ACT Reading : Analyzing Authorial Tone and Method in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

1 2 3 4 6 Next →

Example Question #1 : Purpose And Effect Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Self-Reliance (1841) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, nothing can come to hit but through his own work. A man is relieved and overjoyed when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, and the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

In context, the reference to “divine providence” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

royalty

fate

ownership

forgiveness

justice

Correct answer:

fate

Explanation:

The author makes reference to “divine providence” to urge his readership to trust in the alignment of fate that has brought about their existence. The “divine providence” represents “the Almighty’s” construction of the individual and the importance of adhering to an honest manifestation of oneself. Providence means the wisdom and guidance of God and divine means of or relating to God.

Example Question #11 : Determining Authorial Tone In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells' tone in this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

solemn and serious

pedantic and prescriptive

playful and poetic

sarcastic and sassy

Correct answer:

playful and poetic

Explanation:

Wells uses a lot of poetic flourishes in this writing while maintaining a certain playfulness, since it's unlikely he really thinks that all the quality of a writer's essays is determined by his or her choice of writing instrument.

Example Question #1 : Interpreting Literary Devices

Adapted from Walden by Henry Thoreau (1854)

Still we live meanly, like ants; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.

Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not, but whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you.

The author repeats the words “simplicity” and “simplify” in the first paragraph in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

emphasize what he sees as the solution to a problem

imply that modern society is too simple

mimic his critics in a derogatory way

convey that working toward simplicity takes a lot of hard work

suggest that this is the only solution that has been put forward, and it is ineffective

Correct answer:

emphasize what he sees as the solution to a problem

Explanation:

The author’s repetition of “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” and “Simplify, simplify” in the first paragraph add emphasis exhorting the audience to make their lives simpler, a change Thoreau sees as the solution to many of the excesses of modern life and the problems they cause. There is no mention of any critics in the passage, and his repetition does not suggest simplicity is an ineffective solution. He certainly does not imply that there is too much simplicity in modern society—one might read this into the line out of context, but throughout the passage, once can tell that the author is writing in favor of simplifying. Finally, while repetition can often make something seem as if it is difficult or takes time (e.g. “Digging, digging, digging—all that digging and they were only a few feet closer to the center of the earth.”), that is not what is going on here.

Example Question #1 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "On the Death of Marie Antoinette" by Edmund Burke (1793)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophistry, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unsought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

In context, the reference to “cavaliers” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

conflict 

foolishness 

temerity

arrogance 

heroism 

Correct answer:

heroism 

Explanation:

The word “cavalier” is traditionally used in English language to convey either as an adjective meaning conveying a sense of arrogance or jaunty disregard or as a noun meaning a gallant and chivalrous gentleman. The reference to “gallant men” in the phrase immediately preceding “cavalier” should also clue you in that when the author uses “cavalier,” it is to convey a sense of chivalry or heroism.

Example Question #51 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Reminiscence of Emily Collins" from the History of Women's Suffrage by Susan B. Anthony (1889). 

I was born and lived almost forty years in South Bristol, Ontario County—one of the most secluded spots in Western New York; but from the earliest dawn of reason I pined for that freedom of thought and action that was then denied to all womankind. I revolted in spirit against the customs of society and the laws of the State that crushed my aspirations and debarred me from the pursuit of almost every object worthy of an intelligent, rational mind. But not until that meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848, of the pioneers in the cause, gave this feeling of unrest form and voice, did I take action. Then I summoned a few women in our neighborhood together and formed an Equal Suffrage Society, and sent petitions to our Legislature; but our efforts were little known beyond our circle, as we were in communication with no person or newspaper. Yet there was enough of wrong in our narrow horizon to rouse some thought in the minds of all.

In those early days a husband's supremacy was often enforced in the rural districts by corporeal chastisement, and it was considered by most people as quite right and proper—as much so as the correction of refractory children in like manner. I remember in my own neighborhood a man who was a Methodist class-leader and exhorter, and one who was esteemed a worthy citizen, who, every few weeks, gave his wife a beating with his horsewhip. He said it was necessary, in order to keep her in subjection, and because she scolded so much. Now this wife, surrounded by six or seven little children, whom she must wash, dress, feed, and attend to day and night, was obliged to spin and weave cloth for all the garments of the family. She had to milk the cows, make butter and cheese, do all the cooking washing, making, and mending for the family, and, with the pains of maternity forced upon her every eighteen months, was whipped by her pious husband, "because she scolded." And pray, why should he not have chastised her? The laws made it his privilege—and the Bible, as interpreted, made it his duty. It is true, women repined at their hard lot; but it was thought to be fixed by a divine decree, for "The man shall rule over thee," and "Wives, be subject to your husbands," and "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord," caused them to consider their fate inevitable, and to feel that it would be contravening God's law to resist it. It is ever thus; where Theology enchains the soul, the Tyrant enslaves the body. But can any one, who has any knowledge of the laws that govern our being—of heredity and pre-natal influences—be astonished that our jails and prisons are filled with criminals, and our hospitals with sickly specimens of humanity? As long as the mothers of the race are subject to such unhappy conditions, it can never be materially improved. Men exhibit some common sense in breeding all animals except those of their own species.

All through the Anti-Slavery struggle, every word of denunciation of the wrongs of the Southern slave, was, I felt, equally applicable to the wrongs of my own sex. Every argument for the emancipation of the colored man, was equally one for that of woman; and I was surprised that all Abolitionists did not see the similarity in the condition of the two classes. I read, with intense interest, everything that indicated an awakening of public or private thought to the idea that woman did not occupy her rightful position in the organization of society; and, when I read the lectures of Ernestine L. Rose and the writings of Margaret Fuller, and found that other women entertained the same thoughts that had been seething in my own brain, and realized that I stood not alone, how my heart bounded with joy! The arguments of that distinguished jurist, Judge Hurlburt, encouraged me to hope that men would ultimately see the justice of our cause, and concede to women their natural rights.

The author's tone in the underlined portion ("I read, with intense interest...women their natural rights") is best described as ___________.

Possible Answers:

Disheartened frustration 

Tense distrust 

Guarded joyfulness 

Hopeful excitement 

Pensive thoughtfulness 

Correct answer:

Hopeful excitement 

Explanation:

The author is explaining the hopefulness that reading works of other feminist thinkers brings her. She explains her optimism upon reading these works, making hopeful excitement the most apt description of her tone. After having discussed, in unflinching terms the oppression women have been subjected to, the speaker closes the passage with a statement of optimism about the future of women's rights, and the already existent inspiring thinking and writing of women.

1 2 3 4 6 Next →
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors