AP English Literature : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, and Bias

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Act 1, Scene 1, ln. 78-119 of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1604) in Vol. XIX, Part 2 of The Harvard Classics (1909-1914)


FAUST: How am I glutted with conceit of this!

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,

Resolve me of all ambiguities,

Perform what desperate enterprise I will?

I’ll have them fly to India for gold,

Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,

And search all corners of the new-found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates;

I’ll have them read me strange philosophy

And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;

I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass,

And make swift Rhine circle fair Wittenberg;

I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,

Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad;

I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,

And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,

And reign sole king of all the provinces;

Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war

Than was the fiery keel at Antwerp’s bridge,

I’ll make my servile spirits to invent.


Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,

And make me blest with your sage conference.

Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,

Know that your words have won me at the last

To practice magic and concealed arts:

Yet not your words only, but mine own fantasy

That will receive no object, for my head

But ruminates on necromantic skill.

Philosophy is odious and obscure,

Both law and physic are for petty wits;

Divinity is basest of the three,

Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile:

’Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish’d me.

Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt;

And I that have with concise syllogisms

Gravell’d the pastors of the German church,

And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg

Swarm to my problems, as the infernal spirits

On sweet Musaeigus, when he came to hell,

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,

Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.

In presenting Faustus' internal ruminations on the possibilities of magic powers, the playwright is most likely trying to do what?

Possible Answers:

Foreshadow Faustus' eventual ascension to power

Use Faustus' position as an expert and academic to critique the German church

Cultivate the audience's sympathy by presenting Faustus as a likable character

Give the audience a learned, humanist perspective on the occult

Give the audience a window into Faustus' pride, arrogance, and ambitions

Correct answer:

Give the audience a window into Faustus' pride, arrogance, and ambitions


The playwright's most likely intention in presenting Faustus' fantasies about the occult are most likely to give the audience a window into Faustus' pride, arrogance, and ambitions. Faustus' fantasies reveal him to be, ultimately, prideful, conceited, and ambitious—he figures himself as "sole king" and feels himself entitled to all the "pleasant fruits and princely delights" available.

While Faustus is a learned, humanist academic, the purpose of presenting his fantasies is not educate the audience on the occult. The passage presents him as actively unsympathetic and unlikable, and while he will go on to critique the church, the presentation of his fantasies does not further this goal, nor is this character's goal in line with the author's intention.

Example Question #81 : Interpreting The Passage

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what’s the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"

He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.

"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa, haughtily, without lifting up her eyes, "and father caught us."

"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."

"Dear me," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas! I wonder at you. I declare you’re enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn’t. Then what would you have done, I should like to know?"

Mr. Gradgrind did not seem favorably impressed by these cogent remarks. He frowned impatiently.

"As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn’t go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "You know, as well as I do, no young people have circus masters, or keep circuses in cabinets, or attend lectures about circuses. What can you possibly want to know of circuses then? I am sure you have enough to do, if that’s what you want. With my head in its present state, I couldn’t remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."

"That’s the reason!" pouted Louisa.

"Don’t tell me that’s the reason, because it can’t be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be somethingological directly." Mrs. Gradgrind was not a scientific character, and usually dismissed her children to their studies with this general injunction to choose their pursuit.

In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective, but Mr. Gradgrind, in raising her to her high matrimonial position, had been influenced by two reasons. Firstly, she was most satisfactory as a question of figures, and, secondly, she had "no nonsense" about her. By nonsense he meant fancy, and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot ever was.

The simple circumstance of being left alone with her husband and Mr. Bounderby was sufficient to stun this admirable lady again without collision between herself and any other fact. So, she once more died away, and nobody minded her.

"Bounderby," said Mr. Gradgrind, drawing a chair to the fireside, "you are always so interested in my young people—particularly in Louisa—that I make no apology for saying to you, I am very much vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of the reason of my family. The reason is (as you know) the only faculty to which education should be addressed. And yet, Bounderby, it would appear from this unexpected circumstance of today, though in itself a trifling one, as if something had crept into Thomas’s and Louisa’s minds which is—or rather, which is not—I don’t know that I can express myself better than by saying—which has never been intended to be developed, and in which their reason has no part."

What is the author's purpose in having Mr. Gradgrind state the underlined and bolded sentence?

Possible Answers:

To satire the poetic aspirations of young people

To make clear the world of Victorian morality

To show the depths of Mr. Gradgrind's utilitarian outlook

To rebuke the immaturity of youth by having such words come from a figure of authority

To express the biases of his period regarding parental roles

Correct answer:

To show the depths of Mr. Gradgrind's utilitarian outlook


The expression used by Mr. Gradgrind is almost ridiculous in its content. He equates poetry to the circus, as though both are equally wastes of time. Throughout the passage, Mr. Gradgrind is clearly focused on practical things only—facts, facts, facts. To be "utilitarian" is to worry only about useful things. This expression is used to show how ridiculously utilitarian Mr. Gradgrind truly is.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Notes from the Underground (1864) in White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1919, trans. Garnett)

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than—"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science . . . and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices—that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula—then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances—can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated—because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will—so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even . . . to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent. . . ."

What is likely the reason for the author writing this passage?

Possible Answers:

To show how the science of his day was changing how people were viewed

To present an excellent conversational style to his readers

To explain the details of new scientific theories

To present the history of the free will debate

To express his opinion on the matters of free will

Correct answer:

To show how the science of his day was changing how people were viewed


Several things should be kept in mind in this selection. First of all, it is not much of a conversation—it is all "one way"! Furthermore, the speaker is not presented in the most flattering light. He is quite cynical-seeming, and this likely expresses the negative appraisal of the author, showing the negative effects of the character's outlook concerning the relationship between scientific laws and free will. The overall feeling that you get from the passage is that the author wants to show how dark and cynical one can become by adopting the character's view. This kind of opinion represents a way that the science of Dostoyevsky's day was interpreted. This is likely his inspiration for writing this selection.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from “Solitary Death, make me thine own” in Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses by Michael Field (pseudonym of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) (1893)


Solitary Death, make me thine own,

And let us wander the bare fields together;

          Yea, thou and I alone

Roving in unembittered unison forever.


I will not harry thy treasure-graves,

I do not ask thy still hands a lover;

            My heart within me craves

To travel till we twain Time’s wilderness discover.


To sojourn with thee my soul was bred,

And I, the courtly sights of life refusing,

            To the wide shadows fled,

And mused upon thee often as I fell a-musing.


Escaped from chaos, thy mother Night,

In her maiden breast a burthen that awed her,

           By cavern waters white

Drew thee her first-born, her unfathered off-spring toward her.


On dewey plats, near twilight dingle,

She oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses

           In thine ears a-tingle,

Pours her cool charms, her weird, reviving chaunt rehearses.


Though mortals menace thee or elude,

And from thy confines break in swift transgression.

            Thou for thyself art sued

Of me, I claim thy cloudy purlieus my possession.


To a long freshwater, where the sea

Stirs the silver flux of the reeds and willows,

            Come thou, and beckon me

To lie in the lull of the sand-sequestered billows:


Then take the life I have called my own

And to the liquid universe deliver;

            Loosening my spirit’s zone,

Wrap round me as thy limbs the wind, the light, the river.

Which of the following is NOT a reasonable inference to take from the poem of the speaker’s opinion?

Possible Answers:

The speaker places great value on paternal bonds

The speaker advocates non-transactional, companionable relationships.

The speaker feels that death is worthy of earnest intellectual consideration and should not be blindly feared.

The speaker places great values maternal bonds.

The speaker views individual human lives as insignificant in the face of larger metaphysical concepts, like death and time.

Correct answer:

The speaker places great value on paternal bonds


The specific figuring of Death as “un-fathered” makes it unreasonable to infer that the speaker specifically places great value on paternal bonds. The description of Death’s birth and relationship to “mother Night” makes such an inference reasonable about maternal bonds. The entire poem functions as an earnest intellectual consideration of death, the importance of non-transactional relationships are emphasized in the first two stanzas, and the notion that individual human lives are insignificant in the face of larger concepts is presented in the first line of the last stanza.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

Which of the following is likely to be the author's purpose and intent in writing this passage?

Possible Answers:

To show how biological experiments have disastrous consequences

To show how human creations can come to control our lives

To preach about the evils of slavery

To give an example of how to handle oneself when confronted by a monster

To show the outcome of unrequited love

Correct answer:

To show how human creations can come to control our lives


The language of this passage is focused on the relationship between the monster and Dr. Frankenstein. Granted, part of the dynamic is the monster's anger and threats directed at Dr. Frankenstein. However, the more general theme is that of the reversal of roles from master to slave (and creator to slave). Shelly was using this motif to express the anxiety experienced by people during that period of industrialization in the West, as it seemed that technical expertise and knowledge would supplant all other forms of life, terrorizing all human interactions and institutions.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874)

[Mrs. Vincy] never left Fred’s side when her husband was not in the house, and thus Rosamond was in the unusual position of being much alone. Lydgate, naturally, never thought of staying long with her, yet it seemed that the brief impersonal conversations they had together were creating that peculiar intimacy which consists in shyness. They were obliged to look at each other in speaking, and somehow the looking could not be carried through as the matter of course which it really was. Lydgate began to feel this sort of consciousness unpleasant, and one day looked down, or anywhere, like an ill-worked puppet. But this turned out badly: the next day, Rosamond looked down, and the consequence was that when their eyes met again, both were more conscious than before. There was no help for this in science, and as Lydgate did not want to flirt, there seemed to be no help for it in folly. It was therefore a relief when neighbors no longer considered the house in quarantine, and when the chances of seeing Rosamond alone were very much reduced.

But that intimacy of mutual embarrassment, in which each feels that the other is feeling something, having once existed, its effect is not to be done away with. Talk about the weather and other well-bred topics is apt to seem a hollow device, and behavior can hardly become easy unless it frankly recognizes a mutual fascination – which of course need not mean anything deep or serious. This was the way in which Rosamond and Lydgate slid gracefully into ease, and made their intercourse lively again. Visitors came and went as usual, there was once more music in the drawing room, and all the extra hospitality of Mr. Vincy’s mayoralty returned. Lydgate, whenever he could, took his seat by Rosamond’s side, and lingered to hear her music, calling himself her captive – meaning, all the while, not to be her captive. The preposterousness of the notion that he could at once set up a satisfactory establishment as a married man was a sufficient guarantee against danger. This play at being a little in love was agreeable, and did not interfere with graver pursuits. Flirtation, after all, was not necessarily a singeing process. Rosamond, for her part, had never enjoyed the days so much in her life before: she was sure of being admired by someone worth captivating, and she did not distinguish flirtation from love, either in herself or in another. She seemed to be sailing with a fair wind just whither she would go, and her thoughts were much occupied with a handsome house in Lowick Gate which she hoped would by-and-by be vacant. She was quite determined, when she was married, to rid herself adroitly of all the visitors who were not agreeable to her at her father’s, and she imagined the drawing room in her favourite house with various styles of furniture.

Certainly her thoughts were much occupied with Lydgate himself, he seemed to her almost perfect: if he had known his notes so that his enchantment under her music had been less like an emotional elephant’s, and if he had been able to discriminate better the refinements of her taste in dress, she could hardly have mentioned a deficiency in him. How different he was from young Plymdale or Mr. Caius Larcher! Those young men had not a notion of French, and could speak on no subject with striking knowledge, except perhaps the dyeing and carrying trades, which of course they were ashamed to mention; they were Middlemarch gentry, elated with their silver-headed whips and satin stocks, but embarrassed in their manners, and timidly jocose: even Fred was above them, having at least the accent and manner of a university man. Whereas Lydgate was always listened to, bore himself with the careless politeness of conscious superiority, and seemed to have the right clothes on by a certain natural affinity, without ever having to think about them. Rosamond was proud when he entered the room, and when he approached her with a distinguishing smile, she had a delicious sense that she was the object of enviable homage. If Lydgate had been aware of all the pride he excited in that delicate bosom, he might have been just as well pleased as any other man, even the most densely ignorant of humoral pathology or fibrous tissue: he held it one of the prettiest attitudes of the feminine mind to adore a man’s pre-eminence without too precise a knowledge of what it consisted in.

Which of the following best describes the overall tone of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Psychologically penetrating and gently ironic

Wistful and retrospective

Objective and strictly informational 

Earnest and intense

Satirical and sardonic

Correct answer:

Psychologically penetrating and gently ironic


The narrator gives a great deal of intimate psychological detail about both Lydgate and Rosamond, and often uses a slightly teasing but gentle tone to point out both characters' failings and limitations.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

France, less favored on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honor to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But, that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognized and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, "in consequence of the failure of his ammunition": after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing rooms; musketeers went into St Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob; and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and tomorrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence.

The chief purpose of the literary devices used in this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

set up a dichotomy between the cultures of England and France at the time

show the author's tonal bias toward England over France

create a sense of extreme scope and disparity to the age while acknowledging minor national similarities

point out the similarities between people of a variety of cultural backgrounds

create a sense of urgency in the reader

Correct answer:

create a sense of extreme scope and disparity to the age while acknowledging minor national similarities


The extreme differences between England and France are set up by the antithetical nature of the opening passage. However, Dickens points out that both countries are suffering from similar struggles with crime and corruption, each in their own way.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from "The Mouse’s Petition" in Poems by Anna Letitia Barbauld (1773)

Found in the trap where he had been confined all night by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments with different kinds of air

“To spare the humbled, and to tame in war the proud.” - Virgil


OH! hear a pensive captive's prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner's cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th' approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

If e'er thy breast with freedom glow'd,
And spurn'd a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray'd
A prize so little worth.

The scatter'd gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro' matter's varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother's soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown'd;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

Which of the following is the best example of anti-science bias in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Throughout the poem, the mouse is figured as a thoughtful, sentient being with mental traits equal to those of humans, which is clearly scientifically inaccurate.

The poet's invocation of "ancient sages" demonstrates a religious frame of reference that is clearly incommensurate with scientific discourse.

The poet's characterization of Dr. Priestley as "a tyrant" is clearly inflammatory and prejudicial.

In the note preceding the poem, the author specifically mentions "the trap" in which the mouse has "been confined," but is vague about the "experiments with different kinds of air."

The poet's characterization of the "philosophic mind" as expansive and compassionate is clearly set up in opposition to the scientific method, which is characterized as "transient" and short-term in its thinking.

Correct answer:

In the note preceding the poem, the author specifically mentions "the trap" in which the mouse has "been confined," but is vague about the "experiments with different kinds of air."


Of the answers provided, the most obvious evidence of bias can be found in the language of the note preceding the poem. The specificity about the mouse's condition, combined with the vagueness about the actual nature or possible benefits of the scientific experiment.

Throughout the poem, the mouse is figured as on ethical par with all sentient beings, there is no specific claim that the mouse's mental capacity equals that of humans.

While the poet does characterize the "well-taught philosophic mind" as expansive and compassionate, "transient" is used to refer to the "gleam of day," and little is said directly in critique of scientific thinking.

The poet does not characterize Dr. Priestley as a tyrant, but rather draws attention to his having "spurn'd a tyrant's chain," probably a reference to his anti-tyrannical political views.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, III.i.1126-1185 (1623)

Enter Judges, Senators and Tribunes, with MARTIUS and QUINTUS, bound, passing on to the place of execution; TITUS going before, pleading

Titus Andronicus: Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay! 
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent 
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept; 
For all my blood in Rome's great quarrel shed; 
For all the frosty nights that I have watch'd;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see 
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks; 
Be pitiful to my condemned sons, 
Whose souls are not corrupted as 'tis thought. 
For two and twenty sons I never wept, 
Because they died in honor's lofty bed. 
[Lieth down; the Judges, &c., pass by him, and Exeunt] 
For these, these, tribunes, in the dust I write 
My heart's deep languor and my soul's sad tears: 
Let my tears stanch the earth's dry appetite; 
My sons' sweet blood will make it shame and blush. 
O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain, 
That shall distill from these two ancient urns, 
Than youthful April shall with all his showers: 
In summer's drought I'll drop upon thee still; 
In winter with warm tears I'll melt the snow 
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face, 
So thou refuse to drink my dear sons' blood. 
[Enter LUCIUS, with his sword drawn] 
O reverend tribunes! O gentle, aged men! 
Unbind my sons, reverse the doom of death; 
And let me say, that never wept before, 
My tears are now prevailing orators.

Lucius: O noble father, you lament in vain: 
The tribunes hear you not; no man is by;
And you recount your sorrows to a stone.

Titus Andronicus: Ah, Lucius, for thy brothers let me plead. 
Grave tribunes, once more I entreat of you,—

Lucius: My gracious lord, no tribune hears you speak.

Titus Andronicus: Why, tis no matter, man; if they did hear,

They would not mark me, or if they did mark, 

They would not pity me, yet plead I must; 

And bootless unto them [—] 

Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones; 

Who, though they cannot answer my distress, 

Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes, 

For that they will not intercept my tale: 

When I do weep, they humbly at my feet 

Receive my tears and seem to weep with me; 

And, were they but attired in grave weeds,

Rome could afford no tribune like to these. 

A stone is soft as wax,—tribunes more hard than stones; 

A stone is silent, and offendeth not, 

And tribunes with their tongues doom men to death.
But wherefore stand'st thou with thy weapon drawn?

Lucius: To rescue my two brothers from their death: 
For which attempt the judges have pronounced 
My everlasting doom of banishment.

Titus Andronicus: O happy man! they have befriended thee.
Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive 
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers? 
Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey 
But me and mine: how happy art thou, then, 
From these devourers to be banished!

Which of the following is NOT reasonable evidence of authorial bias against the tribunes and civil administrators in general in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The extended comparison of the tribunes to the rocks reflects more favorably on the rocks as listeners and empathetic beings than on the tribunes

The contrast between made between the sacrifices Titus has made, shedding his own blood and losing sons in battle, and the relatively secure position of the tribunes

The extended time given to Titus' complaints about the tribunes, as compared to their silent exit from the stage

The stereotypical physical depiction of the tribunes as feeble, elderly, and dependent on the assistance of others

The metaphorical characterization of the tribunes as "tigers"

Correct answer:

The stereotypical physical depiction of the tribunes as feeble, elderly, and dependent on the assistance of others


The only of the answers that is NOT evidence of author bias (or preference) in favor of Titus and against the tribunes (and civil administrators in general) is the stereotypical depiction of the tribunes as feeble and elderly. Although Titus does reference their "securely [sleeping]" when Titus and his sons have been out fighting battles, there is no specific indication in the passage that the tribunes are old and frail, and there is no mention of helpers assisting them physically.

The tribunes' silence, unfavorable comparison to rocks, and characterization as vicious tigers are all evidence of authorial bias (or preference) in favor of Titus' position against their unfeeling political actions and way of operating, as is the contrast made between Titus' sacrifices and the tribunes' safe, judgmental position of power.

Example Question #1 : Inferring Author Intent, Opinion, And Bias

Adapted from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

I know that the tune I am piping is a very mild one (although there are some terrific chapters coming presently), and must beg the good-natured reader to remember that we are only discoursing at present about a stockbroker's family in Russell Square, who are taking walks, or luncheon, or dinner, or talking and making love as people do in common life, and without a single passionate and wonderful incident to mark the progress of their loves. The argument stands thus—Osborne, in love with Amelia, has asked an old friend to dinner and to Vauxhall—Jos Sedley is in love with Rebecca. Will he marry her? That is the great subject now in hand.

We might have treated this subject in the genteel, or in the romantic, or in the facetious manner. Suppose we had laid the scene in Grosvenor Square, with the very same adventures—would not some people have listened? Suppose we had shown how Lord Joseph Sedley fell in love, and the Marquis of Osborne became attached to Lady Amelia, with the full consent of the Duke, her noble father: or instead of the supremely genteel, suppose we had resorted to the entirely low, and described what was going on in Mr. Sedley's kitchen—how the servant was in love with the cook (as indeed he was), and how he fought a battle with the coachman on her behalf; how the knife-boy was caught stealing a cold shoulder of mutton, and Miss Sedley's new femme de chambre refused to go to bed without a wax candle; such incidents might be made to provoke much delightful laughter, and be supposed to represent scenes of "life." Or if, on the contrary, we had taken a fancy for the terrible, and made the lover of the new femme de chambre a professional burglar, who bursts into the house with his band, slaughters the servant at the feet of his master, and carries off Amelia in her night-dress, not to be let loose again till the third volume, we should easily have constructed a tale of thrilling interest, through the fiery chapters of which the reader should hurry, panting. But my readers must hope for no such romance, only a homely story, and must be content with a chapter about Vauxhall, which is so short that it scarce deserves to be called a chapter at all. And yet it is a chapter, and a very important one too. Are not there little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?

In this passage, the author's tone can be best described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Dramatic and suspenseful

Satirical and humorous

Mournful and melancholy

Formal and antiquated

Dark and foreboding

Correct answer:

Satirical and humorous


Thackeray directly addresses and plays with readers' expectations, describing the content at hand as "mild" but promising "terrific chapters" ahead. His tone is thus self-mocking and satirical.

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