AP English Literature : Interpreting Excerpts

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Excerpt Purpose In Context

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.
[Rises]
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!

The bolded and underlined excerpt accomplishes which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Changes the focus of Titus' speech from the political to the personal

Facilitates a shift in mode of address, changing Titus' speech from a direct address to a soliloquy

Facilitates a shift in tone and mode of address, changing Titus' speech from a desperate plea to the tribunes to a resigned monologue directed at off-stage figures

Changes the focus of Titus' speech from the personal to the political

Facilitates a shift in tone, changing Titus' speech from a bold, impassioned call to arms to a plea for leniency accentuating his own frailty

Correct answer:

Facilitates a shift in tone and mode of address, changing Titus' speech from a desperate plea to the tribunes to a resigned monologue directed at off-stage figures

Explanation:

After Titus lies down and the tribunes exit the stage, Titus' speech shifts from being a desperate plea being delivered to those with the power to save his children to a resigned monologue directed at off-stage characters. No longer pleading directly, Titus becomes resigned that his sons' "sweet blood will shame" the earth by "staining" it. 

The focus of Titus' speech is always more personal than political. His initial plea to the tribunes was not a bold, impassioned call to arms, and did, in fact, draw upon his own age and frailty. A soliloquy is a speech in which a character speaks to themselves, not an offstage other.

Example Question #211 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

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.
[Rises]
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!

In the context of the entire passage, which of the following is a reasonable purpose for Lucius to be carrying a sword throughout his conversation with Titus Andronicus?

Possible Answers:

Lucius' carrying the sword characterizes him as a warrior, and provides a visual representation of the difference between him and his father, a lifelong politician.

Lucius' carrying the sword characterizes him as a warrior, and puts him on even footing with his father, a triumphant war hero in the prime of his life.

Lucius' carrying the sword provides a visual representation of the difference between his and his father's approaches to the tribunes' sentencing of his brothers; Lucius is active and aggressive, while Titus is passive and resigned.

Lucius' carrying the sword provides a visual representation of the difference between his and his father's approaches to the tribunes' sentencing of his brothers; Lucius is content to threaten action, while Titus advocates silent, well-planned revenge.

Lucius' carrying the sword provides a visual representation of the difference between his and his father's approaches to the tribunes' sentencing of his brothers; Lucius is angry and unreasonable, while Titus is pragmatic and controlled.

Correct answer:

Lucius' carrying the sword provides a visual representation of the difference between his and his father's approaches to the tribunes' sentencing of his brothers; Lucius is active and aggressive, while Titus is passive and resigned.

Explanation:

In the context of the entire passage, Lucius's carrying a sword provides a visual representation of the difference between his approach and his father's; Lucius aggressively tries to "rescue [his] brothers," while Titus begs with the tribunes, calling upon their "pity" and citing his old age and past sacrifices, then passively continues pleading to rocks after they leave.

Titus does not advocate silent revenge, and although he is a war hero and not a lifelong politician, he is far past the prime of his life, as he repeatedly states. While Lucius' action did get him banished, and was possibly rash and overly aggressive, Titus does not advocate for a particularly pragmatic approach, as is evidenced by his prolonged chat with the rocks.

Example Question #11 : Excerpt Purpose In Context

Adapted from The Merchant of Venice, IV.i.2199-2280, by William Shakespeare (1600)

 

PORTIA: It is so. Are there balance here to weigh

    The flesh?

  SHYLOCK: I have them ready.

  PORTIA: Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,

    To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.

  SHYLOCK: Is it so nominated in the bond?

  PORTIA: It is not so express'd, but what of that?

    'Twere good you do so much for charity.

  SHYLOCK: I cannot find it; 'tis not in the bond.

  PORTIA. You, merchant, have you anything to say?

  ANTONIO: But little: I am arm'd and well prepar'd.

    Give me your hand, Bassanio; fare you well.

    Grieve not that I am fall'n to this for you,

    For herein Fortune shows herself more kind

    Than is her custom. It is still her use

    To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,

    To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow

    An age of poverty; from which ling'ring penance

    Of such misery doth she cut me off.

    Commend me to your honorable wife;

    Tell her the process of Antonio's end;

    Say how I lov'd you; speak me fair in death;

    And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge

    Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

    Repent but you that you shall lose your friend,

    And he repents not that he pays your debt;

    For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,

    I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.

  BASSANIO: Antonio, I am married to a wife

    Which is as dear to me as life itself;

    But life itself, my wife, and all the world,

    Are not with me esteem'd above thy life;

    I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all

    Here to this devil, to deliver you.

  PORTIA: Your wife would give you little thanks for that,

    If she were by to hear you make the offer.

  GRATIANO: I have a wife who I protest I love;

    I would she were in heaven, so she could

    Entreat some power to change this currish Jew.

  NERISSA: 'Tis well you offer it behind her back;

    The wish would make else an unquiet house.

  SHYLOCK:  [Aside]  These be the Christian husbands! I have a

    daughter—

    Would any of the stock of Barrabas

    Had been her husband, rather than a Christian!—

    We trifle time; I pray thee pursue sentence.

  PORTIA: A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine.

    The court awards it and the law doth give it.

  SHYLOCK: Most rightful judge!

  PORTIA: And you must cut this flesh from off his breast.

    The law allows it and the court awards it.

  SHYLOCK: Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare.

  PORTIA: Tarry a little; there is something else.

    This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood:

    The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh.'

    Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;

    But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed

    One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods

    Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate

    Unto the state of Venice.

  GRATIANO: O upright judge! Mark, Jew. O learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: Is that the law?

  PORTIA: Thyself shalt see the act;

    For, as thou urgest justice, be assur'd

    Thou shalt have justice, more than thou desir'st.

  GRATIANO: O learned judge! Mark, Jew. A learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: I take this offer then: pay the bond thrice,

    And let the Christian go.

  BASSANIO: Here is the money.

  PORTIA: Soft!

    The Jew shall have all justice. Soft! No haste.

    He shall have nothing but the penalty.

  GRATIANO: O Jew! an upright judge, a learned judge!

  PORTIA: Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh.

    Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more

    But just a pound of flesh; if thou tak'st more

    Or less than a just pound—be it but so much

    As makes it light or heavy in the substance,

    Or the division of the twentieth part

    Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn

    But in the estimation of a hair—

    Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.

What is the purpose of the two underlined sets of lines by Portia?

Possible Answers:

To express her disapproval of the overall situation

To exaggerate regarding the legal conditions of the agreement

To inflate Shylock's confidence

To examine the possible outcomes of the situation

Merely to state the facts of the case

Correct answer:

To inflate Shylock's confidence

Explanation:

In these two lines, Portia encourages Shylock to see that the court and the law both allow and award the promised pound of flesh; however, she will soon show him the many intricacies in which he will be involved by taking this seriously. She is building his confidence so that he will expect to receive the pound of flesh and Portia can then add, "And nothing more."

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (1857)

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

In the same moment with his advent, he stepped aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle, on the point of starting for New Orleans. Stared at, but unsaluted, with the air of one neither courting nor shunning regard, but evenly pursuing the path of duty, lead it through solitudes or cities, he held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.

As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Pausing at this spot, the stranger so far succeeded in threading his way, as at last to plant himself just beside the placard, when, producing a small slate and tracing some words upon if, he held it up before him on a level with the placard, so that they who read the one might read the other. The words were these:—

"Charity thinketh no evil.”

The purpose of the second paragraph in the context of the whole passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to help the reader empathize with the stranger, who is not accepted by the other passengers

to foreshadow the death of someone on the steamboat during its voyage

to allow the author to conclude an abstract discussion of con men before beginning the story proper

to provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock

to describe the setting of the dock before the stranger boards the steamboat

Correct answer:

to provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock

Explanation:

What happens in the second paragraph? The first sentence describes the physical appearance of the man in cream-colors; the second, third, and fourth sentences describe what he lacks (luggage, friends, and a porter); and the final sentence describes how the other passengers think him exceedingly strange. While this does “provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock,” it does not help us empathize with the stranger. None of the other answer choices make sense, so “provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock” is the correct answer.

Example Question #12 : Excerpt Purpose In Context

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

In the fullness of time the interesting occasion arrived. At eight in the evening the schoolhouse was brilliantly lighted, and adorned with wreaths and festoons of foliage and flowers. The master sat throned in his great chair upon a raised platform, with his blackboard behind him. He was looking tolerably mellow. Three rows of benches on each side and six rows in front of him were occupied by the dignitaries of the town and by the parents of the pupils. To his left, back of the rows of citizens, was a spacious temporary platform upon which were seated the scholars who were to take part in the exercises of the evening; rows of small boys, washed and dressed to an intolerable state of discomfort; rows of gawky big boys; snowbanks of girls and young ladies clad in lawn and muslin and conspicuously conscious of their bare arms, their grandmothers' ancient trinkets, their bits of pink and blue ribbon and the flowers in their hair. All the rest of the house was filled with non-participating scholars.

The exercises began. A very little boy stood up and sheepishly recited, "You'd scarce expect one of my age to speak in public on the stage," etc.—accompanying himself with the painfully exact and spasmodic gestures that a machine might have used—supposing the machine to be a trifle out of order. But he got through safely, though cruelly scared, and got a fine round of applause when he made his manufactured bow and retired.

A little shamefaced girl lisped, "Mary had a little lamb," etc., performed a compassion-inspiring curtsy, got her meed of applause, and sat down flushed and happy.

Tom Sawyer stepped forward with conceited confidence and soared into the unquenchable and indestructible "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, with fine fury and frantic gesticulation, and broke down in the middle of it. A ghastly stage-fright seized him, his legs quaked under him and he was like to choke. True, he had the manifest sympathy of the house, but he had the house's silence, too, which was even worse than its sympathy. The master frowned, and this completed the disaster. Tom struggled a while and then retired, utterly defeated. There was a weak attempt at applause, but it died early.

"The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck" followed; also "The Assyrian Came Down," and other declamatory gems. Then there were reading exercises, and a spelling fight. The meager Latin class recited with honor. The prime feature of the evening was in order, now—original "compositions" by the young ladies. Each in her turn stepped forward to the edge of the platform, cleared her throat, held up her manuscript (tied with dainty ribbon), and proceeded to read, with labored attention to "expression" and punctuation. The themes were the same that had been illuminated upon similar occasions by their mothers before them, their grandmothers, and doubtless all their ancestors in the female line clear back to the Crusades. "Friendship" was one; "Memories of Other Days"; "Religion in History"; "Dream Land"; "The Advantages of Culture"; "Forms of Political Government Compared and Contrasted"; "Melancholy"; "Filial Love"; "Heart Longings," etc., etc.

A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of "fine language"; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out; and a peculiarity that conspicuously marked and marred them was the inveterate and intolerable sermon that wagged its crippled tail at the end of each and every one of them. No matter what the subject might be, a brainracking effort was made to squirm it into some aspect or other that the moral and religious mind could contemplate with edification. The glaring insincerity of these sermons was not sufficient to compass the banishment of the fashion from the schools, and it is not sufficient today; it never will be sufficient while the world stands, perhaps. There is no school in all our land where the young ladies do not feel obliged to close their compositions with a sermon; and you will find that the sermon of the most frivolous and the least religious girl in the school is always the longest and the most relentlessly pious. But enough of this. Homely truth is unpalatable. 

The underlined sentence primarily functions as __________.

Possible Answers:

a parenthetical observation about the importance of traditional themes 

a digression on thematic elements popular during the Crusades 

a subtle indication to the reader that students are not allowed to introduce new themes 

 

a critical commentary on the female students' ancestral lines 

a humorous and hyperbolic aside about the repetitive nature of themes 

Correct answer:

a humorous and hyperbolic aside about the repetitive nature of themes 

Explanation:

The correct answer is "a humorous and hyperbolic aside about the repetitive nature of themes." The author's statement that the themes stretch back to the Crusades is not meant to be taken literally, but is a humorous exaggeration meant to convey the uniformity of the themes to the reader.

Example Question #212 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

Adapted from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde (1894)

Mrs. Cheveley: Except their husbands. That is the one thing the modern woman never understands.

Lady Markby: And a very good thing too, dear, I dare say. It might break up many a happy home if they did. Not yours, I need hardly say, Gertrude. You have married a pattern husband. I wish I could say as much for myself. But since Sir John has taken to attending the debates regularly, which he never used to do in the good old days, his language has become quite impossible. He always seems to think that he is addressing the House, and consequently whenever he discusses the state of the agricultural laborer, or the Welsh Church, or something quite improper of that kind, I am obliged to send all the servants out of the room. It is not pleasant to see one’s own butler, who has been with one for twenty-three years, actually blushing at the side-board, and the footmen making contortions in corners like persons in circuses. I assure you my life will be quite ruined unless they send John at once to the Upper House. He won’t take any interest in politics then, will he? The House of Lords is so sensible. An assembly of gentlemen. But in his present state, Sir John is really a great trial. Why, this morning before breakfast was half over, he stood up on the hearthrug, put his hands in his pockets, and appealed to the country at the top of his voice. I left the table as soon as I had my second cup of tea, I need hardly say. But his violent language could be heard all over the house! I trust, Gertrude, that Sir Robert is not like that?

Lady Chiltern: But I am very much interested in politics, Lady Markby. I love to hear Robert talk about them.

Lady Markby: Well, I hope he is not as devoted to Blue Books as Sir John is. I don’t think they can be quite improving reading for any one.

Mrs. Cheveley: [Languidly.] I have never read a Blue Book. I prefer books . . . in yellow covers.

Lady Markby: [Genially unconscious.] Yellow is a gayer color, is it not? I used to wear yellow a good deal in my early days, and would do so now if Sir John was not so painfully personal in his observations, and a man on the question of dress is always ridiculous, is he not?

Mrs. Cheveley: Oh, no! I think men are the only authorities on dress.

Lady Markby: Really? One wouldn’t say so from the sort of hats they wear? Would one?

[The butler enters, followed by the footman. Tea is set on a small table close to Lady Chiltern.]

Lady Chiltern: May I give you some tea, Mrs. Cheveley?

Mrs. Cheveley: Thanks. [The butler hands Mrs. Cheveley a cup of tea on a salver.]

Lady Chiltern: Some tea, Lady Markby?

Lady Markby: No thanks, dear. [The servants go out.] The fact is, I have promised to go round for ten minutes to see poor Lady Brancaster, who is in very great trouble. Her daughter, quite a well-brought-up girl, too, has actually become engaged to be married to a curate in Shropshire. It is very sad, very sad indeed. I can’t understand this modern mania for curates. In my time we girls saw them, of course, running about the place like rabbits. But we never took any notice of them, I need hardly say. But I am told that nowadays country society is quite honeycombed with them. I think it most irreligious. And then the eldest son has quarreled with his father, and it is said that when they meet at the club Lord Brancaster always hides himself behind the money article in The Times. However, I believe that is quite a common occurrence nowadays and that they have to take in extra copies of The Times at all the clubs in St. James’s Street; there are so many sons who won’t have anything to do with their fathers, and so many fathers who won’t speak to their sons. I think myself, it is very much to be regretted.

Mrs. Cheveley: So do I. Fathers have so much to learn from their sons nowadays.

Lady Markby: Really, dear? What? 

Mrs. Cheveley: The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have produced in modern times.

Lady Markby's statement that "clubs in St. James's Street have extra copies of The Times" is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

an inference about the quality of journalism in London 

a comment about how all the clubs in London have to order extra newspapers for Lord Brancaster 

a critical appraisal of the high stockpile of newspapers ordered by clubs

a hyperbolic statement about the decay of family relations

an observation about the popularity of The Times

Correct answer:

a hyperbolic statement about the decay of family relations

Explanation:

The correct answer is "a hyperbolic statement about the decay of family relations." The primary purpose of Lady Markby's statement is not literal, but instead embellishes her claim that strained relations between fathers and sons are all too common in modern society.

Example Question #92 : Interpreting Excerpts

Adapted from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (1766)

The temporal concerns of our family were chiefly committed to my wife's management; as to the spiritual, I took them entirely under my own direction. The profits of my living, which amounted to but thirty-five pounds a year, I made over to the orphans and widows of the clergy of our diocese; for having a sufficient fortune of my own, I was careless of temporalities, and felt a secret pleasure in doing my duty without reward. I also set a resolution of keeping no curate, and of being acquainted with every man in the parish, exhorting the married men to temperance and the bachelors to matrimony, so that in a few years it was a common saying, that there were three strange wants at Wakefield, a parson wanting pride, young men wanting wives, and ale-houses wanting customers. Matrimony was always one of my favorite topics, and I wrote several sermons to prove its happiness; but there was a peculiar tenet that I made a point of supporting; for I maintained with Whiston, that it was unlawful for a priest of the church of England, after the death of his first wife, to take a second, or to express it in one word, I valued myself upon being a strict monogamist. I was early initiated into this important dispute, on which so many laborious volumes have been written. I published some tracts upon the subject myself, which, as they never sold, I have the consolation of thinking are read only by the happy Few. Some of my friends called this my weak side; but alas! they had not like me made it the subject of long contemplation. The more I reflected upon it, the more important it appeared. I even went a step beyond Whiston in displaying my principles: as he had engraved upon his wife's tomb that she was the only wife of William Whiston; so I wrote a similar epitaph for my wife, though still living, in which I extolled her prudence, economy, and obedience till death; and having got it copied fair, with an elegant frame, it was placed over the chimney-piece, where it answered several very useful purposes. It admonished my wife of her duty to me, and my fidelity to her; it inspired her with a passion for fame, and constantly put her in mind of her end.

It was thus, perhaps, from hearing marriage so often recommended, that my eldest son, just upon leaving college, fixed his affections upon the daughter of a neighboring clergyman, who was a dignitary in the church, and in circumstances to give her a large fortune: but fortune was her smallest accomplishment. Miss Arabella Wilmot was allowed by all, except my two daughters, to be completely pretty. Her youth, health, and innocence, were still heightened by a complexion so transparent, and such an happy sensibility of look, as even age could not gaze on with indifference. As Mr Wilmot knew that I could make a very handsome settlement on my son, he was not averse to the match; so both families lived together in all that harmony which generally precedes an expected alliance. Being convinced by experience that the days of courtship are the most happy of our lives, I was willing enough to lengthen the period; and the various amusements that the young couple every day shared in each other's company, seemed to increase their passion. We were generally awaked in the morning by music, and on fine days rode a hunting. The hours between breakfast and dinner the ladies devoted to dress and study: they usually read a page, and then gazed at themselves in the glass, which even philosophers might own often presented the page of greatest beauty. At dinner my wife took the lead; for as she always insisted upon carving everything herself, it being her mother's way, she gave us upon these occasions the history of every dish. When we had dined, to prevent the ladies leaving us, I generally ordered the table to be removed; and sometimes, with the music master's assistance, the girls would give us a very agreeable concert. Walking out, drinking tea, country dances, and forfeits, shortened the rest of the day, without the assistance of cards, as I hated all manner of gaming, except backgammon, at which my old friend and I sometimes took a two-penny hit. Nor can I here pass over an ominous circumstance that happened the last time we played together: I only wanted to fling a quatre, and yet I threw deuce ace five times running. Some months were elapsed in this manner, till at last it was thought convenient to fix a day for the nuptials of the young couple, who seemed earnestly to desire it.

The author's discussion of the speaker's wife and means in the first paragraph allows him to _________.

Possible Answers:

demand a greater morality from unmarried individuals only

segue into the discussion of the son's intentions to wed in the second paragraph

discuss the place of divorce in the narrator's society

reflect on the necessity of the clergy to be married

criticize those who marry

Correct answer:

segue into the discussion of the son's intentions to wed in the second paragraph

Explanation:

The author uses the discussion on means and wedlock in the first paragraph to lead into the description of the son's intentions to wed, as you can see in the first line of the second paragraph: “It was thus, perhaps, from hearing marriage so often recommended, that my eldest son, just upon leaving college, fixed his affections upon the daughter of a neighbouring clergyman.” The line refers back to the  discussion of the first paragraph, seamlessly linking both parts of the passage. We can infer that the passage is not criticizing individuals who marry. Neither does it state the necessity for the clergy to marry, only the belief that they should only marry once; note this is concerning the clergy and not everyone. The author never discusses divorce, and he urges everyone around him to be more moral, not just unmarried individuals (he "exhort[s] the married men to temperance").

Example Question #11 : Effect Of Specified Text: Poetry

Adapted from "Old Man Traveling" by William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798 ed.)

          The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
"Sir! I am going many miles to take
"A last leave of my son, a mariner,
"Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital."

The author begins the poem with, “The little hedge-row birds, / That peck along the road, regard him not.” This allows him to __________.

Possible Answers:

draw the reader's attention to the man in spite of the birds

draw attention away from nature

draw the reader's attention to the birds as the poem's main subject

highlight the man's inability to scare the birds

draw the reader's attention to the man through the birds

Correct answer:

draw the reader's attention to the man through the birds

Explanation:

The author wants the reader to focus in on the man as the subject of the poem but also wants to use the birds to focus the reader's attention, as they highlight an essential feature of the man, namely his ability to pass by without disturbing the birds. The author does not want to highlight the man's inability to scare the birds, as the man is not attempting to do so. The birds are essential to the introduction of the man, so nothing is done “in spite of” them.

Example Question #521 : Sat Subject Test In Literature

Passage adapted from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring" (1921).

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness 

Of leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.  5

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?  10

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.  15

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

The phrases "the spikes of the crocus" and "the redness of the leaves opening stickily" serve the purpose of __________.

Possible Answers:

None of these

All of these answers are accurate.

describing flowers and plants in the springtime

subverting the traditional association between springtime and new life by using words that have threatening or violent connotations

foreshadowing the gory imagery of death that occurs later in the poem

Correct answer:

All of these answers are accurate.

Explanation:

The phrases "spikes of the crocus" and "the redness of the leaves opening stickily" serve all of the purposes listed. On the surface level, these phrases describe botanical imagery. However, the word "spike," while describing the shape of the crocus flower, also suggests a literal spike, something that is dangerous or could be used as a weapon. The words "redness" and "stickily" can have connotations of blood or wounds. These gruesome images foreshadow the macabre imagery that occurs in lines 11-12.

Example Question #91 : Interpreting Excerpts

Passage adapted from Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1899). 

He was the only man of us who still "followed the sea." The worst that could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them—the ship; and so is their country—the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same.

In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny.

For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut.

But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.

Within the passage, the main purpose of the third paragraph is to __________.

Possible Answers:

Explain how sailing legends originated 

Introduce a contrast between the simplicty of the seamen and Marlow's complex worldview suggested by the way he tells stories 

Provide a background of the narrator's journey 

Bely the narrator's distrust of the seamen 

Cast aspersions on working class people for being unintelligent 

Correct answer:

Introduce a contrast between the simplicty of the seamen and Marlow's complex worldview suggested by the way he tells stories 

Explanation:

The narrator is not being overly negative towards other seamen, but in the third paragraph he introduces the idea that most sailor's are simplistic, which he contrasts to Marlow's deep understanding of events in the following paragraph. There is no content in the paragraph referencing the narrator's background, or even his personality.

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