SAT II Literature : Structure and Form: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #33 : Passage Meaning And Construction

Passage adapted from Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau (1865) 

Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans, and the rest, are the names of wharves projecting into the sea (surrounded by the shops and dwellings of the merchants), good places to take in and to discharge a cargo (to land the products of other climes and load the exports of our own). I see a great many barrels and fig-drums, piles of wood for umbrella-sticks, blocks of granite and ice, great heaps of goods, and the means of packing and conveying them, much wrapping-paper and twine, many crates and hogsheads and trucks, and that is Boston. The more barrels, the more Boston. The museums and scientific societies and libraries are accidental. They gather around the sands to save carting. The wharf-rats and customhouse officers, and broken-down poets, seeking a fortune amid the barrels. Their better or worse lyceums, and preachings, and doctorings, these, too, are accidental, and the malls of commons are always small potatoes....

When we reached Boston that October, I had a gill of Provincetown sand in my shoes, and at Concord there was still enough left to sand my pages for many a day; and I seemed to hear the sea roar, as if I lived in a shell, for a week afterward.

The places which I have described may seem strange and remote to my townsmen, indeed, from Boston to Provincetown is twice as far as from England to France; yet step into the cars, and in six hours you may stand on those four planks, and see the Cape which Gosnold is said to have discovered, and which I have so poorly described. If you had started when I first advised you, you might have seen our tracks in the sand, still fresh, and reaching all the way from the Nauset Lights to Race Point, some thirty miles, for at every step we made an impression on the Cape, though we were not aware of it, and though our account may have made no impression on your minds. But what is our account? In it there is no roar, no beach-birds, no tow-cloth.

Which of the following best describes the author's rhetorical strategy in the underlined section?

Possible Answers:

He implies that the written word is inadequate to describe Provincetown

He implies that Provincetown does not make a lasting impression

He plays upon the reader's prejudice against Boston

He implies that Provincetown is impossible to understand

He implies that the best way to experience Provincetown is through the written word

Correct answer:

He implies that the written word is inadequate to describe Provincetown


This question asks you to analyze the rhetorical devices the author uses to express his argument. When the author states "But what is our account? In it there is no roar, no beach-birds, no tow-cloth" he is questioning the effectiveness of any written description of Provincetown. Although he has described these factors in an attempt to give the reader an impression of the town, he suggests that simply reading about it is not the same as being there since the reader will not truly experience the sounds and sights.

Example Question #15 : Comparisons And Contrasts

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.

What two things are being contrasted in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

Questioning and perplexity

Certainty and self-doubt

Joy and pain

Bravery and fear

Bravery and cowardice

Correct answer:

Certainty and self-doubt


Though the question of bravery and cowardice factor highly in the self-consideration expressed in this selection, they are not the primary contrast. Instead, the two things being contrasted are (1) the character's former certainty about himself and (2) his new-found awareness that—in war, at least—he knew little about himself.

Example Question #1 : Structure And Form: Prose

All that day the heat was terrible. The wind blew close to the ground; it rooted among the tussock grass, slithered along the road, so that the white pumice dust swirled in our faces, settled and sifted over us and was like a dry-skin itching for growth on our bodies. The  horses stumbled along, coughing and chuffing. The pack horse was sick -- with a big open sore rubbed under the belly. Now and again she stopped short, threw back her head, looked at us as though she were going to cry, and whinnied. Hundreds of larks shrilled; the sky was slate colour, and the sound of the larks reminded me of slate pencils scraping over its surface. There was nothing to be seen but wave after wave of tussock grass, patched with purple orchids and manuka bushes covered with thick spider webs.

Jo rode ahead. He wore a blue galatea shirt, corduroy trousers and riding boots. A white handkerchief, spotted with red -- it looked as though his nose had been bleeding on it -- was knotted round his throat. Wisps of white hair straggled from under his wideawake -- his moustache and eyebrows were called white -- he slouched in the saddle, grunting. Not once that day had he sung "I don't care, for don't you see, My wife' mother was in front  of me!... ” It was the first day we had been without it for a month, and now there seemed something uncanny in his silence. Hin rode beside me, white as a clown; his black eyes glittered, and he kept shooting out his tongue and moistening his lips. He was dressed in a Jaeger vest, and a pair of blue duck trousers, fastened round the waist with a plaited leather belt. We had hardly spoken since dawn. At noon we had lunched off fly biscuits and apricots by the side of a swampy creek.  


There is a shift between the first and second paragraph from __________________.

Possible Answers:

Metaphorical to literal descriptions 

One character's point-of-view to another character's point-of-view

A description of setting to a description of characters

A negative tone to a positive tone 

Third-person narration to first-person narration 

Correct answer:

A description of setting to a description of characters


The first paragraph deals primarily with setting. We don't learn any details about the characters until the second paragraph, in which the narrator switches focus from describing her surroundings to describing the people she is with. There is no indication that the narrator has changed between the two paragraphs and both paragraphs are narrated in first-person. Both paragraphs contain mostly literal, rather than metaphorical, descriptions and there is no significant shift in tone.

Passage adapted from Katherine Mansfield's "The Woman at the Store" (1912)

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