SAT II Literature : Literary Terminology Describing Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

In paragraph 2, of what literary technique is “sullen murmur” an example?

Possible Answers:

Onomatopoeia

Allusion

Metonymy

Hyperbole

Alliteration

Correct answer:

Onomatopoeia

Explanation:

“Sullen murmur” is an example of onomatopoeia, which is the use of a word that mimics the sound of the thing it is describing (e.g. “pop” or “buzz”). Alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of multiple words (e.g. “two torn tulips”). Allusion is a reference to another literary (or sometimes historical, artistic, etc.) thing, place, or event (e.g. the title of the novel Brave New World alludes to the lines “O brave new world, / That has such people in ‘t!” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest). Hyperbole is the use of extreme exaggeration (e.g. “this suitcase weighs a ton”). Metonymy is the substitution of one word for another word that’s commonly associated with it (e.g. using “throne” to discuss a monarchy).

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

Example Question #2 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

In paragraph 2, of what literary technique is the phrase “and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted” an example?

Possible Answers:

Query

Assonance

Simile

Polysyndeton

Alliteration

Correct answer:

Alliteration

Explanation:

This is a standard example of alliteration, the repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of multiple words (e.g. “two torn tulips”). Assonance, which also involves the repetition of similar sounds, is the specific repetition of vowel sounds (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe’s “the mellow wedding bells”). A query is another word for a question and is not a particular literary technique. A simile is a comparison using “like” or “as” (e.g. “the still pond is like a looking glass”). Polysyndeton is the excessive use of conjunctions (e.g. “I went and I picked up the paper and I read it over and finally I crumpled it up”).

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

Example Question #3 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

In paragraph 3, the sentence “The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ” is an example of all but which of the following literary techniques?

Possible Answers:

Pun

Simile

Imagery

None of these

Assonance 

Correct answer:

Pun

Explanation:

A pun is a play on words, and this sentence does not contain any wordplay. It does, however, contain imagery, which is language that calls upon vivid sensory descriptions (e.g. Gerard Manley Hopkins “a candycoloured… a gluegold-brown / Marbled river, boisterously beautiful”). It also contains assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe’s “the mellow wedding bells”). It contains a simile as well: a comparison using “like” or “as” (e.g. “the still pond is like a looking glass”).

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

Example Question #4 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

In paragraph 3, of what literary technique is “those pallid jade-faced painters of Tokio” an example?

Possible Answers:

Sarcasm

Allusion

Mythology

Alliteration

Onomatopoeia

Correct answer:

Allusion

Explanation:

The vivid description in question is an example of allusion to another culture’s artists. Mythology refers to a culture’s collection of sacred or important myths or archetypal stories (e.g. stories about Zeus and Hera are part of Greek mythology). Alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of multiple words (e.g. “cool calico cats”). Sarcasm is verbal irony and is often cutting or satirical. Onomatopoeia is the use of a word that mimics the sound of the thing it is describing (e.g. “pop” or “buzz”).

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

Example Question #5 : Literary Terminology Describing Prose

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Of what is the first sentence of this passage an example?

Possible Answers:

Metaphor 

Unreliable narration

Paradox

Apostrophe

Oxymoron

Correct answer:

Apostrophe

Explanation:

Apostrophe is the use of direct address to the reader, often in the form of a command or an entreaty. A paradox is a contradictory statement, something that seems impossible (e.g. Odysseus’ “I am no man” in The Odyssey). Similarly, an oxymoron is a simple contradictory term (e.g. “ice water”). Metaphor is a comparison that does not employ “like” or “as” (e.g. “the queen is a ferocious lion”).

Passage adapted from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851).

Example Question #6 : Literary Terminology Describing Prose

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Of what is the phrase “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul” a subtle example?

Possible Answers:

Allusion

Astonishment

Ethos

Synecdoche

Alliteration

Correct answer:

Alliteration

Explanation:

While the narrator’s name is a Biblical allusion, the sentence in question does not contain overt allusion. The phrase in question is an example of alliteration, which is the repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of multiple words (e.g. “two torn tulips”). Allusion, on the other hand, is a reference to another literary (or sometimes historical, artistic, etc.) thing, place, or event (e.g. the title of the novel Brave New World alludes to the lines “O brave new world, / That has such people in ‘t!” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest).

Passage adapted from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851).

Example Question #7 : Literary Terminology Describing Prose

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Of what is the following sentence (paragraph 1) an example? “With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

Possible Answers:

Oxymoron

Personification

Allusion

Verisimilitude

Equanimity

Correct answer:

Allusion

Explanation:

Cato is a Roman statesman, so the reference to him in this passage is an example of allusion. Oxymoron is a simple contradictory term (e.g. “ice water”). Verisimilitude is the appearance of reality or truth (without necessarily being actually real or true). Personification is the application of human traits or actions to non-human things (e.g. “the brook babbled”). Equanimity means calmness and composure and is not a specific literary term.

Passage adapted from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851).

Example Question #8 : Literary Terminology Describing Prose

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Of what is the phrase “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off” an example?

Possible Answers:

Anecdote

Brevity

Hyperbole

Assonance

Consonance

Correct answer:

Hyperbole

Explanation:

Hyperbole is the use of extreme exaggeration (e.g. “this suitcase weighs a ton”), and it’s the technique used here. The narrator in question is probably not actually knocking the hats off the heads of strangers in the street; he’s merely using the phrase to describe his general frustration and churlishness. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds (e.g. “a bitter debtor”), while assonance is the repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of multiple words (e.g. “two torn tulips”). An anecdote is a short, often humorous story. Brevity is the use of a concise, terse style. While Melville is known for many things, brevity is certainly not one of them.

Passage adapted from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851).

Example Question #9 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

Which literary technique does the first paragraph display?

Possible Answers:

Asyndeton

Hyperbole

Motif

Cliché 

Aphorism

Correct answer:

Asyndeton

Explanation:

Asyndeton is the lack of conjunction words (e.g. “I came, I saw, I conquered”), and it’s the technique exhibited in this memorable, lengthy first sentence. An aphorism is a pithy saying or adage (e.g. “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”). A cliché is a phrase that’s become trite or worn out from overuse (e.g. “fast as lightning”). Hyperbole is the use of extreme exaggeration (e.g. “this suitcase weighs a ton”). Motif is the recurring use of an image, idea, or subject in a work of literature (e.g. weaving and silk production in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex (2002)).

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

Example Question #10 : Literary Terminology Describing 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.

Of what literary device is “loaves and fishes” an example (paragraph 2)?

Possible Answers:

Allusion

Chiasmus

Quandary

Interrogative voice

Juxtaposition

Correct answer:

Allusion

Explanation:

Allusion is a reference to another literary (or sometimes historical, artistic, etc.) thing, place, or event (e.g. the title of the novel Brave New World alludes to the lines “O brave new world, / That has such people in ‘t!” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest), and this phrase is a reference to the Biblical miracle of the multiplication of fishes and loaves. A juxtaposition is a contrast between two things (often an unexpected and rewarding one). A quandary is a dilemma and is not a particular literary device, while interrogative voice is the use of questions. Chiasmus is the use of a crisscross or reverse structure in a sentence or paragraph (e.g. Coleridge’s “Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike”).

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

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