Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts : Analyze How Complex Characters Drive a Story: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3

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Example Question #1 : Analyze How Complex Characters Drive A Story: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.9 10.3

Passage adapted from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

About four hours after we began our journey, I awaked by a very ridiculous accident; for the carriage being stopped a while, to adjust something that was out of order, two or three of the young natives had the curiosity to see how I looked when I was asleep; they climbed up into the engine, and advancing very softly to my face, one of them, an officer in the guards, put the sharp end of his half–pike a good way up into my left nostril, which tickled my nose like a straw, and made me sneeze violently; whereupon they stole off unperceived, and it was three weeks before I knew the cause of my waking so suddenly. We made a long march the remaining part of the day, and, rested at night with five hundred guards on each side of me, half with torches, and half with bows and arrows, ready to shoot me if I should offer to stir. The next morning at sun–rise we continued our march, and arrived within two hundred yards of the city gates about noon. The emperor, and all his court, came out to meet us; but his great officers would by no means suffer his majesty to endanger his person by mounting on my body.

At the place where the carriage stopped there stood an ancient temple, esteemed to be the largest in the whole kingdom; which, having been polluted some years before by an unnatural murder, was, according to the zeal of those people, looked upon as profane, and therefore had been applied to common use, and all the ornaments and furniture carried away. In this edifice it was determined I should lodge. The great gate fronting to the north was about four feet high, and almost two feet wide, through which I could easily creep. On each side of the gate was a small window, not above six inches from the ground: into that on the left side, the king's smith conveyed fourscore and eleven chains, like those that hang to a lady's watch in Europe, and almost as large, which were locked to my left leg with six–and–thirty padlocks. Over against this temple, on the other side of the great highway, at twenty feet distance, there was a turret at least five feet high. Here the emperor ascended, with many principal lords of his court, to have an opportunity of viewing me, as I was told, for I could not see them. It was reckoned that above a hundred thousand inhabitants came out of the town upon the same errand; and, in spite of my guards, I believe there could not be fewer than ten thousand at several times, who mounted my body by the help of ladders. But a proclamation was soon issued, to forbid it upon pain of death. When the workmen found it was impossible for me to break loose, they cut all the strings that bound me; whereupon I rose up, with as melancholy a disposition as ever I had in my life. But the noise and astonishment of the people, at seeing me rise and walk, are not to be expressed. The chains that held my left leg were about two yards long, and gave me not only the liberty of walking backwards and forwards in a semicircle, but, being fixed within four inches of the gate, allowed me to creep in, and lie at my full length in the temple.

When I found myself on my feet, I looked about me, and must confess I never beheld a more entertaining prospect. The country around appeared like a continued garden, and the enclosed fields, which were generally forty feet square, resembled so many beds of flowers. These fields were intermingled with woods of half a stang, and the tallest trees, as I could judge, appeared to be seven feet high. I viewed the town on my left hand, which looked like the painted scene of a city in a theatre.

I had been for some hours extremely pressed by the necessities of nature; which was no wonder, it being almost two days since I had last disburdened myself. I was under great difficulties between urgency and shame. The best expedient I could think of, was to creep into my house, which I accordingly did; and shutting the gate after me, I went as far as the length of my chain would suffer, and discharged my body of that uneasy load. But this was the only time I was ever guilty of so uncleanly an action; for which I cannot but hope the candid reader will give some allowance, after he has maturely and impartially considered my case, and the distress I was in. From this time my constant practice was, as soon as I rose, to perform that business in open air, at the full extent of my chain; and due care was taken every morning before company came, that the offensive matter should be carried off in wheel–barrows, by two servants appointed for that purpose. I would not have dwelt so long upon a circumstance that, perhaps, at first sight, may appear not very momentous, if I had not thought it necessary to justify my character, in point of cleanliness, to the world; which, I am told, some of my maligners have been pleased, upon this and other occasions, to call in question.

Based on the content of the passage, which of the following statements about the narrator is true?

Possible Answers:

He is extremely large relative to the natives

He is a giant

He is extremely small relative to the natives

He is a criminal

Correct answer:

He is extremely large relative to the natives


To solve this question, you must act like a textual detective, combing through the passage looking for clues, whether they be direct or indirect. Since three of our 4 answer options pertain to the narrator's size or relative size, a key clue to look for in order to solve this question is the use of any specific measurements in the passage. The first significant time that measurements are given is in the second paragraph of the passage. Here the narrator remarks on the "edifice" in which his captors choose to keep him. The entrance of this "edifice" referred to as a "great gate fronting to the north," but curiously, this supposedly "great" (meaning large in this context) is only "about four feet high, and almost two feet wide." Immediately thereafter we receive a direct hint as to the narrator's own size as he tells us that he could "easily creep" through this gate. Meaning, he can fit through it, and does so easily, but is forced to "creep" to do so. This means that our narrator is probably about the size of a normal, adult male (of the 18th century, when people were, on average, slightly smaller than they are today), and it allows us to eliminate one of our options, since we know he isn't a giant.

Two of our other options query the narrator's size in relation to the natives with whom he is staying. So, how big are they? The size of the building is another hint, as it was built by the natives, and is thus reflective of what their notion of a "great" structure is. That structure is small relative to a normal human man, with a turret of only "five feet," in addition to there being windows that "not above six inches from the ground." Also, it bears noting that one of the officers has "put the sharp-end of his half-pike (a war instrument) a good way into [the narrator's] nostril." A human-sized half-pike put up a man's nose would kill him. It certainly seems, especially by the time the narrator is looking over the entire city just from standing, that the natives are extremely tiny relative to the narrator. And lo and behold, the answer that he is relatively large compared to the natives is available.

While he is being held captive, there is no indication in the passage that the narrator has committed any crime.

Example Question #2 : Analyze How Complex Characters Drive A Story: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.9 10.3

Adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838)

Upon my return to the United States a few months ago, after the extraordinary series of adventure in the South Seas and elsewhere, of which an account is given in the following pages, accident threw me into the society of several gentlemen in Richmond, Va., who felt deep interest in all matters relating to the regions I had visited, and who were constantly urging it upon me, as a duty, to give my narrative to the public. I had several reasons, however, for declining to do so, some of which were of a nature altogether private, and concern no person but myself; others not so much so.

One consideration which deterred me was that, having kept no journal during a greater portion of the time in which I was absent, I feared I should not be able to write, from mere memory, a statement so minute and connected as to have the appearance of that truth it would really possess, barring only the natural and unavoidable exaggeration to which all of us are prone when detailing events which have had powerful influence in exciting the imaginative faculties.

Another reason was, that the incidents to be narrated were of a nature so positively marvellous that, unsupported as my assertions must necessarily be (except by the evidence of a single individual, and he a half-breed Indian), I could only hope for belief among my family, and those of my friends who have had reason, through life, to put faith in my veracity-the probability being that the public at large would regard what I should put forth as merely an impudent and ingenious fiction. A distrust in my own abilities as a writer was, nevertheless, one of the principal causes which prevented me from complying with the suggestions of my advisers.

Among those gentlemen in Virginia who expressed the greatest interest in my statement, more particularly in regard to that portion of it which related to the Antarctic Ocean, was Mr. Poe, lately editor of the "Southern Literary Messenger," a monthly magazine, published by Mr. Thomas W. White, in the city of Richmond. He strongly advised me, among others, to prepare at once a full account of what I had seen and undergone, and trust to the shrewdness and common-sense of the public-insisting, with great plausibility, that however roughly, as regards mere authorship, my book should be got up, its very uncouthness, if there were any, would give it all the better chance of being received as truth.

Notwithstanding this representation, I did not make up my mind to do as he suggested. He afterward proposed (finding that I would not stir in the matter) that I should allow him to draw up, in his own words, a narrative of the earlier portion of my adventures, from facts afforded by myself, publishing it in the "Southern Messenger" under the garb of fiction. To this, perceiving no objection, I consented, stipulating only that my real name should be retained. Two numbers of the pretended fiction appeared, consequently, in the "Messenger" for January and February (1837), and, in order that it might certainly be regarded as fiction, the name of Mr. Poe was affixed to the articles in the table of contents of the magazine.

The manner in which this ruse was received has induced me at length to undertake a regular compilation and publication of the adventures in question; for I found that, in spite of the air of fable which had been so ingeniously thrown around that portion of my statement which appeared in the "Messenger" (without altering or distorting a single fact), the public were still not at all disposed to receive it as fable, and several letters were sent to Mr. P.'s address, distinctly expressing a conviction to the contrary. I thence concluded that the facts of my narrative would prove of such a nature as to carry with them sufficient evidence of their own authenticity, and that I had consequently little to fear on the score of popular incredulity.

This exposé being made, it will be seen at once how much of what follows I claim to be my own writing; and it will also be understood that no fact is misrepresented in the first few pages which were written by Mr. Poe. Even to those readers who have not seen the "Messenger," it will be unnecessary to point out where his portion ends and my own commences; the difference in point of style will be readily perceived.


-A.G Pym

Within the logic of the passage, Edgar Allen Poe functions as _______________.

Possible Answers:

a character with whom the narrator has had a dispute

None of these

the narrator of passage

a character whom the narrator uses as an example of honest dealing and positivity

Correct answer:

a character with whom the narrator has had a dispute


This question queries your fundamental understanding of the internal narrative logic of a work of fiction. In real life, Edgar Allen Poe is the author of this piece, and it is a work of fiction. Within the logic of the piece, however, the character of Arthur Gordon Pym is functioning as the narrator and author of the work, while Poe functions as a character within that work. This can be a bit confusing, but think about it: the passage is written in the first person, and Edgar Allen Poe is referred to in the third person; he cannot be the narrator.

So, the only question left for us here is to ascertain how Poe is characterized. The answer is to be found in the 5th paragraph, which firmly establishes that Pym believes that Poe betrayed their agreement by putting his own name on the account of seafaring adventures. Poe is thus a character with whom the narrator has had a dispute.

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