Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Distinguishing what is directly stated from what is meant using POV: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.6

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Example Question #1 : Distinguishing What Is Directly Stated From What Is Meant Using Pov: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.6

Adapted from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920)

 It invariably happened in the same way.

Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed to appear at the Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera night in order to emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, and her possession of a staff of servants competent to organise every detail of the entertainment in her absence.

The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed a ball–room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly Chiverses'); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought "provincial" to put a "crash" over the drawing–room floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of a ball–room that was used for no other purpose, and left for three–hundred–and–sixty–four days of the year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt to compensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.

Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms, had once said: "We all have our pet common people—" and though the phrase was a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many an exclusive bosom. But the Beauforts were not exactly common; some people said they were even worse. Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to one of America's most honoured families; she had been the lovely Regina Dallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty introduced to New York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora Manson, who was always doing the wrong thing from the right motive. When one was related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a "droit de cite" (as Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) in New York society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius Beaufort?

The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill–tempered, hospitable and witty. He had come to America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson Mingott's English son–in–law, the banker, and had speedily made himself an important position in the world of affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had the most distinguished house in New York. No one knew exactly how the miracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive, the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growing younger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr. Beaufort's heavy brown–stone palace, and drew all the world there without lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing people said it was Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef new dishes, told the gardeners what hot–house flowers to grow for the dinner–table and the drawing–rooms, selected the guests, brewed the after–dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to her friends. If he did, these domestic activities were privately performed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a careless and hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing–room with the detachment of an invited guest, and saying: "My wife's gloxinias are a marvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them out from Kew."

Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the way he carried things off. It was all very well to whisper that he had been "helped" to leave England by the international banking–house in which he had been employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the rest—though New York's business conscience was no less sensitive than its moral standard—he carried everything before him, and all New York into his drawing–rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said they were "going to the Beauforts'" with the same tone of security as if they had said they were going to Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the added satisfaction of knowing they would get hot canvas–back ducks and vintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year and warmed–up croquettes from Philadelphia.

Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her box just before the Jewel Song; and when, again as usual, she rose at the end of the third act, drew her opera cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared, New York knew that meant that half an hour later the ball would begin.

In context, the underlined and bolded words "social philosophy" serves what function?

Possible Answers:

It undermines saying to which it refers by associating it with a debunked pseudo-science

It creates irony when read in the contrast to the saying to which it refers

It figures the author of the saying as a figure of academic authority on the subject

It sets up a major argument made in the text

Correct answer:

It creates irony when read in the contrast to the saying to which it refers


The key here is understanding the connotations of the phrase and the context in which the phrase appears, while also recognizing how the overall tone of the narration alters those connotations. While the tone of the text is hardly colloquial, it is not, in general, academic, so the sudden turn towards a parenthetical aside calling a joke/"daring" phrase as "social philosophy [coined] into axiom" is notable in the context of the text. By prefacing the phrase with this elevated academic label the author sets our expectations at a high level, only to reveal the simple (and pretty distasteful) sentiment that "we all have our pet common people," thereby subverting our initial expectations, creating irony.

To be absolutely sure, let's examine our other options. To say that a major theme of the overall passage is that "[upper class individuals] all have [their] pet common people" is not borne out in the text. Indeed, the exposition presented about the Beauforts reveals them to be complex and interesting people, hardly mere "pets," especially given Mrs. Beaufort's apparent social sway (as evidenced by the social gravity of her party).

Social philosophy is, first of all, neither a pseudo-nor an actual science, it is a humanities discipline (and one that has not, in fact, been debunked). The association of Mrs. Archer's saying with the discipline makes no claims about her actual qualifications to make such claims, it stands to reason that she is an amateur social philosopher (with a notably narrow sphere of "academic" interest).

Example Question #1 : Distinguishing What Is Directly Stated From What Is Meant Using Pov: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.6

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, 


Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

When read in the context of the rest of the poem, what is the purpose of the bolded and underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

To emphasize the inevitability of death by contrasting with the imagery that follows it

To ironically call attention to the odor of the adressee

To emphasize the beauty of spring by calling attention to a different sensory experience: smell

To straightforwardly assert the value of the sensory experiences of spring

Correct answer:

To emphasize the inevitability of death by contrasting with the imagery that follows it


In order to answer this question, you needed to have a firm grasp on the overall message and tone of the passage. The bolded and underlined sentence is a simple and a positive one: "The smell of the earth is good." In a poem that was praising spring, this would "straightforwardly assert the value of the sensory experiences of spring" or, perhaps, "emphasize the beauty of spring by calling attention to a different sensory experience: smell." This is, however, the opposite of the poem's overall message. The poem is negative about spring from the very opening, when it asks why April has bothered to return, and immediately thereafter flatly asserts that "beauty is not enough." The end of the poem characterizes April (and by association spring and its beauty) as an "idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. Ok, so we can safely eliminate the two answers that take this statement at its face value. Now, the question becomes if this simple sentence is intended to ironically call attention to the addressee's odor, or is being used as part of a contrast with ugly imagery immediately following it. Since the speaker is April, the month, itself, (established in line 1) the question is whether or not the statement is intended ironically, and there is no indication that it is. The speaker willingly acknowledges the "beauty" of this time, but simply dismisses it as existentially meaningless in the face of certain death. 

So, we are left with the sentence functioning in contrast with the "brains of men/ eaten by maggots" that directly follows.

Example Question #3 : Distinguishing What Is Directly Stated From What Is Meant Using Pov: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.6

Adapted from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)

It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Allen, that the reader may be able to judge in what manner her actions will hereafter tend to promote the general distress of the work, and how she will, probably, contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable — whether by her imprudence, vulgarity, or jealousy — whether by intercepting her letters, ruining her character, or turning her out of doors.

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them. She had neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner. The air of a gentlewoman, a great deal of quiet, inactive good temper, and a trifling turn of mind were all that could account for her being the choice of a sensible, intelligent man like Mr. Allen. In one respect she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine; and our heroine’s entree into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in learning what was mostly worn, and her chaperone was provided with a dress of the newest fashion. Catherine too made some purchases herself, and when all these matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the Upper Rooms. Her hair was cut and dressed by the best hand, her clothes put on with care, and both Mrs. Allen and her maid declared she looked quite as she should do. With such encouragement, Catherine hoped at least to pass uncensured through the crowd. As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it.

Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card–room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on, whereas she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the room. Mrs. Allen did all that she could do in such a case by saying very placidly, every now and then, “I wish you could dance, my dear — I wish you could get a partner.” For some time her young friend felt obliged to her for these wishes; but they were repeated so often, and proved so totally ineffectual, that Catherine grew tired at last, and would thank her no more.

The bolded and underlined sentence is intended to communicate that ________________.

Possible Answers:

the ball is very exciting

Mrs. Allen does not want to be at the ball

Mrs. Allen's efforts are extremely minimal

Mrs. Allen is doing her best to make Miss Morland feel better

Correct answer:

Mrs. Allen's efforts are extremely minimal


Here, you're being asked to examine the language of a selection of the passage and to determine whether or not what is being directly stated is what the author means to communicate. The author opens the sentence by telling the reader that "Mrs. Allen did all that she could do in such a case," which, on a surface level (and in isolation), is a direct statement in favor of the option stating that "Mrs. Allen is doing her best to make Miss Morland feel better." Next, the author elaborates on what "all that she could do in such a case" actually entailed, namely "saying very placidly, every now and then, 'I wish you could dance, my dear — I wish you could get a partner.'" Wait a minute! It stands to reason that Mrs. Allen, or really anyone, could actually be able to do no more than repeating a tepid, almost taunting refrain. The author's word choice also provides us with a clear clue that Mrs. Allen is not, in fact, doing her best when she says that Mrs. Allen's refrain is not even repeated with any intensity, not just "placidly," but "very placidly."

Reading on, things only get worse for Mrs. Allen's level of helpfulness, in the next sentence we discover that not only do Mrs. Allen's efforts seem half-hearted and "ineffectual" to us, but also that "Catherine grew tired at last, and would thank her no more."

Remember, your task is to choose the best answer that is most supportable with direct textual evidence. While it may well be true that Mrs. Allen doesn't want to be at the party, the purpose of the highlighted portion is to ironically highlight Mrs. Allen's subpar efforts to support Catherine.

All Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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