SAT II Literature : Theme: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Theme: Prose

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

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

(1595)

The author is arguing that it would be absurd and wrong to hate poetry because ____________________.

Possible Answers:

we should recognize that poetry is one of the most beautiful things produced by mankind

we should be thankful for the way poetry helps establish culture and learning

we should remember that people have always written poetry

all nations, no matter how different, are united by poetry

our ancestors wrote poetry, and we should respect them

Correct answer:

we should be thankful for the way poetry helps establish culture and learning

Explanation:

In this passage, the author explains that poetry has frequently been the first step in a nation or culture's path to intellectual advancement. This can be seen in the first paragraph where he calls poetry "the first light-giver to ignorance," and in the second paragraph where he lists multiple cultures and languages for which this has been true.

The author argues that because poetry (and the poets who write it) sets the foundation for the development of sciences and arts in a culture, someone who hates poetry is guilty of ingratitude. See, in the first sentence, where he writes that such people "go very near to ungratefulness."

Therefore, the answer "we should be thankful for the way poetry helps establish culture and learning" is the most accurate description of the argument made in this passage.

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

Example Question #2 : Theme: 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.

Which of the following best summarizes the author's reasoning why the governments of the rebellious states are not legitimate?

Possible Answers:

They oppressed most of the population

They were not effectively constituted for contemporary governance

They allowed for the immoral institution of slavery

They did not believe in true American ideals

They were not truly representative of the people

Correct answer:

They were not truly representative of the people

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author states (among other things) that the governments in question were "never submitted to the people, and from participation in which four millions of the loyal people were excluded by Presidential order." The idea is that the people—whether those among the four million explicitly excluded or the others—were not the ones who approved of the government. This is what he means by saying that they were not "submitted to the people"—that is, not submitted for approval. This indicates that he believed that the governments in question were not representative of the people's wills.

Example Question #3 : Theme: Prose

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.

What is the best summary of the author's argument in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Sand remained in his shoes for several days

Concord is further from Provincetown than Boston is

Provincetown is very different from Boston

Provincetown is a more exciting place than Boston

Boston is a more pleasant place than Provincetown

Correct answer:

Provincetown is very different from Boston

Explanation:

This question asks you to summarize the author's main argument. The main purpose of this passage is to demonstrate the differences between two places, Boston and Provincetown. In the first paragraph, the author describes his impression of Boston as a bustling place of industry in detail. He then introduces Provincetown as a place that seems "strange and remote" in comparison. He does not state a specific preference for one place over the other in this passage, so it is not correct to say that he is arguing one city is more pleasant or more exciting than the other. The presence of sand in the author's shoes and the location of Concord are small details, not the author's main argument.

Example Question #3 : Theme: Prose

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 claim that science might find a formula for our desires?

Possible Answers:

Even scientific laws have a certain beauty and therefore can be desired.

Scientific reasoning will be applied to our desires in order to help us understand some of their more puzzling aspects.

Our desires can be understood by sciences like psychology and sociology.

Intelligent inquiry is possible even in the case of the study of human desires.

It might be discovered that our desires are as regular in their functioning as are physical laws.

Correct answer:

It might be discovered that our desires are as regular in their functioning as are physical laws.

Explanation:

The image of finding a formula for our desires is meant to evoke an equivalence between the study of human desires and the types of studies done in sciences like mathematical physics. The latter uses laws and formulas to define and predict the motions of bodies in space. The implication here is that it might be discovered some day that our emotions follow laws just like the physical ones.

Example Question #4 : Theme: Prose

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

Which of the following statements is accurate according to the ideas expressed in "The Book of the Grotesque"?

Possible Answers:

Mankind created many truths, and these truths are immutable.

There are many truths, and a person must choose which truth to live by.

Truth exists, but it is a corrupting force, and when a person attempts to understand it it will make them crazy.

Mankind created many truths, but when a person holds one truth above all others, that truth becomes false.

Truth exists as a single universal concept, and it is immutable.

Correct answer:

Mankind created many truths, but when a person holds one truth above all others, that truth becomes false.

Explanation:

It is stated in paragraph seven that there are multiple truths, and that these truths were created by man. In the last paragraph, it is explained how people become grotesques when they choose one truth above all others, and so "the truth he embraced became a falsehood."

Example Question #5 : Theme: Prose

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

Throughout the passage, truth is depicted as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A concept that exists but in many different forms, all equally beautiful and valid

A concept that only exists through the faulty reasoning of human beings

A concept that was both created and destroyed by humanity

A concept that is universal and unchanging

A concept that exists but is beyond human comprehension, so it corrupts those who seek to understand it

Correct answer:

A concept that exists but in many different forms, all equally beautiful and valid

Explanation:

One of the key ideas in the writer's book is that "All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful." Truth is not a single, universal thing, and truth is only corrupting when one insists on a single truth rather than accepting the idea of many truths.

Example Question #6 : Theme: Prose

“Shall I?” I said briefly; and I looked at his features, beautiful in their harmony, but strangely formidable in their still severity; at his brow, commanding, but not open; at his eyes, bright and deep and searching, but never soft; at his tall imposing figure; and fancied myself in idea his wife. Oh! it would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition. . . . I should suffer often, no doubt, attached to him only in this capacity: my body would be under a rather stringent yoke, but my heart and mind would be free. I should still have my unblighted self to turn to: my natural unenslaved feelings with which to communicate in moments of loneliness. There would be recesses in my mind which would be only mine, to which he never came; and sentiments growing there, fresh and sheltered, which his austerity could never blight, nor his measured warrior-march trample down: but as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable.

(1847)

Which of the following best describes the theme of this passage?

Possible Answers:

The loneliness inherent in a virtuous life 

The fleeting nature of happiness

The importance of maintaining one's spiritual and intellectual freedoms at all costs

The importance of confessing and atoning for one's sins 

The redemptive qualities of romantic love 

Correct answer:

The importance of maintaining one's spiritual and intellectual freedoms at all costs

Explanation:

This passage outlines a woman's debate over whether or not to give up her spiritual and intellectual freedom in order to marry the man she loves. She has resolved by the end of the passage that to give up these freedoms "would be unendurable." Although this passage hints at the loneliness of the virtuous path the speaker has chosen, it is clear that she would consider the sacrifice of her freedom to be much worse than loneliness. Although the other three answers are tangentially related to the theme of the passage, there is no evidence in the passage to support them.

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

Example Question #7 : Theme: 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.

(1871) 

Which of the following is NOT one of the passage’s subjects? 

Possible Answers:

Entrenchment of social class

None of these 

Limitations of provincial education 

Projection of social class

Matrimonial prospects for women 

Correct answer:

Limitations of provincial education 

Explanation:

Although the passage discusses education and alludes to the fact that the sisters are now living in a provincial environment, the two subjects are never discussed in conjunction with one another. Another way to reach this answer is by process of elimination: all of the other subjects are explicitly discussed in the passage. 

Passage adapted from Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871) 

Example Question #8 : Theme: 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.

(1871) 

Which of the following is considered in this passage? 

Possible Answers:

The amplifying effect of spiritual dedication on aesthetic expression 

The ironic emphasis on physical beauty in spiritual art 

All of these

The inverse relationship between spiritual ardor and aesthetic adornment

The causal relationship between spiritual health and artistic talent 

Correct answer:

The inverse relationship between spiritual ardor and aesthetic adornment

Explanation:

The passage explains that Dorothea's ardor (passion) for spiritual thought is in inverse (negative) relationship with the embellishment of her clothes. See, for example, "She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery." 

The two answers involving artistic talent and spiritual art can be ruled out straight away. The allusion to Italian paintings is only an extended metaphor, not a line of thinking the passage pursues. In the case of the fourth option, the word that should tip students off to its being false is the word "amplify." While the passage does discuss the relationship between spiritual dedication and aesthetic expression, that relationship is one in which the first limits rather than exaggerates the second. 

 Passage adapted from Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871) 

Example Question #9 : Theme: Prose

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

"Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced ; their behavior at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general ; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgement too unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine ladies ; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it ; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank ; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England ; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade."

All of the following are themes directly evoked in the passage EXCEPT ______________.

Possible Answers:

Social Status

Social Norms

Pride

Commerce

Romance

Correct answer:

Romance

Explanation:

The answer is "Romance." Here, it is important to pay attention to the specific language of the question. It asks for themes that are directly evoked in the passage, which means there must be specific language referencing the theme. While one may gather that this passage reflects the event of a ball -- a romantic gathering -- romance is not directly discussed in the passage and so cannot be a theme.

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