All SSAT Middle Level Reading Resources
Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Poetry Passages
Adapted from “The Duel” by Eugene Field (1888)
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Not one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)
The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! What shall we do?"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw--
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my views from the Chinese plate!)
Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and the pup
Is this: They ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)
Which of these words best describes the tone of this poem?
When trying to figure out the tone of a story you have to look for how the information is being presented to you and what the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience is. For example, the tone of a cartoon would likely be silly and the tone of a funeral speech would be very sad and serious. In this poem, the tone is silly and not serious because it is a story about a cloth dog and a cloth cat fighting told from the perspective of a clock and a plate—not the most serious of subjects. ("Gingham" and "calico" are each prints found on fabrics, so you can infer that the cat and dog are each objects made of fabric, not live animals.)