SAT II Literature : Meaning of Specified Text: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #114 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

What is meant by the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

The monster overcame his bias against human beings.

The monster quickly left the premises.

The monster was hesitating to continue to confront his maker.

The monster left because of an incoming storm.

The monster gave up the argument completely.

Correct answer:

The monster quickly left the premises.


Two words in this selection are a little different in their usage in comparison with their ordinary meanings. To "quit" somewhere is to leave that place. To do so with "precipitation" is to do so hastily and suddenly. When precipitation occurs in a solution, certain elements and chemicals "fall out" of solution suddenly, leaving a layer of such "precipitation" at the bottom of their container. (This is likewise the case when such precipitation occurs in the air—i.e. when rain precipitates out of the air.) Thus, we can say that the monster left hastily—as is further described in the remaining portions of the overall selection.

Example Question #136 : Overall Language Or Specific Words, Phrases, Or Sentences

Adapted from Notes from the Underground (1864) in White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1919, trans. Garnett)

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than—"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science . . . and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices—that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula—then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances—can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated—because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will—so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even . . . to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent. . . ."

What is meant by the underlined and bolded expression, “worked out on paper”?

Possible Answers:

Explained in a simple manner

Explained in calculus equations

Explained in an explicit manner

Published in a public forum

Expressed openly in an academic forum

Correct answer:

Explained in an explicit manner


When mathematics is "worked out on paper," it is explained in detail, with all of the steps being written out. Here, the speaker is saying that when all of the details of the theory he is discussing are explained and made explicit, then it will be certain that desires will no longer exist. Therefore, the use of "worked out on paper" is a metaphorical use of the literal kind of working out of a set of equations.

Example Question #1 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

Adapted from "The Convalescent" in Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb (1823)

To be sick is to enjoy monarchal prerogatives. Compare the silent tread, and quiet ministry, almost by the eye only, with which he is served—with the careless demeanor, the unceremonious goings in and out (slapping of doors, or leaving them open) of the very same attendants, when he is getting a little better—and you will confess, that from the bed of sickness (throne let me rather call it) to the elbow chair of convalescence, is a fall from dignity, amounting to a deposition.

How convalescence shrinks a man back to his pristine stature! Where is now the space, which he occupied so lately, in his own, in the family's eye? The scene of his regalities, his sick room, which was his presence chamber, where he lay and acted his despotic fancies—how is it reduced to a common bedroom! The trimness of the very bed has something petty and unmeaning about it. It is made every day. How unlike to that wavy, many-furrowed, oceanic surface, which it presented so short a time since, when to make it was a service not to be thought of at oftener than three or four day revolutions, when the patient was with pain and grief to be lifted for a little while out of it, to submit to the encroachments of unwelcome neatness, and decencies which his shaken frame deprecated; then to be lifted into it again, for another three or four days' respite, to flounder it out of shape again, while every fresh furrow was a historical record of some shifting posture, some uneasy turning, some seeking for a little ease; and the shrunken skin scarce told a truer story than the crumpled coverlid

Hushed are those mysterious sighs—those groans—so much more awful, while we knew not from what caverns of vast hidden suffering they proceeded. The Lernean pangs are quenched. The riddle of sickness is solved; and Philoctetes is become an ordinary personage.

Perhaps some relic of the sick man's dream of greatness survives in the still lingering visitations of the medical attendant. But how is he too changed with everything else! Can this be he--this man of news—of chat—of anecdote—of everything but physic—can this be he, who so lately came between the patient and his cruel enemy, as on some solemn embassy from Nature, erecting herself into a high mediating party? Pshaw! 'Tis some old woman.

Farewell with him all that made sickness pompous—the spell that hushed the household—the desert-like stillness, felt throughout its inmost chambers—the mute attendance—the inquiry by looks—the still softer delicacies of self-attention—the sole and single eye of distemper alonely fixed upon itself—world-thoughts excluded—the man a world unto himself—his own theatre—What a speck is he dwindled into!

In context, which of the following is closest in meaning to the underlined and bolded phrase "pristine stature"?

Possible Answers:

Earlier height

Delusional imagination

Inflated self-importance

Regal power

Realistic self-evaluation

Correct answer:

Realistic self-evaluation


Lamb is talking about how illness creates a bubble of self-absorption, which is "popped" by recovery (or "convalescence"). Recovery shrinks us back to pre-sickness levels of self-importance, in which we are forced to stop thinking solely about ourselves and are no longer the recipient of intense care and respectful attention from others.

Example Question #2 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

Passage adapted from “Reconstruction” by Frederick Douglass (1866)

Without attempting to settle here the metaphysical and somewhat theological question (about which so much has already been said and written), whether once in the Union means always in the Union—agreeably to the formula, “Once in grace always in grace”—it is obvious to common sense that the rebellious States stand today, in point of law, precisely where they stood when, exhausted, beaten, conquered, they fell powerless at the feet of Federal authority. Their State governments were overthrown, and the lives and property of the leaders of the Rebellion were forfeited. In reconstructing the institutions of these shattered and overthrown States, Congress should begin with a clean slate, and make clean work of it.

Let there be no hesitation. It would be a cowardly deference to a defeated and treacherous President, if any account were made of the illegitimate, one-sided, sham governments hurried into existence for a malign purpose in the absence of Congress. These pretended governments, which were never submitted to the people, and from participation in which four millions of the loyal people were excluded by Presidential order, should now be treated according to their true character, as shams and impositions, and supplanted by true and legitimate governments, in the formation of which loyal men, black and white, shall participate.

It is not, however, within the scope of this paper to point out the precise steps to be taken, and the means to be employed. The people are less concerned about these than the grand end to be attained. They demand such a reconstruction as shall put an end to the present anarchical state of things in the late rebellious States—where frightful murders and wholesale massacres are perpetrated in the very presence of Federal soldiers. This horrible business they require shall cease. They want a reconstruction such as will protect loyal men, black and white, in their persons and property; such a one as will cause Northern industry, Northern capital, and Northern civilization to flow into the South, and make a man from New England as much at home in Carolina as elsewhere in the Republic. No Chinese wall can now be tolerated. The South must be opened to the light of law and liberty, and this session of Congress is relied upon to accomplish this important work.

What is meant by the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

The problems of the United States are unique in comparison with those of other nations

The South should find other types of wall building techniques than those used by the Chinese

None of these

The North and the South must not attempt to become two separate cultural areas

The xenophobia of one nation should not be the basis for another nation's immigration policy

Correct answer:

The North and the South must not attempt to become two separate cultural areas


In this particular paragraph, Douglass states that during the process of reconstruction, the South and the North should be open to each other.  Indeed, the ultimate goal is such that even someone from New England (i.e. far north) would be comfortable in the Carolinas (i.e. in the South).  Thus, the reference to the Great Wall of China is intended to say that the US cannot allow for a major separation between the North and the South, blocking the two peoples off from each other.

Example Question #3 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

From The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1875)

After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.

He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greek-like struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed.

The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods that the guns had exploded without their permission. The youth, on guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.

"Yank," the other had informed him, "yer a right dum good feller." This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him temporarily regret war.

Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent powders. "They'll charge through hell's fire an' brimstone t' git a holt on a haversack, an' sech stomachs ain't a'lastin' long," he was told. From the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.

Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran's tales, for recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies. They persistently yelled "Fresh fish!" at him, and were in no wise to be trusted.

However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.

Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.

A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give serious attention to it.

In the underlined selection, what is meant by the expression "recruits were their prey"?

Possible Answers:

Veterans could use the naivety of recruits to their advantage.

Veterans could demand the respect of recruits without expressing any kindness for them.

Veterans could torture recruits quickly upon their entry.

Veterans would potentially have to use recruits for food during the hard times of war.

Veterans almost always found recruits to be nuisances in the midst of training exercises.

Correct answer:

Veterans could use the naivety of recruits to their advantage.


In the selection, it is intimated that the veterans might be purveying lies to the recruits. They talk of smoke, fire, and blood (and presumably other things as well). However, who knows if these tales are mere lies meant to impress the young recruits? Therefore, to say that the recruits are "prey" is to intimate that they are left at the mercy of the veterans in this regard—namely as regard the telling of tales. Thus, it would seem that the veterans use the naivety of the recruits to their advantage in tale-telling.


Example Question #4 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

1 Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

2 A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. 3 Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. 4 Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. 5 The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. 6 These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

… 7 The churches were the freest from [the stare]. 8 To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches—dreamily dotted with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging—was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. 9 So, with people lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant church bells and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day.

In sentence 9, to what does “a fact” refer?

Possible Answers:

The noise of Marseilles

The life of the dogs (and more generally the animals) of Marseilles

The brutal heat in Marseilles

Marseilles’ existence

The citizens of Marseilles

Correct answer:

Marseilles’ existence


Although this sentence is constructed strangely, we can use process of elimination and the phrase “to be strongly smelt and tasted” to rule out the other choices. The noisy church bells and “rattling of vicious drums” wouldn’t smell strongly, and neither would the heat itself, so those choices don’t make sense. The people and dogs of Marseilles, while likely to be smelly in the heat, would not be the only things that smell strongly, so those choices are too narrow.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857)

Example Question #5 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. 2. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of the Indian Summer.  3. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. 4. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. 5. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. 6. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. 7. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. 8. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. 9. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. 10. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. 11. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us. 12. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. 13. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. 14. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. 15. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. 16. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. 17. How easily we might walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.

“The knapsack of custom” (sentence 7) is a metaphor for ________________.

Possible Answers:

onerous duties

unwarranted assumptions

the burden of unjust accusations

artificial politeness

habitual civilized ways of thinking

Correct answer:

habitual civilized ways of thinking


The author is describing the experience of walking into nature and discovering that his habitual civilized ways of thinking are irrelevant there. The man "is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish." That is, the values and perspectives of a human being in society must be abandoned before he can commune with the natural world.

"Artificial politeness," "onerous duties," and "unwarranted assumptions" may each be a small part of what the man must leave behind, but the author does not actually say this. There is nothing in the passage about unjust accusations.

Passage adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essay VI, Nature" (1836)

Example Question #6 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,—or from one of our elder poets,—in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper. She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. Nevertheless, Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers—anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter. Then there was well-bred economy, which in those days made show in dress the first item to be deducted from, when any margin was required for expenses more distinctive of rank. Such reasons would have been enough to account for plain dress, quite apart from religious feeling; but in Miss Brooke's case, religion alone would have determined it; and Celia mildly acquiesced in all her sister's sentiments, only infusing them with that common-sense which is able to accept momentous doctrines without any eccentric agitation. Dorothea knew many passages of Pascal's Pensees and of Jeremy Taylor by heart; and to her the destinies of mankind, seen by the light of Christianity, made the solicitudes of feminine fashion appear an occupation for Bedlam. She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world which might frankly include the parish of Tipton and her own rule of conduct there; she was enamoured of intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it. Certainly such elements in the character of a marriageable girl tended to interfere with her lot, and hinder it from being decided according to custom, by good looks, vanity, and merely canine affection. With all this, she, the elder of the sisters, was not yet twenty, and they had both been educated, since they were about twelve years old and had lost their parents, on plans at once narrow and promiscuous, first in an English family and afterwards in a Swiss family at Lausanne, their bachelor uncle and guardian trying in this way to remedy the disadvantages of their orphaned condition.


In the context, what does “you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers” mean? 

Possible Answers:

None of these 

The sisters can’t accurately trace their family tree. 

The sisters have not learned any hands-on skills.

The sisters have not inherited a profitable family business.

The sisters are not descended from laborers.

Correct answer:

The sisters are not descended from laborers.


"Yard-measuring and parcel tying" are being used here as generic examples of labor, in contrast with higher class jobs such as admiral and clergyman cited later in the passage. 

Passage adapted from Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871) 

Example Question #7 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

Passage adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

'If you will thank me,' he replied, 'let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.'

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, 'you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.'

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

In this passage, the phrase "trifle with" most nearly means _________________.

Possible Answers:


lie to

toy with

a small amount

an insignificant thing

Correct answer:

toy with


Darcy is asking Elizabeth to answer his proposal directly and honestly. He asks her not to trifle with him after she fails to respond immediately to his previous statements. He doesn't want her to lead him on, or torture him with ambiguity. But, his use of the word trifle implies an attempt on his part to lighten his statement, so "torment" is incorrect. The best answer here is "toy with."

Example Question #8 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Prose

Passage adapted from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) 

"Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies, and so are signs ; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives ; asserting, notwithstanding, their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin), whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of nature with man."

The first sentence of the passage suggests which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Signs are stranger than both presentiments and sympathies

Sympathies are stranger than both presentiments and signs

Presentiments, sympathies and signs are of the same kind

Presentiments, sympathies and signs are not of the same kind

Presentiments are stranger than both sympathies and signs

Correct answer:

Presentiments, sympathies and signs are of the same kind


The answer is that "presentiments, sympathies and signs are of the same kind." It is important here to respond directly to what the question is asking, i.e. what does the first sentence and only the first sentence suggest. Analyzing the phrase "presentiments are strange things, and so are sympathies and so are signs" sets the three up to be of the same kind. However, if you were to read into the rest of the passage where comparisons between the three are made, you might be moved to choose a different answer. Be careful!

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