PSAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, and Purpose in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #12 : Understanding The Content Of Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (1874)

Dorothea trembled while she read this letter; then she fell on her knees, buried her face, and sobbed. She could not pray; under the rush of solemn emotion in which thoughts became vague and images floated uncertainly, she could but cast herself, with a childlike sense of reclining, in the lap of a divine consciousness which sustained her own. She remained in that attitude till it was time to dress for dinner.

How could it occur to her to examine the letter, to look at it critically as a profession of love? Her whole soul was possessed by the fact that a fuller life was opening before her: she was a neophyte about to enter on a higher grade of initiation. She was going to have room for the energies which stirred uneasily under the dimness and pressure of her own ignorance and the petty peremptoriness of the world’s habits.

Now she would be able to devote herself to large yet definite duties; now she would be allowed to live continually in the light of a mind that she could reverence. This hope was not unmixed with the glow of proud delight—the joyous maiden surprise that she was chosen by the man whom her admiration had chosen. All Dorothea’s passion was transfused through a mind struggling towards an ideal life; the radiance of her transfigured girlhood fell on the first object that came within its level. The impetus with which inclination became resolution was heightened by those little events of the day which had roused her discontent with the actual conditions of her life.

The third paragraph suggests that the letter Dorothea has received contains __________.

Possible Answers:

the promise of a trip to an idyllic pasture

a passionate plea from a lover to wait for his return

a marriage proposal

confirmation of acceptance into an elite group

an invitation to study under a renowned scholar

Correct answer:

a marriage proposal

Explanation:

Context clues include Dorothea’s “proud delight” that her suitor returns her feelings and that she looks forward to living with “a mind that she could reverence.” This last quotation disproves the claims of "the passionate plea of a lover to wait for his return"; only in marriage would we expect Dorothea to live with the letter-writer. Furthermore, there is no mention of the letter-writer’s absence.

Example Question #41 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (1874)

Dorothea trembled while she read this letter; then she fell on her knees, buried her face, and sobbed. She could not pray; under the rush of solemn emotion in which thoughts became vague and images floated uncertainly, she could but cast herself, with a childlike sense of reclining, in the lap of a divine consciousness which sustained her own. She remained in that attitude till it was time to dress for dinner.

How could it occur to her to examine the letter, to look at it critically as a profession of love? Her whole soul was possessed by the fact that a fuller life was opening before her: she was a neophyte about to enter on a higher grade of initiation. She was going to have room for the energies which stirred uneasily under the dimness and pressure of her own ignorance and the petty peremptoriness of the world’s habits.

Now she would be able to devote herself to large yet definite duties; now she would be allowed to live continually in the light of a mind that she could reverence. This hope was not unmixed with the glow of proud delight—the joyous maiden surprise that she was chosen by the man whom her admiration had chosen. All Dorothea’s passion was transfused through a mind struggling towards an ideal life; the radiance of her transfigured girlhood fell on the first object that came within its level. The impetus with which inclination became resolution was heightened by those little events of the day which had roused her discontent with the actual conditions of her life.

Taking the entire selection of text into account, Dorothea’s attitude toward the letter-writer is most characterized by feelings of __________.

Possible Answers:

constant love

worshipful admiration

reserved approbation

irrepressible lust

reverential awe

Correct answer:

reverential awe

Explanation:

Words throughout the passage that support this answer include “solemn emotion” (line 2) and “reverence” (line 13). At no point does Dorothea express lust or love for the letter writer, and her approbation is certainly not reserved. To say that she worships the letter writer would be exaggeration; thus, the most appropriate answer is “reverential awe.”

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

I was now, in the months of November and December, expecting my crop of barley and rice. The ground I had manured and dug up for them was not great; for, as I observed, my seed of each was not above the quantity of half a peck, for I had lost one whole crop by sowing in the dry season. But now my crop promised very well, when on a sudden I found I was in danger of losing it all again by enemies of several sorts, which it was scarcely possible to keep from it; as, first, the goats, and wild creatures which I called hares, who, tasting the sweetness of the blade, lay in it night and day, as soon as it came up, and eat it so close, that it could get no time to shoot up into stalk.

This I saw no remedy for but by making an enclosure about it with a hedge; which I did with a great deal of toil, and the more, because it required speed. However, as my arable land was but small, suited to my crop, I got it totally well fenced in about three weeks’ time; and shooting some of the creatures in the daytime, I set my dog to guard it in the night, tying him up to a stake at the gate, where he would stand and bark all night long; so in a little time the enemies forsook the place, and the corn grew very strong and well, and began to ripen apace.

But as the beasts ruined me before, while my corn was in the blade, so the birds were as likely to ruin me now, when it was in the ear; for, going along by the place to see how it throve, I saw my little crop surrounded with fowls, of I know not how many sorts, who stood, as it were, watching till I should be gone. I immediately let fly among them, for I always had my gun with me. I had no sooner shot, but there rose up a little cloud of fowls, which I had not seen at all, from among the corn itself.

This touched me sensibly, for I foresaw that in a few days they would devour all my hopes; that I should be starved, and never be able to raise a crop at all; and what to do I could not tell; however, I resolved not to lose my corn, if possible, though I should watch it night and day. In the first place, I went among it to see what damage was already done, and found they had spoiled a good deal of it; but that as it was yet too green for them, the loss was not so great but that the remainder was likely to be a good crop if it could be saved.

I stayed by it to load my gun, and then coming away, I could easily see the thieves sitting upon all the trees about me, as if they only waited till I was gone away, and the event proved it to be so; for as I walked off, as if I was gone, I was no sooner out of their sight than they dropped down one by one into the corn again. I was so provoked, that I could not have patience to stay till more came on, knowing that every grain that they ate now was, as it might be said, a peck-loaf to me in the consequence; but coming up to the hedge, I fired again, and killed three of them. This was what I wished for; so I took them up, and served them as we serve notorious thieves in England—hanged them in chains, for a terror to others. It is impossible to imagine that this should have such an effect as it had, for the fowls would not only not come at the corn, but, in short, they forsook all that part of the island, and I could never see a bird near the place as long as my scarecrows hung there. This I was very glad of, you may be sure, and about the latter end of December, which was our second harvest of the year, I reaped my corn.

One of the main points made in the last paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

the narrator’s efforts were unsuccessful

the narrator killed two birds

the birds were nesting in the surrounding trees

when the narrator feigned walking away the birds flew down to attack the corn

the narrator used a dog to keep the birds away but was unsuccessful

Correct answer:

when the narrator feigned walking away the birds flew down to attack the corn

Explanation:

In the last paragraph, the narrator says, “for as I walked off, as if I was gone, I was no sooner out of their sight than they dropped down one by one into the corn again.” He feigns, or pretends, to walk away only for the birds to attack the corn thinking he is absent.

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

I was now, in the months of November and December, expecting my crop of barley and rice. The ground I had manured and dug up for them was not great; for, as I observed, my seed of each was not above the quantity of half a peck, for I had lost one whole crop by sowing in the dry season. But now my crop promised very well, when on a sudden I found I was in danger of losing it all again by enemies of several sorts, which it was scarcely possible to keep from it; as, first, the goats, and wild creatures which I called hares, who, tasting the sweetness of the blade, lay in it night and day, as soon as it came up, and eat it so close, that it could get no time to shoot up into stalk.

This I saw no remedy for but by making an enclosure about it with a hedge; which I did with a great deal of toil, and the more, because it required speed. However, as my arable land was but small, suited to my crop, I got it totally well fenced in about three weeks’ time; and shooting some of the creatures in the daytime, I set my dog to guard it in the night, tying him up to a stake at the gate, where he would stand and bark all night long; so in a little time the enemies forsook the place, and the corn grew very strong and well, and began to ripen apace.

But as the beasts ruined me before, while my corn was in the blade, so the birds were as likely to ruin me now, when it was in the ear; for, going along by the place to see how it throve, I saw my little crop surrounded with fowls, of I know not how many sorts, who stood, as it were, watching till I should be gone. I immediately let fly among them, for I always had my gun with me. I had no sooner shot, but there rose up a little cloud of fowls, which I had not seen at all, from among the corn itself.

This touched me sensibly, for I foresaw that in a few days they would devour all my hopes; that I should be starved, and never be able to raise a crop at all; and what to do I could not tell; however, I resolved not to lose my corn, if possible, though I should watch it night and day. In the first place, I went among it to see what damage was already done, and found they had spoiled a good deal of it; but that as it was yet too green for them, the loss was not so great but that the remainder was likely to be a good crop if it could be saved.

I stayed by it to load my gun, and then coming away, I could easily see the thieves sitting upon all the trees about me, as if they only waited till I was gone away, and the event proved it to be so; for as I walked off, as if I was gone, I was no sooner out of their sight than they dropped down one by one into the corn again. I was so provoked, that I could not have patience to stay till more came on, knowing that every grain that they ate now was, as it might be said, a peck-loaf to me in the consequence; but coming up to the hedge, I fired again, and killed three of them. This was what I wished for; so I took them up, and served them as we serve notorious thieves in England—hanged them in chains, for a terror to others. It is impossible to imagine that this should have such an effect as it had, for the fowls would not only not come at the corn, but, in short, they forsook all that part of the island, and I could never see a bird near the place as long as my scarecrows hung there. This I was very glad of, you may be sure, and about the latter end of December, which was our second harvest of the year, I reaped my corn.

What is the subject of the passage?

Possible Answers:

A man's attempts at hunting

A man trying to grow crops whilst coping with various pests

A man recollecting the best seasons to grow things

A farmer and his recommendations for pest control

A man dealing with animals

Correct answer:

A man trying to grow crops whilst coping with various pests

Explanation:

The passage is about the narrator's attempts to grow corn and the trouble he faces from various animals on the island which in one way or another attempt to destroy his crop. The narrator sums up the passage best in the first paragraph when he writes, “But now my crop promised very well, when on a sudden I found I was in danger of losing it all again by enemies of several sorts.”

Example Question #1 : Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from a book by Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton) (1909)

In this excerpt from an autobiographical essay, the author describes her experiences as growing up in Victorian England.

When I look back over the years I see myself, a little child of scarcely four years of age, walking in front of my nurse, in a green English lane, and listening to her tell another of her kind that my mother is Chinese. “Oh Lord!” exclaims the informed. She turns around and scans me curiously from head to foot. Then the two women whisper together. Though the word “Chinese” conveys very little meaning to my mind, I feel that they are talking about my father and mother and my heart swells with indignation. When we reach home I rush to my mother and try to tell her what I have heard. I am a young child. I fail to make myself intelligible. My mother does not understand, and when the nurse declares to her, “Little Miss Sui is a story-teller,” my mother slaps me. 

Many a long year has passed over my head since that day—the day on which I first learned I was something different and apart from other children, but though my mother has forgotten it, I have not. I see myself again, a few years older. I am playing with another child in a garden. A girl passes by outside the gate. “Mamie,” she cries to my companion. “I wouldn’t speak to Sui if I were you. Her mamma is Chinese.”

“I don’t care,” answers the little one beside me. And then to me, “Even if your mamma is Chinese, I like you better than I like Annie.”

“But I don’t like you,” I answer, turning my back on her. It is my first conscious lie.

I am at a children’s party, given by the wife of an Indian officer whose children were schoolfellows of mine. I am only six years of age, but have attended a private school for over a year, and have already learned that China is a heathen country, being civilized by England. However, for the time being, I am a merry romping child. There are quite a number of grown people present. One, a white-haired old man, has his attention called to me by the hostess. He adjusts his eyeglasses and surveys me critically. “Ah, indeed!” he exclaims. “Who would have thought it at first glance? Yet now I see the difference between her and other children. What a peculiar coloring! Her mother’s eyes and hair and her father’s features, I presume. Very interesting little creature!”

I had been called from play for the purpose of inspection. I do not return to it. For the rest of the evening I hide myself behind a hall door and refuse to show myself until it is time to go home.

 The passage primarily conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

resentment

credulity

isolation

complacency

stagnation

Correct answer:

isolation

Explanation:

The three stories told in the passage all illustrate how Sui is made to feel like an outsider, with no one to turn to—thus, a sense of isolation. There is no suggestion in the tone or content that Sui feels resentment, and since she is discontented, she cannot be said to be complacent. There's no mention of her believing anything or trusting anyone she shouldn't, so "credulity" can't be the answer, and the passage makes several jumps forward in time, and so can't be said to be stagnant.

Example Question #41 : Prose Fiction

Adapted from Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (1874)

Dorothea trembled while she read this letter; then she fell on her knees, buried her face, and sobbed. She could not pray; under the rush of solemn emotion in which thoughts became vague and images floated uncertainly, she could but cast herself, with a childlike sense of reclining, in the lap of a divine consciousness which sustained her own. She remained in that attitude till it was time to dress for dinner.

How could it occur to her to examine the letter, to look at it critically as a profession of love? Her whole soul was possessed by the fact that a fuller life was opening before her: she was a neophyte about to enter on a higher grade of initiation. She was going to have room for the energies which stirred uneasily under the dimness and pressure of her own ignorance and the petty peremptoriness of the world’s habits.

Now she would be able to devote herself to large yet definite duties; now she would be allowed to live continually in the light of a mind that she could reverence. This hope was not unmixed with the glow of proud delight—the joyous maiden surprise that she was chosen by the man whom her admiration had chosen. All Dorothea’s passion was transfused through a mind struggling towards an ideal life; the radiance of her transfigured girlhood fell on the first object that came within its level. The impetus with which inclination became resolution was heightened by those little events of the day which had roused her discontent with the actual conditions of her life.

Over the course of the selection, Dorothea’s feelings transform from __________ to __________.

Possible Answers:

wondering sadness . . . reluctant acceptance

ardent desire . . . loving affection

melancholy paralysis . . . ambivalence

wondering excitement . . . worshipful devotion

overwhelming awe . . . quiet resolution

Correct answer:

overwhelming awe . . . quiet resolution

Explanation:

Dorothea’s overwhelming awe is evident from the first lines, when her “solemn emotions” overtake her. Furthermore, the word “resolution” is itself referenced in line 18, where Dorothea resolves to accept the proposal. Thus, the answer must be "overwhelming awe to quiet resolution."

Example Question #51 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (1908)

Mr. Beebe was right. Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music. She had not really appreciated the clergyman's wit, nor the suggestive twitterings of Miss Alan. Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protect her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honor when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamored of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war—a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.

Lucy does not stand for the medieval lady, who was rather an ideal to which she was bidden to lift her eyes when feeling serious. Nor has she any system of revolt. Here and there a restriction annoyed her particularly, and she would transgress it, and perhaps be sorry that she had done so. This afternoon she was peculiarly restive. She would really like to do something of which her well-wishers disapproved. As she might not go on the electric tram, she went to Alinari's shop.

The passage suggests that Lucy __________.

Possible Answers:

is acting outside her own best interests

is naïve and does not understand the nature of her dissatisfaction

is childish, and unappreciative of her well-wishers’ kindly guidance

is typically rebellious

possesses an unusually sensitive, artistic temperament

Correct answer:

is naïve and does not understand the nature of her dissatisfaction

Explanation:

Lucy's desire for "big things" is contrasted with the longing of the medieval lady, who wants to do the things she is said to inspire. But Lucy, even though she's held to a similar standard, "has no system of revolt." All she can do is make minor transgressions, and then feel guilty about them. We are told that Lucy "does not stand for the medieval lady," who is very clear about what her desires are; Lucy only knows that she wants "something big," and she wants to go somewhere (on the electric tram) to find out what it is, but is not enough of a rebel to do so.

Example Question #31 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as usual, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of the laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame-like as theirs.

In the center of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement, and gave rise to so many strange conjectures. 

As he looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he suddenly started up, and, closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might awake.

"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry, languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. The Grosvenor is the only place."

"I don't think I will send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford. "No: I won't send it anywhere."

Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows, and looked at him in amazement through the thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy cigarette. "Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion." 

"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it." 

Lord Henry stretched his long legs out on the divan and shook with laughter.

"Yes, I knew you would laugh; but it is quite true, all the same."

"Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Basil, I didn't know you were so vain; and I really can't see any resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made of ivory and rose-leaves. Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you—well, of course you have an intellectual expression, and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself an exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the church. But then in the church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and consequently he always looks absolutely delightful. Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure of that. He is a brainless, beautiful thing, who should be always here in winter when we have no flowers to look at, and always here in summer when we want something to chill our intelligence. Don't flatter yourself, Basil: you are not in the least like him.”

Which of the following best summarizes this passage?

Possible Answers:

An artist has painted a portrait, which he and another man admire while chatting.

An artist and an art critic discuss the merits and flaws of his latest work before deciding where he will submit it.

An artist sits with the man whose portrait he painted, admiring the work of art.

An artist has painted a portrait and is unhappy with it; his friend tries to convince him the work is a masterpiece.

A rich art collector admires the portrait he just bought while chatting with the artist who painted it.

Correct answer:

An artist has painted a portrait, which he and another man admire while chatting.

Explanation:

Let’s consider each of the answer choices to identify the correct one:

“An artist has painted a portrait, and is unhappy with it; his friend tries to convince him the work is a masterpiece.” - This answer is incorrect because nothing in the passage suggests that Basil Hallward, the artist, is unhappy with the work; he says that he will not exhibit it because “[he] [has] put too much of [himself] into it." On the contrary, the third paragraph suggests that Basil is happy with the portrait in that it says, “As he looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face.”

“An artist sits with the man whose portrait he painted, admiring the work of art.” This answer is incorrect because Basil Hallward, the artist, painted the portrait of Dorian Gray, but is sitting and chatting with Lord Henry Wotton. 

“An artist and an art critic discuss the merits and flaws of his latest work before deciding where he will submit it.” This answer choice is incorrect because nothing suggests that Lord Henry Wotton is specifically an art critic; furthermore, the two men only discuss the excellent quality of Basil’s latest work; neither mentions any “flaws.”

“A rich art collector admires the portrait he just bought while chatting with the artist who painted it.” Nothing in the passage suggests that Lord Henry Wotton has purchased the portrait of Dorian Gray; on the contrary, it seems to still belong to the artist, Basil, because Basil refuses to exhibit it while Lord Henry wants him to.

“An artist has painted a portrait, which he and another man admire while chatting.” - This is the correct answer. Basil, the artist, has painted the portrait of Dorian Gray, and he and Lord Henry are sitting, chatting, and admiring it.

Example Question #31 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (1857)

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

In the same moment with his advent, he stepped aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle, on the point of starting for New Orleans. Stared at, but unsaluted, with the air of one neither courting nor shunning regard, but evenly pursuing the path of duty, lead it through solitudes or cities, he held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.

As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Pausing at this spot, the stranger so far succeeded in threading his way, as at last to plant himself just beside the placard, when, producing a small slate and tracing some words upon if, he held it up before him on a level with the placard, so that they who read the one might read the other. The words were these:—

"Charity thinketh no evil.”

Which of the following best summarizes what happens in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

One passenger relates to another how the fox population in an area has surged after the wolves in that location were killed.

Con men take advantage of passengers who are gathered around an announcement offering a reward for their capture.

Passengers gather around an announcement posted by the captain’s office while some peddlers sell money-belts and books about con men.  

Passengers read an announcement about con men exterminating wolves while peddlers sell money-belts and books about con men.

Con men masquerade as peddlers while a crowd reads a sign in front of the captain’s quarters.

Correct answer:

Passengers gather around an announcement posted by the captain’s office while some peddlers sell money-belts and books about con men.  

Explanation:

The third paragraph is perhaps the most difficult one to understand in the entire passage, as the author’s complex style and abstract comparisons makes it difficult to figure out what’s actually happening in the story on the first read-through. Considering the paragraph again is for all intents and purposes necessary for this question. Try not to get bogged down in the author’s tangents and to figure out what’s actually going on.

First, a crowd is described as gathered around the placard near the captain’s office. One man purchases a money-belt from another, and another man tries to sell the crowd books about criminals. The author then compares these criminals with wolves, saying that both have been “exterminated” in certain areas. He then says that this would be cause for celebration, except for those who think that “where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.”

The bit about the wolves and the foxes is thus not actually referring to any events that happen in the story—it is a comparison that the author is making between criminals and wild animals. We can thus ignore the two answer choices “One passenger relates to another how the fox population in an area has surged after the wolves in that location were killed” and “Passengers read an announcement about con men exterminating wolves while peddlers sell money-belts and books about con men.” None of the men described as being in the crowd are con men—the criminals described are the subjects of books—so “Con men take advantage of passengers who are gathered around an announcement offering a reward for their capture” cannot be correct either. (You can also knock out this answer choice because the placard only calls for the capture of a single man, not multiple con men.) Nothing in the paragraph suggests that the people in the crowd are con men, so “Con men masquerade as peddlers while a crowd reads a sign in front of the captain’s quarters” cannot be correct either; this requires too much inference to be an accurate summary of the paragraph’s events. This leaves us with the correct answer, “Passengers gather around an announcement posted by the captain’s office while some peddlers sell money-belts and books about con men.”

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Literature Passages

Adapted from Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. 

How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.

Miss Taylor was Emma’s __________.

Possible Answers:

governess

mother

sister-in-law

maid

older sister

Correct answer:

governess

Explanation:

This may be a tricky question considering how the paragraph describes Miss Taylor in terms of the other roles she unofficially filled. Miss Taylor is compared to Emma’s mother in the second paragraph when it states, “[Emma’s] mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.” However, Miss Taylor is not Emma’s mother. Similarly, she is compared to a sister at the beginning of paragraph three, which says, “Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters”; this is just another comparison, however, and Miss Taylor is not Emma’s sister. Nothing in the passage suggests that Miss Taylor is Emma’s sister-in-law; talk of her marriage may make you suspect that answer, but for it to be correct, Emma would have to be related to the groom, Mr. Weston, and nothing in the passage suggests this is true. While Miss Taylor works in the Woodhouse household, she does so as governess, not maid. In this way, you could narrow down the answer choices to find the correct one, “governess.”

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