PSAT Critical Reading : Understanding Organization and Argument in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #34 : Making Inferences In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)

For a moment or two she could say no more; but when this emotion had passed away, she added, in a firmer tone, "Elinor, I have been cruelly used; but not by Willoughby."

"Dearest Marianne, who but himself? By whom can he have been instigated?"

"By all the world, rather than by his own heart. I could rather believe every creature of my acquaintance leagued together to ruin me in his opinion, than believe his nature capable of such cruelty. This woman of whom he writes—whoever she be—or any one, in short, but your own dear self, mama, and Edward, may have been so barbarous to bely me. Beyond you three, is there a creature in the world whom I would not rather suspect of evil than Willoughby, whose heart I know so well?"

Elinor would not contend, and only replied, "Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions supports your spirits. It is a reasonable and laudable pride which resists such malevolence."

"No, no," cried Marianne, "misery such as mine has no pride. I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world. Elinor, Elinor, they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like—may resist insult, or return mortification—but I cannot. I must feel—I must be wretched—and they are welcome to enjoy the consciousness of it that can."

"But for my mother's sake and mine—"

"I would do more than for my own. But to appear happy when I am so miserable—Oh! who can require it?"

Again they were both silent. 

It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that Marianne would agree with which of the following viewpoints?

Possible Answers:

A friend's secrets should never be disclosed without his or her permission.

Anybody can be unfaithful.

Never trust a man who has betrayed you once.

True emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Self-control is more important than enthusiasm.

Correct answer:

True emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Explanation:

Marianne states that "they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like—may resist insult, or return mortification—but I cannot. I must feel—I must be wretched..." This implies that she suffers too much to hide her feelings, so one can reasonably infer that she would agree that true emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, Volume 16: Anna Karenina (1877; 1917 ed., trans. Garnett)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household were painfully conscious of it. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner-time; the kitchen maid and the coachman had given warning.

Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky—Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world—woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom, but on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, yes, how was it now?” he thought, going over his dream. “Alabin was giving a dinner at Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, and the tables sang, II mio tesoro—not II mio tesoro, though, but something better, and there were some sort of little decanters on the table, and they were women too,” he remembered. 

Noticing a gleam of light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains, he cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the sofa, and felt about with them for his slippers, a present on his last birthday, worked for him by his wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he had done every day for the last nine years, he stretched out his hand, without getting up, towards the place where his dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom. And thereupon he suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife’s room, but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he knitted his brows. 

Most unpleasant of all was the first minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from the theatre, with a huge pear in his hand for his wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room, to his surprise had not found her in the study either, and saw her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky letter that revealed everything in her hand. She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation.

“What’s this? This?” she asked, pointing to the letter.

And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch, as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in which he had met his wife’s words.

There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even—anything would have been better than what he did do—his face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology)—utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile.

This idiotic smile he could not forgive himself. Catching sight of that smile, Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.

“It’s that idiotic simile that’s to blame for it all,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.

The narrator makes a general, sweeping statement about __________ in the passage.

Possible Answers:

how one should go about apologizing after gravely offending someone else

why interpreting the meaning of one’s own dreams is difficult

why people have affairs

how impossible it is to run a large household

what people do when they are discovered in a compromising situation

Correct answer:

what people do when they are discovered in a compromising situation

Explanation:

The narrator’s first line can certainly be considered a sweeping (general) statement, but it doesn’t line up with any of the available answer choices. Paragraphs two through eight detail the specifics of the Oblonskys’ situation, but at the start of paragraph nine, the author begins, “There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault.” Here, the author declares that when people are discovered in compromising situations, they often make the wrong facial expression.

Example Question #1 : Literary Fiction

Adapted from Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville (1851)

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would, by all hands, be considered a noble dish were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite. Only the most unprejudiced of men, like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious. We all know how they live upon whales and have rare old vintages of prime old train oil. Zogranda, one of their most famous doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants as being exceedingly juicy and nourishing. And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel—that these men actually lived for several months on the moldy scraps of whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber. Among the Dutch whalemen, these scraps are called “fritters,” which, indeed, they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives’ dough-nuts or oly-cooks when fresh. They have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish is his exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good. Look at his hump, which would be as fine eating as the buffalo’s (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid pyramid of fat. But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is, like the transparent, half-jellied, white meat of a coconut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter. Nevertheless, many whale men have a method of absorbing it into some other substance and then partaking of it. In the long try watches of the night, it is a common thing for the seamen to dip their ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile. Many a good supper have I thus made.

Based on the tone of the passage, how does the narrator personally feel about eating whale?

Possible Answers:

He is surprised that so many people eat whale, as he cannot stomach it himself.

He is in support of eating whale.

He is against eating whale.

He apathetic about eating whale.

He is sad about killing and eating whales.

Correct answer:

He is in support of eating whale.

Explanation:

The narrator opens the passage by suggesting that whale would be "considered a noble dish were there not so much of him," suggesting that whale would be preferred by many if the food did not originate from such a large animal. The narrator also speaks of the many "good suppers" he has had by frying his biscuits in whale oil, suggesting that he enjoys eating whale.

Example Question #122 : Content Of Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843).

TRUE! -- nervous -- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses -- not destroyed -- not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing accute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily -- how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees -- very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded --with what caution --with what foresight --with what dissumlation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it --oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly --very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! --would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously --oh, so cautiously --cautiously (for the hinges creaked) --I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights --every night just at midnight --but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

What reason does the narrator give for believing himself to be sane?

Possible Answers:

He has a disease that makes him act strangely.

He was very kind to the old man.

He can calmly retell the story of how he murdered the old man.

The old man was a monster and deserved death.

Correct answer:

He can calmly retell the story of how he murdered the old man.

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the narrator states that his senses (and presumably his judgment) have been sharpened by his disease, not dulled. He realizes that other people will think he is acting in an unusual manner and sets out to prove his sanity by explaining his reasoning for killing the old man. In the final sentence of the first paragraph he states that he will calmly retell the story. Clearly, a madman would not be able to remain calm. As spurious a claim as this may be, it is the one the speaker makes in this passage.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from J.M Barrie's Peter and Wendy (1911)

Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse. How thorough she was at bath-time, and up at any moment of the night if one of her charges made the slightest cry. Of course her kennel was in the nursery. She had a genius for knowing when a cough is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs stocking around your throat. She believed to her last day in old-fashioned remedies like rhubarb leaf, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk about germs, and so on. It was a lesson in propriety to see her escorting the children to school, walking sedately by their side when they were well behaved, and butting them back into line if they strayed. On John's footer [in England soccer was called football, "footer for short] days she never once forgot his sweater, and she usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain. There is a room in the basement of Miss Fulsom's school where the nurses wait. They sat on forms, while Nana lay on the floor, but that was the only difference. They affected to ignore her as of an inferior social status to themselves, and she despised their light talk. She resented visits to the nursery from Mrs. Darling's friends, but if they did come she first whipped off Michael's pinafore and put him into the one with blue braiding, and smoothed out Wendy and made a dash at John's hair.

What word best describes Mr. and Mrs. Darling?

Possible Answers:

eccentric

courageous

wealthy

prim

Correct answer:

eccentric

Explanation:

Based on the first sentence of the paragraph, the reader can infer that the Darlings like to be just like their neighbors. "Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse." Without reading further, one would assume that the nurse would be human. Instead they hire Nana, a dog, to be their nurse. This definitely qualifies as eccentric, or bizarre.

Example Question #5 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Candide by Voltaire (1918 trans.)

"Grandeur," said Pangloss, "is extremely dangerous according to the testimony of philosophers. For, in short, Eglon, King of Moab, was assassinated by Ehud; Absalom was hung by his hair, and pierced with three darts; King Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was killed by Baasa; King Ela by Zimri; Ahaziah by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the Kings Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity. You know how perished Croesus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Cæsar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II of England, Edward II, Henry VI, Richard III, Mary Stuart, Charles I, the three Henrys of France, the Emperor Henry IV! You know—" 

"I know also," said Candide, "that we must cultivate our garden." 

"You are right," said Pangloss, "for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle." 

"Let us work," said Martin, "without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: "There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde, if you had not been put into the Inquisition, if you had not walked over America, if you had not stabbed the Baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado, you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

What is the purpose of the paragraph beginning, "The whole little society entered . . ."?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

To overcome a bias that Pangloss expresses in his long explanations

To show that paradise on earth can in fact be created

To show the accomplishments possible when people, no matter their skills, work simply together

To recount the many hardships of the small group of people working in their garden

Correct answer:

To show the accomplishments possible when people, no matter their skills, work simply together

Explanation:

There are several clues in this paragraph that help you to answer. The first is that the author stresses that each worked "according to their different abilities." Then, on several occasions, he notes that in spite of limitations, each person could give something to the little community. This is particularly emphasized in the case of Cunegonde and Friar Giroflée. Each gave a particular skill to the group, simply working according to the laudable design of Martin who said, "Let us work without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable."

Example Question #1 : Understanding Organization And Argument 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 did NOT occur at some point in the past of the story?

Possible Answers:

Basil Hallward attended Oxford University.

Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait.

Basil Hallward disappeared without warning.

Lord Henry obtained cigarettes.

Lord Henry met Dorian Gray.

Correct answer:

Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait.

Explanation:

It’s important to keep Basil Hallward, the artist, distinct from Lord Henry, the man who is sitting and chatting with him. We can tell that Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait at some point in the past, because he and Lord Henry are sitting and admiring it in the passage. We are also told that Basil “disappeared without warning” at some point in the past; the second paragraph introduces Basil as, “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.” We can also tell that Basil attended Oxford University from a detail provided in the fifth paragraph: “"I don't think I will send it anywhere," [Basil] answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford.” We can also tell that Lord Henry must have obtained cigarettes, because he smokes them throughout the passage. This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: Lord Henry met Dorian Gray. We can infer that this not (yet) happened, as in the last paragraph, Lord Henry says, “Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks.” If he does not know Dorian Gray’s name, we can assume that the two have not met.

Example Question #6 : Understanding Organization And Argument 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 happens first in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The man in cream-colors approaches the placard by the captain’s office.

The man in cream-colors writes on a slate.

The man in cream-colors boards a steamboat.

One man sells another a money-belt.

A peddler attempts to sell books about con men and thieves.

Correct answer:

The man in cream-colors boards a steamboat.

Explanation:

Figuring out what happens first may look like a challenge, but moving paragraph by paragraph can help you figure this out. The first paragraph describes how “there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.” In the second paragraph, this man boards a steamboat. Then, the man approaches the placard by the captain’s office, where one man sells another a money-belt and a peddler attempts to sell books about con men and thieves. Finally, the man in cream-colors writes on a slate. So, the correct answer is that “the man in cream-colors boards a steamboat.” Given that the rest of the actions take place on board the steamboat, it makes sense that the man in cream-colors boards the steamboat before any of the other events take place.

Example Question #7 : Understanding Organization And Argument 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.”

The purpose of the second paragraph in the context of the whole passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to describe the setting of the dock before the stranger boards the steamboat

to provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock

to foreshadow the death of someone on the steamboat during its voyage

to allow the author to conclude an abstract discussion of con men before beginning the story proper

to help the reader empathize with the stranger, who is not accepted by the other passengers

Correct answer:

to provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock

Explanation:

What happens in the second paragraph? The first sentence describes the physical appearance of the man in cream-colors; the second, third, and fourth sentences describe what he lacks (luggage, friends, and a porter); and the final sentence describes how the other passengers think him exceedingly strange. While this does “provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock,” it does not help us empathize with the stranger. None of the other answer choices make sense, so “provide a physical description of the stranger and details surrounding his arrival on the dock” is the correct answer.

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

The purpose of the first paragraph in the passage is __________

Possible Answers:

to begin an abstract argument

to foreshadow that Miss Taylor will get married

to describe the setting of the story that follows

to introduce the main character

to introduce a minor character

Correct answer:

to introduce the main character

Explanation:

The first paragraph states, “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.” It serves to introduce Emma Woodhouse to the reader, and given that Emma is the main character of the passage and the story (especially given that the novel from which the passage is titled after her), the correct answer is that the purpose of the first paragraph in the passage is “to introduce the main character.”

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