ISEE Middle Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in Literature Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #31 : Literature Passages

Adapted from “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen in Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales: A New Translation by Mrs. Paull (1867 ed.)

The Sea King had been a widower for many years, and his aged mother kept house for him. She was a very wise woman, and exceedingly proud of her high birth; on that account she wore twelve oysters on her tail, while others, also of high rank, were only allowed to wear six. She was, however, deserving of very great praise, especially for her care of the little sea princesses, her granddaughters. They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them all. Like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish's tail. 

All day long they played in the great halls of the castle, or among the living flowers that grew out of the walls. The large amber windows were open, and the fish swam in, just as the swallows fly into our houses when we open the windows, excepting that the fishes swam up to the princesses, ate out of their hands, and allowed themselves to be stroked. 

Outside the castle there was a beautiful garden, in which grew bright red and dark blue flowers, and blossoms like flames of fire; the fruit glittered like gold, and the leaves and stems waved to and fro continually. Each of the young princesses had a little plot of ground in the garden, where she might dig and plant as she pleased. One arranged her flower-bed into the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained flowers as red as its rays at sunset. 

She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue. It was the representation of a handsome boy, carved out of pure white stone, which had fallen to the bottom of the sea from a wreck. She planted by the statue a rose-colored weeping willow. It grew splendidly, and very soon hung its fresh branches over the statue, almost down to the blue sands. Nothing gave her so much pleasure as to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals. To her it seemed most wonderful and beautiful to hear that the flowers of the land should have fragrance, and not those below the sea; that the trees of the forest should be green; and that the fishes among the trees could sing so sweetly, that it was quite a pleasure to hear them. Her grandmother called the little birds fishes, or she would not have understood her; for she had never seen birds.

Which of the following does the passage do?

Possible Answers:

Contrasts the Sea King’s youngest daughters with her siblings

Explains how Sea King’s mother came to know so much about life on land

Contrasts different types of fish that are found underwater

Explains how the Sea King first came to rule the sea

Describes the Sea King's late wife

Correct answer:

Contrasts the Sea King’s youngest daughters with her siblings

Explanation:

The passage contrasts the Sea King’s youngest daughter with her siblings several times: first, she is contrasted with her sisters when the passage describes the gardens each princess designs: “One arranged her flower-bed into the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained flowers as red as its rays at sunset.” The word “but” sets the youngest princess apart from her sisters here. Later in the passage, she is further contrasted with her sisters: “She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue.”

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