SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Tone in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #43 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlor next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlor; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg" and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

The tone of the passage’s last sentence suggests that at this point in the story, the narrator thinks that __________.

Possible Answers:

the seafaring man with one leg does not exist

the fourpenny piece is worth far more than the narrator thinks his work is worth

the fourpenny piece is not worth all of the trouble it brings the narrator

the fourpenny piece is stolen property

the fourpenny piece is the subject of the narrator's nightmares

Correct answer:

the fourpenny piece is not worth all of the trouble it brings the narrator

Explanation:

The passage’s last sentence is “And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.” To “pay pretty dear” for something is to pay a great deal for it; here, especially after discussing his terrible nightmares, we can assume that the speaker thinks that the four-penny piece is not worth all the trouble it brings him. We can also arrive at this answer by canceling out all of the other ones: nothing in the sentence suggests that the four-penny piece is stolen property. The speaker clearly does not think that he is paid too much for his trouble, because he is talking about how he went through so much trouble to get it. The four-penny piece itself is not the subject of the speaker’s nightmares; the man with one leg is. If you didn’t read the sentence’s comma, you may have read “my monthly fourpenny piece in the shape of these abominable fancies,” which may have led you to choose this answer; it’s important to read very carefully to avoid incorrect answers that may anticipate you misreading something. Finally, the sentence tells us nothing about whether the seafaring man with one leg exists or not; we only know that he is the subject of the narrator’s nightmares. However, the fact that the narrator is being paid to watch out for him suggests that he is a real person.

Example Question #4 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Based on the second paragraph, Dinah’s method of washing her kittens is __________ for the kittens.

Possible Answers:

baffling

scary

uncomfortable

pointless

pleasant

Correct answer:

uncomfortable

Explanation:

Let’s look at the second paragraph and how it describes the way in which Dinah washes her kittens:

“The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.”

The white kitten doesn’t seem to be afraid, so we can eliminate “scary” as an answer choice. Neither “baffling” (confusing) nor “pointless” is supported by the passage either, so we can discard those answer choices as well. This leaves us with “pleasant” and “uncomfortable.” The fact that the narrator refers to the kitten being washed as “the poor thing,” describes how Dinah “rubbed its face all over, the wrong way,” and the idea that the white kitten was “no double feeling it was all meant for its good” support the idea that Dinah’s method of washing her kittens is uncomfortable for the kittens.

Example Question #1 : Tone, Opinion, And Purpose

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

The tone used in this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

poetic

ornery

pessimistic

scientific

conversational

Correct answer:

conversational

Explanation:

This passage’s tone is best described as “conversational.” This can be seen in the first paragraph’s use of “you” and capital letters for emphasis in the sentence “For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.” It can also be seen in the second paragraph’s use of “as I said” in the clause “and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.” Nothing in the passage supports the conclusion that its tone is scientific, ornery, poetic, or pessimistic.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

When Fritz says “hullo” at the start of the sixth paragraph, he is __________.

Possible Answers:

speaking a different language

urging someone on

offering a greeting to another character

celebrating a minor victory

expressing surprise and confusion

Correct answer:

expressing surprise and confusion

Explanation:

Fritz says “hullo” in the sixth paragraph: “‘Hullo,’ cried Fritz, ‘I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk.’” Since Fritz already knows the narrator and meets no other characters in this passage, we cannot say that he is “offering a greeting to another character.” The narrator and Fritz have just opened the coconut, so we cannot say that when Fritz says “hullo,” he is “urging someone on.” Nothing in the sentence or passage supports the idea that Fritz is “speaking a different language” by saying “hullo.” Finally, we cannot say that he is “celebrating a minor victory” because while the narrator and Fritz have just gotten the coconut open, Fritz isn’t pleased with that, as “hullo” is part of the sentence in which he shows he was expecting the coconut to contain coconut milk, which it does not. This means that the correct answer is “expressing surprise and confusion.” This fits with the context in which the word is used, where Fritz is expressing surprise that the coconut did not contain coconut milk.

Example Question #22 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

Why does the mole say "Bother," "O blow," and "Hang spring cleaning" in the passage's first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

He is discussing spring cleaning with the elderly rabbit and is shocked that the elderly rabbit does not enjoy spring cleaning as much as he does.

He keeps dropping things while trying to clean his house.

These are the lyrics of a song he is singing to himself about spring cleaning.

He is sick of spring cleaning and going to stop soon.

His is enthusiastic about spring cleaning.

Correct answer:

He is sick of spring cleaning and going to stop soon.

Explanation:

Let's look at the rest of the passage to put the mole's remarks in context. In the first paragraph, we are told that he's doing a lot of spring cleaning: "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms." After he says the statements in question, he burrows out of his home, and arrives in "a great meadow." At this point (at the beginning of the passage's second paragraph), he says "'This is fine!" and "This is better than whitewashing!" So, looking at the statements "Bother," "Oh blow," and "Hang spring cleaning," we can infer that the mole says these things because he is sick of spring cleaning and is going to stop soon, as this is just what happens in the rest of the passage.

Example Question #5 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

When the mole says "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" to the rabbits, this statement is meant to be __________.

Possible Answers:

a demand

a nickname

lyrics to a song

a taunt

a clue to a mystery

Correct answer:

a taunt

Explanation:

Let's look at the context in which the mole says "Onion-sauce!" At this point in the passage, the mole has just ignored the elderly rabbit's demand for him to pay a toll to use the private road. The passage then says, that the mole "trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply." We are told that he says "Onion-sauce!" "jeeringly," or in a taunting way, and we know that the rabbits could not "think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply" in time. Also, he is said to be "chaffing" the rabbits. "Chaffing" means mocking or taunting. Given these context clues, we can safely say that the mole's call of "Onion-sauce!" is a taunt, or an insult, as he says it "tauntingly" and the rabbits cannot think of a reply in time, and one might want to think of a reply to an insult.

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