ISEE Middle Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language 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 #11 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

The mood of the passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

desolate

nostalgic

reverent

solemn

ironic

Correct answer:

nostalgic

Explanation:

The best answer here is "nostalgic" because of the way the author poetically describes the early days of the West as a “vanishing era” and laments the fact that it is no more.

Example Question #1 : Tone, Opinion, And Purpose

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

The tone used in this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

ornery

scientific

poetic

conversational

pessimistic

Correct answer:

conversational

Explanation:

This passage’s tone is best described as “conversational.” This can be seen in the first paragraph’s use of “you” and capital letters for emphasis in the sentence “For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.” It can also be seen in the second paragraph’s use of “as I said” in the clause “and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.” Nothing in the passage supports the conclusion that its tone is scientific, ornery, poetic, or pessimistic.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

When Fritz says “hullo” at the start of the sixth paragraph, he is __________.

Possible Answers:

expressing surprise and confusion

speaking a different language

offering a greeting to another character

urging someone on

celebrating a minor victory

Correct answer:

expressing surprise and confusion

Explanation:

Fritz says “hullo” in the sixth paragraph: “‘Hullo,’ cried Fritz, ‘I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk.’” Since Fritz already knows the narrator and meets no other characters in this passage, we cannot say that he is “offering a greeting to another character.” The narrator and Fritz have just opened the coconut, so we cannot say that when Fritz says “hullo,” he is “urging someone on.” Nothing in the sentence or passage supports the idea that Fritz is “speaking a different language” by saying “hullo.” Finally, we cannot say that he is “celebrating a minor victory” because while the narrator and Fritz have just gotten the coconut open, Fritz isn’t pleased with that, as “hullo” is part of the sentence in which he shows he was expecting the coconut to contain coconut milk, which it does not. This means that the correct answer is “expressing surprise and confusion.” This fits with the context in which the word is used, where Fritz is expressing surprise that the coconut did not contain coconut milk.

Example Question #11 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlor next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlor; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg" and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

Which of the following words describes the man described at the beginning of the passage's first paragraph LEAST well?

Possible Answers:

Paranoid

Intimidating

Charming

Gruff

Distant

Correct answer:

Charming

Explanation:

Based on the way in which the man is described in the passage, “charming” describes him least well. We can call him “gruff,” “intimidating,” or “distant” because of the way in which he is described in the quotations “He was a very silent man by custom” and “Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be.” We can call him paranoid because of his overt concern about other seafaring men and in particular, the man with one leg. He exhibits paranoid behavior in looking through the window curtains to identify any seafaring men that happen to be staying at the inn before entering the parlor himself. So, “charming” is the best answer.

Example Question #442 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

What can we infer from the underlined phrase in the first paragraph, “and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin”?

Possible Answers:

D'Artagnan snuck away before Monsieur de Wardes could demand he keep his end of a promise the two men had made.

D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker.

D'Artagnan cursed his attacker vehemently.

D'Artagnan repaid Monsieur de Wardes the money he owed him, but d'Artagnan stole that money.

Monsieur de Wardes wanted to help d'Artagnan, but d'Artagnan injured him.

Correct answer:

D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker.

Explanation:

Interpreting the sentence literally might lead you to select as the correct answer "D'Artagnan repaid Monsieur de Wardes the money he owed him, but d'Artagnan stole that money." However, figurative speech is being used; recognizing this, and considering how the "sword thrust" that injured d'Artagnan is mentioned immediately before the underlined phrase, you can come to the conclusion that "D'Artagnan greatly injured or killed his attacker." While the answer choice "Monsieur de Wardes wanted to help d'Artagnan, but d'Artagnan injured him" may look potentially correct because it does involve D'Artagnan injuring Monsieur de Wardes, we can tell that Monsieur de Wardes did not want to help d'Artagnan, because we can infer that he is the one who injured d'Artagnan from the use of the verb "repaid."

Example Question #9 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Once on a Time by A. A. Milne (1922)

The Princess was still puzzled. "But I'm grown up," she said. "I don't want a mother so much now."

The King turned his flagon round and studied the other side of it.

"A mother's—er—tender hand," he said, "is—er—never——" and then the outrageous thing happened.

It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia, and the present was nothing less than a pair of seven-league boots. The King being a busy man, it was a week or more before he had an opportunity of trying those boots. Meanwhile he used to talk about them at meals, and he would polish them up every night before he went to bed. When the great day came for the first trial of them to be made, he took a patronizing farewell of his wife and family, ignored the many eager noses pressed against the upper windows of the palace, and sailed off. The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it. After that it is fascinating. He had gone some two thousand miles before he realized that there might be a difficulty about finding his way back. The difficulty proved at least as great as he had anticipated. For the rest of that day he toured backwards and forwards across the country, and it was by the merest accident that a very angry King shot in through an open pantry window in the early hours of the morning. He removed his boots and went softly to bed.

It was, of course, a lesson to him. He decided that in the future he must proceed by a recognized route, sailing lightly from landmark to landmark. Such a route his geographers prepared for him—an early morning constitutional, of three hundred miles or so, to be taken ten times before breakfast. He gave himself a week in which to recover his nerve and then started out on the first of them.

The author’s tone in this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

haughty

conversational

serious

tedious

lethargic

Correct answer:

conversational

Explanation:

The author is presenting a fantasy story in a casual and humorous manner, and breaking it up with asides such as "as perhaps you know" in the line, "The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it." Based on these characteristics, the author's tone is best described as "conversational."

Example Question #451 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

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.

Consider the bolded and underlined sentence. Which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

In the story’s world, the fruit glitters because it is made out of gold.

In the story’s world, flowers can only be blue.

In the story’s world, the flowers are made of fire.

In the story’s world, the stems of flowers wave because flowers are sentient and can talk.

In the story’s world, flowers grow in undersea gardens.

Correct answer:

In the story’s world, flowers grow in undersea gardens.

Explanation:

When answering this question, it is important to make sure that you understand the indicated sentence correctly. The sentence in question uses figurative language to describe the castle’s garden. the flowers have blossoms “like flames of fire”; this is a simile, so the passage isn’t saying that the flowers are actually on fire. Similarly, the fruit “glitter[s] like gold” and isn’t actually made of gold. While the leaves and stems “[wave] to and fro continually,” this is another figure of speech. We are not given any indication that the stems of flowers wave because flowers are sentient and can talk. Furthermore, nothing about the sentence suggests that flowers can only be blue in the story’s world; we’re even told that some of the flowers are “bright red.” This leaves us with the correct answer, “In the story’s world, flowers grow in undersea gardens.” This is clearly true from the indicated sentence, which says that the flowers described grow in the garden, which is underwater.

Example Question #452 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

 

Which of these is an assumption that the reader is expected to make when reading this passage?

Possible Answers:

Animals can make use of tools similar to the ones that humans use.

The rabbits normally speak in rhyme, but the elderly rabbit is not very good at rhyming, so he doesn't.

Moles normally sleep through spring.

Every road in the story is a toll road.

The mole and the rabbits can talk, but no other animal can.

Correct answer:

Animals can make use of tools similar to the ones that humans use.

Explanation:

The passage tells us that the mole uses "brooms," "dusters," "ladders and steps and chairs," and "a brush and a pail of whitewash" when spring cleaning his home. So, the story expects its readers to assume that animals can make use of tools similar to the ones that humans use. None of the other answers are supported by the passage.

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