Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Reading: Literature

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Example Question #1 : Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)

1

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

2

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide. 

3

It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

Based on the speaker's description, most of the passengers on the boat are ______________.

Possible Answers:

commuters

tourists

sailors

immigrants first arriving in the United States

Correct answer:

commuters

Explanation:

This question tests your ability to restrict the scope of your answer to something that is tied directly to textual evidence. This question tests your ability to understand and find sufficient evidence to justify an interpretation of the text's explicit meaning, not your ability to infer meaning from the poem.

You may be aware of the great deal of cultural material covering the arrival of immigrants to the United States (and specifically New York) on boats. The wide scope of the poetic language of this poem, and the use of specific poetic phrases like "shore to shore," but there is no direct evidence that the other passengers are immigrants. For this answer to be correct, you would have to be able to find specific reference to the passenger's cultural backgrounds, not to mention that the boat would most likely not be ferry, but a larger, ocean-faring vessel. The same is true of tourists, there is no mention anywhere in the poem that the passengers are visitors to New York.

The speaker does, however, say that the "hundreds that cross" are "returning home," which is the very definition of commuting!

Example Question #2 : Reading: Literature

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.

The underlined and bolded sentence implies that ________________.

Possible Answers:

Mr. Beaufort is not, in fact, an Englishman

Mr. Beaufort is very wealthy

Mr. Beaufort is an Englishman

Mr. Beaufort is a conman and a criminal

Correct answer:

Mr. Beaufort is not, in fact, an Englishman

Explanation:

The key language to note in the highlighted sentence is the first verb phrase: "[Mr. Beaufort] passed for an Englishman." Anytime someone is said to "pass for" something, it carries the strong implication that they are not actually that thing. A shark doesn't need to "pass for" a shark, they just are one! To "pass for" something implies successful artifice. So, it is safe to say (although note that this is implicit, rather than explicit meaning) that Mr. Beaufort is not an Englishman.

To be absolutely certain, let's check the other answer options. The implication of deception inherent to Beaufort's "pass[ing] for an Englishman" brings the implications of the sentence closer to the idea that he is conman, but there is no implication that money or crime is involved in this deception. Remember, these questions will only test implications that can be tied directly to textual evidence; the logical leap to equating Beaufort's passing for English to being a conman is simply not credible given the specified evidence. While the rest of the passage lets us know, quite definitively, that he is wealthy, the specific sentence isolated makes no mention of money.

Example Question #3 : Reading: Literature

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.

Which of the given answer choices is the best evidence that Mrs. Allen is not concerned for Catherine's well-being?

Possible Answers:

"With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee"

"she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance"

"As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it."

"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."

Correct answer:

"With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee"

Explanation:

This question takes for granted the assertion that Mrs. Allen is not concerned for Catherine's well-being and asks you to choose from the best evidence to support this assertion from the four provided quotations. You may notice that the writers of this test (those tricksters) have included two options containing pronouns whose referents are not clear in a vacuum, so first thing's first, you should read the surrounding context and clarify these pronouns for yourself. Aha! Right away we can see that "as for admiration...," is actually a sentence concerned with Catherine's own personality and inner emotional state, which, while influenced by Mrs. Allen, will hardly be the best evidence of her uncaring nature. Not only that, the same can be said for "she began..." which doesn't even have anything to do with Mrs. Allen! It is purely concerned with Catherine's desire to dance.

The description of Mrs. Allen ("Mrs. Allen was one...") is yet another hint towards this, but is primarily concerned with generally describing (in distinctly unflattering terms) Mrs. Allen, not on her specific relationship to Catherine.

This leaves us with the correct answer, which clearly provides a specific instance of Mrs. Allen having "more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of protegee [Catherine]."

Example Question #1 : Find And Analyze Two Or More Themes; Objective Summary Of The Text: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.2

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.

Which of these options accurately reflects the relationship between seasonal re-birth and death in the poem?

Possible Answers:

Life is short, and so it is important to live fully and seize the day

Beauty and the apparent rebirth of nature in springtime do not make up for the ultimate reality of death

Immortality is found through union with nature

The rebirth of nature during springtime proves that life ultimately overcomes death

Correct answer:

Beauty and the apparent rebirth of nature in springtime do not make up for the ultimate reality of death

Explanation:

The central message of the poem is reliant on the interrelation of the two themes mentioned in the question "seasonal re-birth and death." Seasonal re-birth is a common trope in poetry, notably in pastoral poetry, and death is obviously a dominant force towards which are all inexorably progressing each day, and as such is a common subject of poetic verse.

In typical pastoral poetry, springtime and the seasonal re-birth it brings are treated as exclusively positive, regenerative forces. The imagery of spring is rarely associated directly with death, that is usually reserved for winter poems. This poem goes against this trope, asserting that the sense of new life that is associated with springtime is ultimately an illusion, and that death is certain.

As the poem states, the coming of springtime "is not enough" to compensate for impending death.

The message of the poem is not that one should "seize the day" or that life is meaningful and precious, because life is ultimately considered to be nothing (see 13-15), regardless of how it is lived. It cannot be said that the rebirth of spring proves that life overcomes death, because the writer gives concrete evidence of the finality of death in lines 11-12. For the same reason, there is little support for the idea of immortality in the poem.

Outside of seeing the specific textual evidence directly supporting the correct answer, you could have selected it based on an accurate understanding of the overall tone and language of the poem. This is a negative, dark poem, not a hopeful or inspiring one. A thorough, accurate reading of the literal content of this poem was enough to answer this question accurately, as was a closer reading of the imagery.

Example Question #1 : Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts

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.

What is the narrative impact of the opening sentence of this passage?

Possible Answers:

It sets up the expositional nature of the passage that follows it

It sets up the frame narrative used to structure the passage

It begins the passage in media res

None of these

Correct answer:

It sets up the expositional nature of the passage that follows it

Explanation:

In order to effectively answer this question, you need to not only analyze the highlighted sentence properly, but also be familiar with the literary vocabulary used in the answer choices. In media res refers to the technique of beginning a story in the middle of action, clearly there is not much action in this passage, and we can dismiss this answer choice. Frame narratives feature a fictional setting in which a story is told. One of the most notable examples of a frame narrative is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899). There is no indication of a frame narrative in this passage.

Now that we've eliminated these options, all we have to do is decide whether or not we feel that the highlighted sentence sets up a generally expositional passage. The sentence "it invariably happened the same way," as we can tell from the content following it, describes a recurring event or series of events, and the people involved. The primary purpose of the entire passage is to provide exposition about the Beauforts and their social status; the highlighted sentence, by introducing a customary event, sets the reader up for the exposition to come.

Example Question #1 : Analyze Authorial Choices In Terms Of Narrative Development: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.3

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.

What is the primary function of the poem's opening question?

Possible Answers:

The question's function is rhetorical; since it is answered in the next line, it helps to make the author's perspective on the topic immediately clear

The question's function is narrative; it sets up the mystery that the reader and speaker are attempting to solve

The question's function is aesthetic; sets the tone of deep philosophical questioning that will follow

The question is functioning literally; it fulfills no narrative or aesthetic goal

Correct answer:

The question's function is rhetorical; since it is answered in the next line, it helps to make the author's perspective on the topic immediately clear

Explanation:

This question asks you to analyze the function of a specific device, and delineate whether that function is narrative (moving the event of the plot forward (and yes, poems do have plots, just like works of fiction), aesthetic (placing the poem in a specific school or tradition, or providing a moment of artistic beauty), or rhetorical (setting up or supporting the ultimate argument of the poem (yes, poems also (often) have arguments, just like essays).

The key to answering this question was to look not only at the question specified but also at the statement that immediately follows. By following this opening question with a flat, blunt statement answering for the addressee (April, the month), the author is clearly not setting up a "mystery" or an interval of "deep philosophical questioning." This is not a straightforward question intended to begin an earnest dialogue with the month of April; it is a rhetorical question. It is not so much that the speaker believes they know the answer, in the sense that s/he knows what April would say in response, but the question is nonetheless rhetorical in that the author holds that April's potential answer is irrelevant, because "beauty is not enough" and death is inevitable.

In essence, this question is asking "what is the point of returning, April?" The answer, the speaker holds is that there is none. Asking the question and then providing flat, declarative statements undercutting any possible justification fulfills a primarily rhetorical function, helping to facilitate the author's claim about the illusory nature of spring's re-birth.

Example Question #1 : Reading: Literature

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)

1

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

2

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide. 

3

It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

 

The narrator’s tone in the bolded and underlined section is best described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Jubilant

Resigned

Angry

Formal

Correct answer:

Jubilant

Explanation:

A great tool in assessing tone is to look for distinctive, or notable, stylistic features in the part of the text the question is asking you to examine. Questions will not ask you to analyze the tone of a section if there are not specific and notable elements of the text that they expect you to notice to push you in the right direction. So, what is notable about the section of the text highlighted? There is a repetition ("face to face," in lines 1 and 2), the use of the second person "you" and direct address, and, most strikingly, three exclamation points in the space of four sentences.

This last textual feature is particularly worthy of attention. Exclamation points are what's known as subjective punctuation; they fulfill the same exact grammatical function as a period and are restricted in their use in the same ways (they must follow an independent clause, and they are used to end a sentence). The choice to use an exclamation point, then, is entirely at the discretion of the author. The only reason to choose an exclamation point over a period is to emphasize feeling or excitement, and as such they are much more rarely seen than are periods. To see three exclamation points in four sentences (and for the test question to highlight those four exact sentences) tells us that the author is making a prolonged and deliberate to emphasize the extra feeling behind these words.

So, what then is the tone that the author is seeking to convey with this stylistic choice? Let's return to that repetition: "face to face." The speaker here is emphasizing the direct connection between him/herself and a specific other, and places this direct connection in the context of resplendent landscape of "close of the west [and the] sun there half an hour high." Even without the context of the rest of the passage (which you should definitely and only makes the answer choice easier and more clear), we can confidently answer that the tone is "jubilant."

Example Question #2 : Literal, Figurative, And Connotative Word And Phrase Meanings; Word And Phrase Choices: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.4

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 phrase "so long in dressing" most nearly means that _______________.

Possible Answers:

Mrs. Allen was very shabbily dressed

it took Mrs. Allen a long time to get dressed

Mrs. Allen was very stylishly dressed

Mrs. Allen was wearing a long dress

Correct answer:

it took Mrs. Allen a long time to get dressed

Explanation:

Even if this phrasing is a bit outdated and unfamiliar to you, this question is answerable by simply examining the surrounding context of the sentence. We are told that Mrs. Allen's being "so long in dressing" caused her and Catherine to arrive "late" at the ball. So clearly, none of the answers suggesting that being "so long in dress" has to do with the physical or aesthetic nature of the dress are correct. A "long," "very stylish," or "very shabby" dress would, in and of itself, delay the arrival of two people to a party. 

In modern syntax, we would almost always say, "It took Mrs. Allen so long to get dressed that..." but examining the context of a sentence and thinking about the logic of the situation described should be enough to help you understand sentences written using odd, archaic, or simply unconventional syntax. Using context clues to figure out the meaning of unconventionally written passages is a key skill for the versatile and fluid reader!

Example Question #6 : Reading: Literature

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)

1

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

2

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

3

It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

To whom does the repeated "you" refer?

Possible Answers:

The sky

The reader, whomsoever they may be

An unnamed passenger on the ferry

God

Correct answer:

The reader, whomsoever they may be

Explanation:

This question seeks to assess your ability to correctly analyze and identify a structural choice being made by the author of the work. The structure in question, here, is the mode of address of the work. This poem is structured so as to directly address the reader, meaning that the poem is not directed to a generalized reader (as in a third person point of view), but rather is using the second person pronoun "you" to point straight at the (and that's any) reader of the text. The "you" who "might suppose" or who the speaker "see[s] face to face" is actually YOU! Sitting at your computer right now, you!

Sometimes in poems a "you" is used to address a specific figure (often a lover) or a character or even object from within the poem. While the author does often talk about other people on the ferry and the sky, and there is no direct evidence that either of them are the "you" being addressed.

Example Question #2 : Reading: Literature

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.

What effect does the first paragraph have on the passage's overall narrative structure?

Possible Answers:

It explains the narrative purpose of the passage that follows

It opens the passage in media res

It introduces the passage as an allegorical tale

It introduces the passage as presenting a counter-factual scenario

Correct answer:

It explains the narrative purpose of the passage that follows

Explanation:

The best place to begin here is to read interpret the opening paragraph of the passage for yourself. What is going on here? The author tells us directly why she is including the story that follows in the passage! In the name of "expedien[cy]" the author is choosing to "give some description of Mrs. Allen, that the reader may be able to judge" that character's later actions. In so doing, the author is breaking from the action of the story to tell us why she, the author, is about to tell us another part of the story. This is called a meta-narrative technique. Meta-narrative techniques focus the reader on the fact that the story is, in fact, a story being told by an author to readers.

Note, just because a story is a story does not mean it is a direct "counter-factual scenario." A counter factual requires a set of fact against which to be directly contrasted. Fictional narratives, unless they specifically address a real set of facts, are not counter-factual.

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