beloved

Illicit rendezvous

Dazzling assignations

Literary declarations of passion

Dangerous affairs

Correct answer:

Literary declarations of passion

Explanation:

The passage describes “a pyrotechnical display of madrigals”: a stunning array of old-fashioned love poetry. These madrigals are enough to make other suitors, “dealers in the fireworks of gallantry,” jealous, so we can infer that these fireworks themselves are the lyric declarations of ardor. All the other choices, while related to passion and courtship, lack textual support.

Passage adapted from Henry Murger’s Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (1888).

Example Question #7 : Figurative Language: Prose

(1) We had taken up an oil-stove once, but “never again.” (2) It had been like living in an oil-shop that week. (3) It oozed. (4) I never saw such a thing as paraffin oil is to ooze. (5) We kept it in the nose of the boat, and, from there, it oozed down to the rudder, impregnating the whole boat and everything in it on its way, and it oozed over the river, and saturated the scenery and spoilt the atmosphere. (6) Sometimes a westerly oily wind blew, and at other times an easterly oily wind, and sometimes it blew a northerly oily wind, and maybe a southerly oily wind; but whether it came from the Arctic snows, or was raised in the waste of the desert sands, it came alike to us laden with the fragrance of paraffin oil.

(7) And that oil oozed up and ruined the sunset; and as for the moonbeams, they positively reeked of paraffin.

In sentence 5, what is meant by “impregnating”?

Possible Answers:

Multiplying

Attending to

Contaminating

Thrusting

Lubricating

Correct answer:

Contaminating

Explanation:

In sentence 5, the speaker is describing paraffin oil’s tendency to get into and contaminate everything near it: “We kept it in the nose of the boat, and, from there, it oozed down to the rudder, impregnating the whole boat and everything in it on its way.” While impregnate is usually a verb used for humans or animals, it can also describe the process of something contaminating, infiltrating, or penetrating an inanimate object.

Passage adapted from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889).

Example Question #8 : Figurative Language: Prose

From the dim woods on either bank, Night’s ghostly army, the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless, unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the sighing rushes; and Night, upon her sombre throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.

Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten. Then the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and secrets, sings low the old child’s song that it has sung so many thousand years...

Harris said: “How about when it rained?”

You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris—no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never “weeps, he knows not why.” If Harris’s eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.

What is meant by “There is no poetry about Harris” (paragraph 4)?

Possible Answers:

Harris does not appreciate poetic idealization 

Harris will never become a poet

Harris is nearly illiterate

Harris is never seen carrying frivolous books

Harris is destitute

Correct answer:

Harris does not appreciate poetic idealization 

Explanation:

We see the line in question appearing after Harris has just put a damper on the speaker’s enthusiastic descriptions of sleeping outdoors (Harris said: “How about when it rained?”). Thus, the line “There is no poetry about Harris” refers to Harris’s inability to see the romantic or poetic side of sleeping outdoors. In other words, Harris is a practical thinker who does not idealize.

Passage adapted from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889).

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