SAT II Literature : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Describing Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

"Well, then," said he, "this is the berth for me. Here you, matey," he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; "bring up alongside and help up my chest. I'll stay here a bit," he continued. "I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at—there"; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. "You can tell me when I've worked through that," says he, looking as fierce as a commander.

And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skipper accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.

Based on context, what is the “Royal George” (paragraph 2)?

Possible Answers:

An inn or tavern

None of these other choices

A private stagecoach company

A ship

A town

Correct answer:

An inn or tavern

Explanation:

Beyond just the sound of its name, there are several clues to hint that the Royal George is a place where the captain lodged. We see in the same sentence that he arrived “at” this place the previous day, so that preposition eliminates “town.” We also know that the captain is looking for an inn to stay in and that he’s paid in advance for his lodging, so it doesn’t make sense that he’d be arriving at a ship to set sail. We also know that the mail coach and not a private stagecoach delivered him to his destination, so that leaves us with an inn or tavern.

Passage adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, 1883.

Example Question #2 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

1 “In the right coat-pocket of the great man-mountain” (for so I interpret the words quinbus flestrin,) “after the strictest search, we found only one great piece of coarse-cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth for your majesty’s chief room of state. 2 In the left pocket we saw a huge silver chest, with a cover of the same metal, which we, the searchers, were not able to lift. 3 We desired it should be opened, and one of us stepping into it, found himself up to the mid leg in a sort of dust, some part whereof flying up to our faces set us both a sneezing for several times together… 4 In the large pocket, on the right side of his middle cover” (so I translate the word ranfulo, by which they meant my breeches,) “we saw a hollow pillar of iron, about the length of a man, fastened to a strong piece of timber larger than the pillar; and upon one side of the pillar, were huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures, which we know not what to make of. 5 In the smaller pocket on the right side, were several round flat pieces of white and red metal, of different bulk; some of the white, which seemed to be silver, were so large and heavy, that my comrade and I could hardly lift them.”

Based on context, what object is being described in sentences 2 and 3?

Possible Answers:

A saltshaker

A snuffbox

A casket

An incense holder

An urn

Correct answer:

A snuffbox

Explanation:

If we read carefully, we can see that the object consists of a “silver chest” (sentence 2) containing “a sort of dust” (sentence 3) that “set us both a sneezing for several times together” (sentence 3). You might not think of a snuffbox immediately, but it’s the only choice among these answers that fits the description. A snuffbox was a small, often ornamental, container in which gentlemen kept powdered tobacco to sniff.

Passage adapted from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, 1892.

Example Question #3 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

1 “In the right coat-pocket of the great man-mountain” (for so I interpret the words quinbus flestrin,) “after the strictest search, we found only one great piece of coarse-cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth for your majesty’s chief room of state. 2 In the left pocket we saw a huge silver chest, with a cover of the same metal, which we, the searchers, were not able to lift. 3 We desired it should be opened, and one of us stepping into it, found himself up to the mid leg in a sort of dust, some part whereof flying up to our faces set us both a sneezing for several times together… 4 In the large pocket, on the right side of his middle cover” (so I translate the word ranfulo, by which they meant my breeches,) “we saw a hollow pillar of iron, about the length of a man, fastened to a strong piece of timber larger than the pillar; and upon one side of the pillar, were huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures, which we know not what to make of. 5 In the smaller pocket on the right side, were several round flat pieces of white and red metal, of different bulk; some of the white, which seemed to be silver, were so large and heavy, that my comrade and I could hardly lift them.”

Based on context, what object is being described in sentence 4?

Possible Answers:

A whistle

A compass

A barrel organ

A comb

A key

Correct answer:

A key

Explanation:

Based on sentence 4, we can see that the object consists of “a hollow pillar of iron” that is “fastened to a strong piece of timber larger than the pillar” and that has, on one side, “huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures.” The hollowness of the object and its attachment to the piece of wood may throw you off, but consider an old-fashioned door key with a wooden keychain.

Passage adapted from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, 1892.

Example Question #4 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

1 “In the right coat-pocket of the great man-mountain” (for so I interpret the words quinbus flestrin,) “after the strictest search, we found only one great piece of coarse-cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth for your majesty’s chief room of state. 2 In the left pocket we saw a huge silver chest, with a cover of the same metal, which we, the searchers, were not able to lift. 3 We desired it should be opened, and one of us stepping into it, found himself up to the mid leg in a sort of dust, some part whereof flying up to our faces set us both a sneezing for several times together… 4 In the large pocket, on the right side of his middle cover” (so I translate the word ranfulo, by which they meant my breeches,) “we saw a hollow pillar of iron, about the length of a man, fastened to a strong piece of timber larger than the pillar; and upon one side of the pillar, were huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures, which we know not what to make of. 5 In the smaller pocket on the right side, were several round flat pieces of white and red metal, of different bulk; some of the white, which seemed to be silver, were so large and heavy, that my comrade and I could hardly lift them.”

Based on context, what object is being described in sentence 5?

Possible Answers:

Buttons

Hubcaps

Plates

Scrap metal

Coins

Correct answer:

Coins

Explanation:

We know that the objects are found in the giant’s pockets, so we can immediately eliminate plates and hubcaps. We know also that the objects consist of “several round flat pieces of white and red metal, of different bulk” and that some “seemed to be silver.” The only sensible guess for these metal discs is coins.

Passage adapted from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, 1892.

Example Question #4 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing 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.

Which of the following might the monster have said to summarize the remarks made in the underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

My power is at a new height, and you are the source of that strength.

I may owe you a debt, but you will someday see that I am independent.

You thought you were quite intelligent, but I have now finally managed to outwit you.

Your control over me is ended.

You will not see the light of day, pitiful fool.

Correct answer:

Your control over me is ended.

Explanation:

This whole paragraph hinges on the ironic circumstances of the role reversal between Dr. Frankenstein and the monster. The scientist created the monster, but after the passage of time, the latter has become independent and able to exact revenge upon his creator. Thus, the best option is the one that states that it is the monster who is now in control.

Example Question #5 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing 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!

The overall point of this passage is to discuss which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Sickness is actually quite enjoyable because one is treated like a king

Convalescence is worse than illness because people cease giving respect

Doctors only give real care and respect to patients who are acutely ill

Under the deliriousness of illness, the sick man believes he is a king

Convalescence shrinks the sick man's self-absorption

Correct answer:

Convalescence shrinks the sick man's self-absorption

Explanation:

Lamb draws a comparison between the sick man and a king. They both are given royal attention. Convalescence (recovery) is like a deposition—the self-absorption and close attention from others vanishes.

Example Question #6 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice, but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.

....

Thus Sir, I have taken a pretty general survey of the American Charters; and proved to the satisfaction of every unbiassed person, that they are intirely, discordant with that sovereignty of parliament, for which you are an advocate. The disingenuity of your extracts (to give it no harsher name) merits the severest censure; and will no doubt serve to discredit all your former, as well as future labours, in your favourite cause of despotism.

It is true, that New-York has no Charter. But, if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead the common principles of colonization: for, it would be unreasonable, to seclude one colony, from the enjoyment of the most important privileges of the rest. There is no need, however, of this plea: The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

 

(1775)

The author claims it does not matter that "New York has no Charter" because _________________.

Possible Answers:

the Charters are illegitimate

rights should be determined by the people

the Charters are not usually respected anyway

the Charters were all written a long time ago

official documents are not the standard of right and wrong

Correct answer:

official documents are not the standard of right and wrong

Explanation:

The entire third paragraph is devoted to explaining why it does not matter that New York has no Charter--that is, why New York should have the rights normally secured by a colonial Charter even though it has no such official document.

Ultimately, here, the author states: "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." That is to say, the right and wrong way for a government to treat its people, the rights that a people ought to have, do not come from and are not determined by "old parchments, or musty records"--documents like Charters. Rather, the author claims, the rights people ought to have are something determined by nature--by the kind of thing human beings are and the kind of thing government is.

Passage adapted from Alexander Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted (1775).

Example Question #7 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.

.....

This, madam, is a faithful narrative of every event in which we have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty towards Mr. Wickham. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood, he has imposed on you; but his success is not, perhaps, to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of every thing concerning either, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination. You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night. But I was not then master enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed. For the truth of every thing here related, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who from our near relationship and constant intimacy, and still more as one of the executors of my father's will, has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.

 

(1813)

One central purpose of the letter seems to be __________________.

Possible Answers:

indulging in gossip

expressing love

venting anger

conveying information

insulting the addressee

Correct answer:

conveying information

Explanation:

The context provided by this passage shows that one of the central purposes of the letter is to convey information. The second paragraph is especially helpful in determining this. In that paragraph, the speaker refers to the letter as "a faithful narrative of every event..." and speaks of correcting "falsehood" and some lack of knowledge on the part of the addressee. These, along with many similar details provided in the second paragraph, make it clear that the letter was largely written to convey information to the addressee.

Passage adapted from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).  

Example Question #8 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Prose

"Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur without the aid of four strong men besides the cook.

Yes. It took four men, all four a-blaze with gorgeous decoration, and the chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and caste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third presented his favorite napkin; a fourth (he of two gold watches) poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two."

(1859)

Which of the following best describes the events of the passage above?

Possible Answers:

Employees donning fanciful costumes

A peasant resenting a noble's wealth

Peasants feeding a noble figure

A noble demonstrating his wealth through an elaborate meal

A political figure sharing resources with his employees

Correct answer:

A noble demonstrating his wealth through an elaborate meal

Explanation:

The scene above describes Monseigneur ("one of the great Lords in power at the Court") "taking his chocolate." The end of the passage includes the statement that: "It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring heavens." This statement suggests that the extravagant display of wealth is for outside viewers, rather than for the Monseigneur's own contentment. Though "Peasants feeding a noble figure" might be a tempting answer, it is incorrect, as the Monseigneur's employees are not peasants.

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

Example Question #9 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing 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.

The first paragraph of this passage indicates which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The speaker is angry with Elizabeth

The speaker does not deny that he loves Elizabeth

The speaker does not respect Elizabeth's family

The speaker wanted to make Elizabeth happy

The speaker believes Elizabeth's family is in his debt

Correct answer:

The speaker wanted to make Elizabeth happy

Explanation:

This sentence is key: "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." We can rewrite this sentence in parts: let's start with the final clause 

I shall not attempt to deny => I don't deny

Then we can look at the rest of the sentence:

That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on => A desire to make you happy was one of my driving forces

So, the speaker does not deny that he was motivated by a desire to make Elizabeth happy.

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