All SSAT Upper Level Reading Resources
Example Question #1 : Narrative Humanities Passages
Adapted from "The Loon" by Henry David Thoreau in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)
As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon, for such days especially they settle on to the lakes, like the milkweed down, having looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself. I pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when he came up I was nearer than before. He dived again but I miscalculated the direction he would take, and we were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface this time, for I had helped to widen the interval; and again he laughed long and loud, and with more reason than before.
He maneuvered so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him. Each time when he came to the surface, turning his head this way and that, he coolly surveyed the water and the land, and apparently chose his course so that he might come up where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat. It was surprising how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve into execution. He led me at once to the wildest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon.
He was indeed a silly loon, I thought. I could commonly hear the plash of the water when he came up, and so also detected him. But after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever, dived as willingly and swam yet farther than at first. It was surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruffled breast when he came to the surface, doing all the work with his webbed feet beneath. His usual note was this demoniac laughter, yet somewhat like that of a waterfowl, but occasionally when he had balked me most successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird, as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his looning—perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide. I concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of his own resources.
In this passage, the loon is primarily characterized as __________.
This passage tells the story of the author’s attempts to track down a loon (a type of bird that swims in water like a duck) that he encounters on the lake near where he lives. The author characterizes the loon primarily as a cunning and wily animal that knows how to evade human capture and makes a mockery of human beings. You could reasonably say that the loon is characterized as “sneaky,” but from the use of language it is clear that “crafty” is the better option. This is most clearly seen in excerpts such as “He maneuvered so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him" ("cunning" being a synonym of "crafty") and “ . . . occasionally when he had balked me most successfully."