ACT Reading : Drawing Inferences from Prose Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #21 : Extrapolating From The Text In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898)

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

The planet Mars revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence. 

Since Mars is older than our earth, it necessarily follows that it is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer its end. The cooling that must someday overtake our planet has already gone far indeed with our neighbor. In its equatorial region, the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours; its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface. That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars. Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them.

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon itself. The Tasmanians were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Based on the passage, what is the author likely referring to when he says, “And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment”?

Possible Answers:

When scientists calculated the distance between Earth and Mars

When Martians and Earthlings met peacefully for the first time

When Earth was attacked by Martians

When scientists discovered that humans are much smarter than Martians

When people stopped claiming that life developing on Mars was possible

Correct answer:

When Earth was attacked by Martians

Explanation:

Given that the author spends the rest of the passage suggesting that Martians had a reason to attack Earth, and that we would be hypocritical to blame them for attacking us based on their motives, it can be inferred that when the author refers to “the great disillusionment,” he is most likely referring to when Earth was attacked by Martians. None of the other answer choices make sense given the context of the rest of the passage.

Example Question #22 : Extrapolating From The Text In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.

Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the further disadvantage of Lydia's society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.

Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.

"I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly."  

This line, also underlined in the passage, indicates all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

that Mrs. Bennet gets on her husband's nerves with his silliness and nervousness

that Mrs. Bennet's moods are often a source of irritation for her entire family

that Mrs. Bennet is not a sensible or particularly intelligent woman

that Mrs. Bennet is a calmer person now that her daughters are married

that Mrs. Bennet has hopes for all of her daughters to be married happily

Correct answer:

that Mrs. Bennet is a calmer person now that her daughters are married

Explanation:

The narrator says that she wishes she could say that Mrs. Bennet were more sensible or well-informed after her daughters' marriages, but Mrs. Bennet is not.  It is also strongly implied that she is a source of irritation both for her family and for her husband, even though she has an "earnest desire" for her daughters' "establishment."  Instead, we're told that she is still "occasionally nervous and invariably silly," indicating that she is not a calmer person.

Example Question #23 : Extrapolating From The Text In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.

Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the further disadvantage of Lydia's society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.

Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.

Given the clues in the rest of the passage, the Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy that Mrs. Bennet visits and talks about, respectively, are likely to be __________.

Possible Answers:

two women of noble upbringing

two women in the neighborhood that have been kind to her daughters

friends of her two daughters

her own daughters, under their married names

None of the other answers is correct.

Correct answer:

her own daughters, under their married names

Explanation:

We can infer that Jane and Elizabeth are two of Mrs. Bennet's daughters, and in the same paragraph where both are named, Jane's name is attached to Mr. Bingley's, indicating that they are married.  Although the name of Elizabeth's husband is not given her, we can deduce that "Mrs. Darcy" is her married name, just as "Mrs. Bingley" is Jane's married name.

Example Question #24 : Extrapolating From The Text In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.

Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the further disadvantage of Lydia's society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.

Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.

Given the clues in this passage, the "second daughter" that Mr. Bennet misses so much in the second paragraph is most likely to be __________.

Possible Answers:

Kitty

Jane

Elizabeth

Lydia

Mary

Correct answer:

Elizabeth

Explanation:

Elizabeth is the daughter to whom the passage is referring.  Mary is stated as remaining at home; Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy are the "two most deserving daughters", and we already know that Jane is Mrs. Bingley; and Kitty is said to be spending time with her two eldest sisters and away from Lydia, who is implied to be a bad influence, so it couldn't be either Kitty or Lydia.

Example Question #1311 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.

Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the further disadvantage of Lydia's society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.

Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.

The "Mrs. Wickham" referred to in the next-to-last paragraph is likely to be whom?

Possible Answers:

Jane

a lady in the neighborhood

Lydia

Kitty

Elizabeth

Correct answer:

Lydia

Explanation:

We are told in the same paragraph that mentions Mrs. Wickham that it's Lydia who wants to spend a great deal of time with Kitty and from whom she must be kept, and thus Lydia's married name is likely Mrs. Wickham.

Example Question #41 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Literary Fiction Passage Content

Adapted from The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, Volume 16: Anna Karenina (1877; 1917 ed., trans. Garnett)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household were painfully conscious of it. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner-time; the kitchen maid and the coachman had given warning.

Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky—Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world—woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom, but on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, yes, how was it now?” he thought, going over his dream. “Alabin was giving a dinner at Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, and the tables sang, II mio tesoro—not II mio tesoro, though, but something better, and there were some sort of little decanters on the table, and they were women too,” he remembered. 

Noticing a gleam of light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains, he cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the sofa, and felt about with them for his slippers, a present on his last birthday, worked for him by his wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he had done every day for the last nine years, he stretched out his hand, without getting up, towards the place where his dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom. And thereupon he suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife’s room, but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he knitted his brows. 

Most unpleasant of all was the first minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from the theatre, with a huge pear in his hand for his wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room, to his surprise had not found her in the study either, and saw her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky letter that revealed everything in her hand. She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation.

“What’s this? This?” she asked, pointing to the letter.

And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch, as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in which he had met his wife’s words.

There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even—anything would have been better than what he did do—his face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology)—utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile.

This idiotic smile he could not forgive himself. Catching sight of that smile, Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.

“It’s that idiotic simile that’s to blame for it all,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.

One thing the reader can infer from the underlined seventh paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

Stiva expected his wife to join him at the theatre

Stiva expected to find his wife in the drawing room or the study 

Stiva has had multiple intrigues before and never gotten caught

Stiva expected his wife to react differently to finding the incriminating letter

Stiva believes his wife to be smarter than he is

Correct answer:

Stiva expected to find his wife in the drawing room or the study 

Explanation:

We are given no indication in the paragraph that Stiva has had multiple intrigues before and not gotten caught, or that he expected his wife to read differently to finding the letter. We are given evidence that he thinks he is smarter than his wife, not the other way around, because he thinks that Dolly is “limited in her ideas.” We can tell that Stiva did not expect his wife to join him at the theatre, because we are told that when he got home, he looked for her “he had not found his wife in the drawing-room, to his surprise had not found her in the study either.” So, from this, we can tell that Stiva expected to find his wife in the drawing room or the study, which is the correct answer.

Example Question #11 : Making Inferences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted From "Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver" in Life's Little Ironies: A Set of Tales, with some colloquial sketches, entitled, A Few Crusted Characters by Thomas Hardy (1905 ed.)

I shall never forget Tony’s face. It was a little, round, firm, tight face, with a seam here and there left by the small-pox, but not enough to hurt his looks in a woman's eye, though he'd had it baddish when he was a boy. So very serious looking and unsmiling 'a was, that young man, that it really seemed as if he couldn't laugh at all without great pain to his conscience. He looked very hard at a small speck in your eye when talking to 'ee. And there was no more sign of a whisker or beard on Tony Kytes's face than on the palm of my hand. He used to sing "The Tailor's Breeches," with all its scandelous lyrics, in a religious manner, as if it were a hymn. He was quite the women's favorite.

But in course of time Tony got fixed down to one in particular, Milly Richards – a nice, light, small, tender little thing; and it was soon said that they were engaged to be married. One Saturday he had been to market to do business for his father, and was driving home the wagon in the afternoon. When he reached the foot of the hill, who should he see waiting for him at the top but Unity Sallet, a handsome girl, one of the young women he'd been very tender towards before he'd got engaged to Milly.

As soon as Tony came up to her she said, "My dear Tony, will you give me a lift home?"

"That I will, darling," said Tony. "You don't suppose I could refuse 'ee?"

She smiled a smile, and up she hopped, and on drove Tony.

"Tony," she says, in a sort of tender chide, "Why did ye desert me for that other one? In what is she better than I? I should have made 'ee a finer wife, and a more loving one, too. 'Tisn't girls that are so easily won at first that are the best. Think how long we've known each other—ever since we were children almost—now haven't we, Tony?"

"Yes, that we have," says Tony, struck with the truth o't.

"And you've never seen anything in me to complain of, have ye, Tony? Now tell the truth to me."

"I never have, upon my life," says Tony.

"And—can you say I'm not pretty, Tony? Now look at me.

He let his eyes light upon her for a long while. "I really can't," says he. "In fact, I never knowed you was so pretty before!"

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that __________.

Possible Answers:

Tony never sang songs with unseemly lyrics.

Tony is faithful to Milly.

Unity intended to meet and get a lift from Tony. 

Unity is not jealous of Tony's change of affection.

Tony's father disapproves of Tony's antics.

Correct answer:

Unity intended to meet and get a lift from Tony. 

Explanation:

The narrator states that Unity was “waiting for [Tony],” and from her invasive questions, we can tell it was her intention to meet Tony to sway his opinion.

Example Question #541 : Prose Fiction

Adapted from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)

The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. 

Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. 

Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens—there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. 

Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favorable idea of the age that could endure it.

Which of the following can we infer, based on the passage?

Possible Answers:

Milton, Pope, Prior, and Sterne were rarely referenced in the author's era.

No one was writing novels at this point in history because they were so unpopular.

The History of England was rarely abridged.

Belinda, Cecilia, Camilla, and the Spectator were familiar to the author’s intended audience.

The Spectator often published excerpts from new novels to drum up support for them.

Correct answer:

Belinda, Cecilia, Camilla, and the Spectator were familiar to the author’s intended audience.

Explanation:

Let’s consider each of these answer choices to figure out which one is correct.

“The History of England was rarely abridged.” - This is not true; the narrator only mentions the History of England in the third paragraph, where she references “the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England.” This tells us that the History of England was often abridged.

“The Spectator often published excerpts from new novels to drum up support for them.” - This is not true; the narrator explicitly contrasts the Spectator with novels and never once suggests that the Spectator published novel excerpts.

“No one was writing novels at this point in history because they were so unpopular.” - This cannot be true because in the second and third paragraphs, the narrator appeals to other novelists. If no one was writing novels at this point in history, it is reasonable to assume that the narrator would not appeal to other novelists.

“Milton, Pope, Prior, and Sterne were rarely referenced in the author’s era.” - The passage does not support this inference, as when the narrator references Milton, Pope, Prior, and Sterne in the third paragraph, she does so in a way that assumes that the reader recognizes those writers; she doesn’t explain who they are whatsoever.

This leaves us with the correct answer, “Belinda, Cecilia, Camilla, and the Spectator were familiar to the author’s intended audience.” The narrator uses Belinda, Cecilia, and Camilla as examples of a novel in the hypothetical situation she constructs at the end of the third paragraph, and the Spectator as an example of a widely-praised but (in her opinion) undeserving work in the contrasted scene in the last paragraph. She does not take the time to introduce these works and publication to her readers, but instead assumes that they will be familiar with them. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that they were familiar to her audience.

Example Question #542 : Prose Fiction

Adapted from “The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm” in The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories by Mark Twain (1898; 1916)

The conversation drifted along from weather to crops, from crops to literature, from literature to scandal, from scandal to religion; then took a random jump, and landed on the subject of burglar alarms. And now for the first time Mr. McWilliams showed feeling. Whenever I perceive this sign on this man's dial, I comprehend it, and lapse into silence, and give him opportunity to unload his heart. Said he, with but ill-controlled emotion:

"I do not go one single cent on burglar alarms, Mr. Twain—not a single cent—and I will tell you why. When we were finishing our house, we found we had a little cash left over. I was for donating it to charity; but Mrs. McWilliams said no, let's have a burglar alarm. I agreed to this compromise. Whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another thing, and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants—as we always do—she calls that a compromise. Very well: the man came up from New York and put in the alarm, and charged three hundred and twenty-five dollars for it, and said we could sleep without uneasiness now. So we did for awhile—say a month. Then one night we smelled smoke. I lit a candle, and started toward the stairs, and met a burglar coming out of a room with a basket of tinware, which he had mistaken for solid silver in the dark. He was smoking a pipe. I said, 'My friend, we do not allow smoking in this room.' He said he was a stranger, and could not be expected to know the rules of the house: said he had been in many houses just as good as this one, and it had never been objected to before.

"I said: 'Smoke along, then. But what business have you to be entering this house in this furtive and clandestine way, without ringing the burglar alarm?’

He looked confused and ashamed, and said, with embarrassment: 'I beg a thousand pardons. I did not know you had a burglar alarm, else I would have rung it. I beg you will not mention it where my parents may hear of it, for they are old and feeble, and such a seemingly wanton breach of the hallowed conventionalities of our civilization might all too rudely sunder the frail bridge which hangs darkling between the pale and evanescent present and the solemn great deeps of the eternities. May I trouble you for a match?’

"I said: 'Your sentiments do you honor, but metaphor is not your best hold. Spare your thigh; this kind light only on the box. But to return to business: how did you get in here?’”

Which of the following details are supported by the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Tinware is more valuable than silverware.

The man stealing the tinware is an experienced thief.

The McWilliamses never spent any money on their home.

When the McWilliamses smelled smoke, it was because their house was on fire.

One of the neighbors of the McWilliamses installed their burglar alarm.

Correct answer:

The man stealing the tinware is an experienced thief.

Explanation:

Let’s consider each of the potential answer choices in order to identify the correct one.

“Tinware is more valuable than silverware” - In the second paragraph, Mr. McWilliams says that he “met a burglar coming out of a room with a basket of tinware, which he had mistaken for solid silver in the dark.” From this, we can infer that since the thief stole the tinware thinking it was silverware, that silverware is more valuable than tinware, and this answer choice cannot be correct.

“When the McWilliamses smelled smoke, it was because their house was on fire.” - This answer choice is contradicted in the second paragraph when Mr. McWilliams says, “Then one night we smelled smoke. I lit a candle, and started toward the stairs, and met a burglar coming out of a room . . .  He was smoking a pipe.” Given this, and that a house fire isn’t mentioned at all in the passage, we can infer that the thief’s pipe was the source of the smoke that the McWilliamses smelled.

“One of the neighbors of the McWilliamses installed their burglar alarm.” - This cannot be correct, because Mr. McWilliams says that “the man came up from New York and put in the alarm.” The use of the phrase “came up” implies that “New York” is a different place from that in which the McWilliamses live. Thus, the man who installed the burglar alarm cannot be a neighbor of the McWilliamses.

“The McWilliamses never spent any money on their home.” - This cannot be correct because near the beginning of the second paragraph, Mr. McWilliams says, “When we were finishing our house, we found we had a little cash left over.” The use of the phrase “left over” implies that they were spending a set amount of money on their home, and did not end up spending the entire amount.

The final remaining answer is the correct answer: “The man stealing the tinware is an experienced thief.” While his mistaking tinware for silverware may make him look like an inexperienced thief, the final lines of the passage tell us that he has broken into other houses before; after Mr. McWilliams admonishes him for smoking, the passage says, “[The thief] said he was a stranger, and could not be expected to know the rules of the house: said he had been in many houses just as good as this one, and it had never been objected to before.” The last part of this sentence is the key to realizing the thief has stolen from other houses and is thus experienced.

Example Question #42 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Literary Fiction Passage Content

Adapted from Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) (1874)

And how should Dorothea not marry? A girl so handsome and with such prospects? Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer, or even might lead her at last to refuse all offers. A young lady of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor by the side of a sick laborer and prayed fervidly as if she thought herself living in the time of the apostles, who had strange whims of fasting and of sitting up at night to read old theological books! Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning with a new scheme for the application of her income which would interfere with political economy and the keeping of saddle-horses; a man would naturally think twice before he risked himself in such fellowship. Women were expected to have weak opinions, but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

The rural opinion about the new young ladies, even among the cottagers, was generally in favor of Celia, as being so amiable and innocent-looking, while Miss Brooke's large eyes seemed, like her religion, too unusual and striking. Poor Dorothea! Compared with her, the innocent-looking Celia was knowing and worldly-wise; so much subtler is a human mind than the outside tissues which make a sort of blazonry or clock-face for it.

Yet those who approached Dorothea, though prejudiced against her by this alarming hearsay, found that she had a charm unaccountably reconcilable with it. Most men thought her bewitching when she was on horseback. She loved the fresh air and the various aspects of the country, and when her eyes and cheeks glowed with mingled pleasure she looked very little like a devotee. Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she always looked forward to renouncing it.

She was open, ardent, and not in the least self-admiring; indeed, it was pretty to see how her imagination adorned her sister Celia with attractions altogether superior to her own, and if any gentleman appeared to come to the Grange from some other motive than that of seeing Mr. Brooke, she concluded that he must be in love with Celia. Sir James Chettam, for example, whom she constantly considered from Celia's point of view, inwardly debating whether it would be good for Celia to accept him. That he should be regarded as a suitor to herself would have seemed to her a ridiculous irrelevance. Dorothea, with all her eagerness to know the truths of life, retained very childlike ideas about marriage.

Based on what we are told in the passage, which of the following would be make the most sense if it occurred next in the story?

Possible Answers:

Dorothea is informed that Sir James Chettam has been courting her instead of Celia, and is dumbfounded.

Dorothea renounces her previous religious tendencies.

Celia becomes jealous of Dorothea since the community likes her better.

The community changes its opinions to value women’s opinions highly and act on them.

Celia and Dorothea decide to run away from their community to London.

Correct answer:

Dorothea is informed that Sir James Chettam has been courting her instead of Celia, and is dumbfounded.

Explanation:

The correct, most likely answer is that “Dorothea is informed that Sir James Chettam has been courting her instead of Celia, and is dumbfounded.” This event is foreshadowed in the passage’s last paragraph:

“. . . if any gentleman appeared to come to the Grange from some other motive than that of seeing Mr. Brooke, she concluded that he must be in love with Celia. Sir James Chettam, for example, whom she constantly considered from Celia's point of view, inwardly debating whether it would be good for Celia to accept him. That he should be regarded as a suitor to herself would have seemed to her a ridiculous irrelevance.”

As for the other answer choices, the community does not like Dorothea better than Celia; we are told this at the start of the second paragraph, which states, “The rural opinion about the new young ladies, even among the cottagers, was generally in favor of Celia, as being so amiable and innocent-looking, while Miss Brooke's large eyes seemed, like her religion, too unusual and striking.” This means that the answer “Celia becomes jealous of Dorothea since the community likes her better” is incorrect because it states an incorrect fact about the story. Nothing about the passage strongly suggests that Celia and Dorothea will run away from their community to London, even though their community is judgmental. Dorothea is unlikely to renounce her religious tendencies, given how they are used to characterize her in the first paragraph of the passage. The passage doesn’t suggest that it is likely that community will change its opinions to value women’s opinions highly.

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