ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Cause and Effect in Literature Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Literature Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1849)

Words are signs of natural facts. The use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation, to give us language for the beings and changes of the inward creation. Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. "Right" means straight; "wrong" means twisted. "Spirit" primarily means wind; "transgression," the crossing of a line; "supercilious," the raising of the eyebrow. We say "the heart" to express emotion, "the head" to denote thought; and "thought" and "emotion" are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature. Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in children. Children and savages use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts.

But this origin of all words that convey a spiritual import—so conspicuous a fact in the history of language—is our least debt to nature. It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope.

The purpose of Emerson's passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to show us just how little we know about the meanings of words

to explain how words are corrupted over time

to show how words come to have the meanings they do

to show us how language itself is shaped by nature

Correct answer:

to show us how language itself is shaped by nature

Explanation:

Emerson's primary purpose here is to show how our very language is shaped by nature itself.

Example Question #11 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" by Mark Twain (1895)

Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the Indians and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

I am sorry that there is not room to put in a few dozen instances of the delicate art of the forest, as practiced by Natty Bumppo and some of the other Cooperian experts. Perhaps we may venture two or three samples. Cooper was a sailor—a naval officer; yet he gravely tells us how a vessel, driving toward a lee shore in a gale, is steered for a particular spot by her skipper because he knows of an undertow there which will hold her back against the gale and save her. For just pure woodcraft, or sailorcraft, or whatever it is, isn't that neat? For several years, Cooper was daily in the society of artillery, and he ought to have noticed that when a cannon-ball strikes the ground it either buries itself or skips a hundred feet or so; skips again a hundred feet or so—and so on, till finally it gets tired and rolls. Now in one place he loses some "females"—as he always calls women—in the edge of a wood near a plain at night in a fog, on purpose to give Bumppo a chance to show off the delicate art of the forest before the reader. These mislaid people are hunting for a fort. They hear a cannon-blast, and a cannon-ball presently comes rolling into the wood and stops at their feet. To the females this suggests nothing. The case is very different with the admirable Bumppo. I wish I may never know peace again if he doesn't strike out promptly and follow the track of that cannon-ball across the plain in the dense fog and find the fort. Isn't it a daisy? If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases—no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

Twain's main purpose in this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

to make fun of bad writing in general

keep anyone from reading a Cooper novel ever again

to keep other writers from committing the same literary offenses that Cooper has

show how often Cooper uses stock devices and bad physics in his stories

Correct answer:

show how often Cooper uses stock devices and bad physics in his stories

Explanation:

Twain's purpose in this passage is to catalog Cooper's use of stock devices and poor physics in his stories.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

explain what Poe feels to be the correct way to construct a story

explain why plot is more important than anything else in a story

explain what Poe feels is wrong with most stories that are written

explain why a writer must always have the dénouement in mind

Correct answer:

explain what Poe feels to be the correct way to construct a story

Explanation:

Poe is attempting here to explain what he feels is the correct way to construct a story. While the first paragraph of the passage deals specifically with why a writer should always keep the dénouement in mind, this topic is only addressed in that paragraph, and the other two continue to discuss supposedly incorrect and correct ways of writing a story.

Example Question #781 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Exordium" by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

In commencing, with the New Year, a New Volume, we shall be permitted to say a very few words by way of exordium to our usual chapter of Reviews, or, as we should prefer calling them, of Critical Notices. Yet we speak not for the sake of the exordium, but because we have really something to say, and know not when or where better to say it.

That the public attention, in America, has, of late days, been more than usually directed to the matter of literary criticism, is plainly apparent. Our periodicals are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the science (shall we so term it?) and to disdain the flippant opinion which so long has been made its substitute.

Time was when we imported our critical decisions from the mother country. For many years we enacted a perfect farce of subserviency to the dicta of Great Britain. At last a revulsion of feeling, with self-disgust, necessarily ensued. Urged by these, we plunged into the opposite extreme. In throwing totally off that “authority,” whose voice had so long been so sacred, we even surpassed, and by much, our original folly. But the watchword now was, “a national literature!”—as if any true literature could be “national”—as if the world at large were not the only proper stage for the literary histrio. We became, suddenly, the merest and maddest partizans in letters. Our papers spoke of “tariffs” and “protection.” Our Magazines had habitual passages about that “truly native novelist, Mr. Cooper,” or that “staunch American genius, Mr. Paulding.” Unmindful of the spirit of the axioms that “a prophet has no honor in his own land” and that “a hero is never a hero to his valet-de-chambre"—axioms founded in reason and in truth—our reviews urged the propriety—our booksellers the necessity, of strictly “American” themes. A foreign subject, at this epoch, was a weight more than enough to drag down into the very depths of critical damnation the finest writer owning nativity in the States; while, on the reverse, we found ourselves daily in the paradoxical dilemma of liking, or pretending to like, a stupid book the better because (sure enough) its stupidity was of our own growth, and discussed our own affairs.

It is, in fact, but very lately that this anomalous state of feeling has shown any signs of subsidence. Still it is subsiding. Our views of literature in general having expanded, we begin to demand the use–to inquire into the offices and provinces of criticism—to regard it more as an art based immoveably in nature, less as a mere system of fluctuating and conventional dogmas. And, with the prevalence of these ideas, has arrived a distaste even to the home-dictation of the bookseller-coteries. If our editors are not as yet all independent of the will of a publisher, a majority of them scruple, at least, to confess a subservience, and enter into no positive combinations against the minority who despise and discard it. And this is a very great improvement of exceedingly late date.

Poe's main purpose in writing this exordium is __________.

Possible Answers:

to show that American literary tastes are gradually becoming less insular and more generalized

to show that American audiences will only buy books written by Americans about America

to show that American literary tastes are still borrowed primarily from Great Britain

to show that American literature is becoming more all-inclusive

Correct answer:

to show that American literary tastes are gradually becoming less insular and more generalized

Explanation:

Poe states in his last paragraph that American literary tastes are becoming more general and American critics are less likely to praise a book simply because it was written by an American author about American subject matter.

Example Question #782 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods. It takes a lot of water, and running strong, to sweep the outside edge of a river clear. At every station there were groups of people, sometimes crowds, and in all sorts of attire. Some of them were just like the peasants at home or those I saw coming through France and Germany, with short jackets and round hats and home-made trousers; but others were very picturesque. The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course there were petticoats under them. The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who wore big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches.

It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier—for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina—it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease.

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country. I was evidently expected, for when I got near the door I faced a cheery-looking elderly woman in the usual peasant dress—white undergarment with long double apron, front, and back, of coloured stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty. When I came close she bowed and said, “The Herr Englishman?” “Yes,” I said, “Jonathan Harker.” She smiled, and gave some message to an elderly man in white shirt-sleeves, who had followed her to the door. He went, but immediately returned with a letter:—

“My Friend.—Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well to-night. At three to-morrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land.

“Your friend,
Dracula.”

The main idea of this passage can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

none of these answers

the consequences of straying too far from home

the excitement of traveling to new lands

the fear of new things

the unpleasant experience of traveling

Correct answer:

the excitement of traveling to new lands

Explanation:

The author does not suggest that the results of the narrator's traveling are negative; instead, he presents language and details that suggest this character is enthralled in his expedition. He is drawn toward something, and it is exciting.

Example Question #783 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from “Review of The Life of Robinson Crusoe” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. VIII: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1836; ed. J. A. Harrison, 1902)

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom! Yet never was admiration of any work—universal admiration—more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts—Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest—we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves! All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification—that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

Given that this paragraph is only one in a longer work about the book, which is likely to follow this paragraph in this essay?

Possible Answers:

an expansion on Poe's ideas about Defoe's abstraction

a brief survey of Defoe's other works

a listing of the flaws in Robinson Crusoe that people never notice

a summary of the plot of Robinson Crusoe

Correct answer:

a brief survey of Defoe's other works

Explanation:

Given the general tone, and given that Poe is speaking as if his readers have already read the book, Poe is most likely going to address those other works by Defoe that have been overshadowed by Robinson Crusoe, a book he likely believes has no flaws at all.

Example Question #4 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

As Mr. Rhys truly says, it is unnecessary to go profoundly into the history and origin of the essay—whether it derives from Socrates or Siranney the Persian—since, like all living things, its present is more important than its past. Moreover, the family is widely spread; and while some of its representatives have risen in the world and wear their coronets with the best, others pick up a precarious living in the gutter near Fleet Street. The form, too, admits variety. The essay can be short or long, serious or trifling, about God and Spinoza, or about turtles and Cheapside. But as we turn over the pages of these five little volumes, containing essays written between 1870 and 1920, certain principles appear to control the chaos, and we detect in the short period under review something like the progress of history.

Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.

The primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

give examples of the best essays that literature has to offer

teach how a good essay should be taught

show how much essays are capable of

explain why essays are a vital form

Correct answer:

show how much essays are capable of

Explanation:

Woolf is showing us in a general way how much essays are capable of.

Example Question #781 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world. So great a feat is seldom accomplished, though the fault may well be as much on the reader's side as on the writer's. Habit and lethargy have dulled his palate. A novel has a story, a poem rhyme; but what art can the essayist use in these short lengths of prose to sting us wide awake and fix us in a trance which is not sleep but rather an intensification of life—a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure? He must know—that is the first essential—how to write. His learning may be as profound as Mark Pattison's, but in an essay it must be so fused by the magic of writing that not a fact juts out, not a dogma tears the surface of the texture. Macaulay in one way, Froude in another, did this superbly over and over again. They have blown more knowledge into us in the course of one essay than the innumerable chapters of a hundred textbooks. But when Mark Pattison has to tell us, in the space of thirty-five little pages, about Montaigne, we feel that he had not previously assimilated M. Grün. M. Grün was a gentleman who once wrote a bad book. M. Grün and his book should have been embalmed for our perpetual delight in amber. But the process is fatiguing; it requires more time and perhaps more temper than Pattison had at his command. He served M. Grün up raw, and he remains a crude berry among the cooked meats, upon which our teeth must grate for ever. Something of the sort applies to Matthew Arnold and a certain translator of Spinoza. Literal truth-telling and finding fault with a culprit for his good are out of place in an essay, where everything should be for our good and rather for eternity than for the March number of the Fortnightly Review.

Woolf mentions the Fortnightly Review in order to illustrate that an essay should __________.

Possible Answers:

give us enjoyment by discussing eternal truths rather than petty, contemporary criticism

should concern itself only with the moment rather than with eternity

confine itself to the needs of a particular publication

be specific enough to have to do with only a single publication

Correct answer:

give us enjoyment by discussing eternal truths rather than petty, contemporary criticism

Explanation:

Woolf suggests that an essay is delightful only when it tries to entertain readers, rather than get bogged down in criticism for another writer's good and not the reader's, and having only contemporary, relatively unimportant concerns in mind.

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams" by Benjamin Franklin (1786)

As a great part of our life is spent in sleep, during which we have sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful dreams, it becomes of some consequence to obtain the one kind and avoid the other; for whether real or imaginary, pain is pain and pleasure is pleasure. If we can sleep without dreaming, it is well that painful dreams are avoided. If, while we sleep, we can have any pleasant dreams, it is, as the French say, autant de gagné, so much added to the pleasure of life.

To this end it is, in the first place, necessary to be careful in preserving health by due exercise and great temperance; for in sickness the imagination is disturbed, and disagreeable, sometimes terrible, ideas are apt to present themselves. Exercise should precede meals, not immediately follow them; the first promotes, the latter, unless moderate, obstructs digestion. If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good, the body lightsome, the temper cheerful, and all the animal functions performed agreeably. Sleep, when it follows, will be natural and undisturbed, while indolence, with full feeding, occasions nightmares and horrors inexpressible; we fall from precipices, are assaulted by wild beasts, murderers, and demons, and experience every variety of distress. Observe, however, that the quantities of food and exercise are relative things: those who move much may, and indeed ought to, eat more; those who use little exercise should eat little. In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eat about twice as much as nature requires. Suppers are not bad if we have not dined; but restless nights follow hearty suppers after full dinners. Indeed, as there is a difference in constitutions, some rest well after these meals; it costs them only a frightful dream and an apoplexy, after which they sleep till doomsday. Nothing is more common in the newspapers than instances of people who, after eating a hearty supper, are found dead abed in the morning.

Franklin's purpose with this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

show the reader how to have better dreams

explain where bad dreams come from

talk about the need for better sleep

teach the reader not to eat so much before bed

Correct answer:

show the reader how to have better dreams

Explanation:

Franklin is specifically trying to teach the reader how to obtain better dreams.

Example Question #786 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "An Encomium on Sleep" in Issue 39 of The Adventurer by Samuel Johnson (March 20, 1753)

--Pallas pour'd sweet slumbers on his soul;

And balmy dreams, the gift of soft repose,

Calm'd all his pains, and banish'd all his woes.

(Alexander Pope)

If every day did not produce fresh instances of the ingratitude of mankind, we might, perhaps, be at a loss, why so liberal and impartial a benefactor as sleep, should meet with so few historians or panegyrists. Writers are so totally absorbed by the business of the day, as never to turn their attention to that power whose officious hand so seasonably suspends the burden of life; and without whose interposition, man would not be able to endure the fatigue of labour, however rewarded, or the struggle with opposition, however successful.

Night, though she divides to many the longest part of life, and to almost all the most innocent and happy, is yet unthankfully neglected, except by those who pervert her gifts.

The astronomers, indeed, expect her with impatience, and felicitate themselves upon her arrival: Fontenelle has not failed to celebrate her praises; and to chide the sun for hiding from his view the worlds, which he imagines to appear in every constellation. Nor have the poets been always deficient in her praises: Milton has observed of the night, that it is

--The pleasant time, the cool, the silent.  (Paradise Lost, V. 438)

The purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

praise the gift of sleep

explain why people do not sleep well

explain why sleep is necessary

explain how to achieve better sleep

Correct answer:

praise the gift of sleep

Explanation:

Johnson's essay is written to praise the existence of sleep, which he would describe as a gift.

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