SAT Critical Reading : Making Inferences About the Author or Literary Fiction Passage Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

1 2 3 4 6 Next →

Example Question #371 : Literary Fiction Passages

Passage 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.”

What is the author implying in his discussion of wolves and foxes at the end of the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Con men are like wolves, whereas citizens of the general public are like foxes.

Adjusting the balance of a natural ecosystem can have numerous unintended effects on the environment.

Some believe that once the con men and criminals are removed from an area, others take their place.

Wolves are typically only killed off well after humans have settled in an area.

If wolves are found in an area, con men are likely also to be found there.

Correct answer:

Some believe that once the con men and criminals are removed from an area, others take their place.

Explanation:

The wolves-and-foxes discussion is perhaps the most difficult part of the passage to understand, because the author steps out of telling the story for a moment to make an abstract comparison about events that have already happened. Specifically, the author writes:

“another peddler . . . 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.”

The wolves are clearly compared to the criminals in that each were “exterminated” in certain areas, but some people think that “where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.” The foxes take the place of the wolves (comparatively, the criminals), so we can infer that the “foxes” must represent some type of criminal too. We can ignore the answer choice “Adjusting the balance of a natural ecosystem can have numerous unintended effects on the environment” as wolves and foxes are mentioned to be compared to criminals, not to discuss the environment. Foxes are not being compared to citizens of the general public since they take the place of the wolves after the wolves are killed off, so “Con men are like wolves, whereas citizens of the general public are like foxes” cannot be correct either. While wolves are compared to con men, “If wolves are found in an area, con men are likely also to be found there” makes an association that goes beyond the author’s comparison. “Wolves are typically only killed off well after humans have settled in an area” is contradicted by the author’s use of the adjective “new” in describing “those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.” This suggests that the wolves are killed off relatively quickly after humans settle in an area. This leaves us with the correct answer, “Some believe that once the con men and criminals are removed from an area, others take their place.” This accurately captures the author’s comparison and infers the role of foxes as another type of criminal taking the place of the “wolves.”

1 2 3 4 6 Next →
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors