SAT Critical Reading : Passage-Based Questions

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1301 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope (1864)

Who these were and the special nature of the relationship, I shall be called upon to explain hereafter, but at present it will suffice to say that Alice Macleod gave great offence to all her friends by her marriage. She did not, however, give them much time for the indulgence of their anger. Having given birth to a daughter within twelve months of her marriage, she died, leaving in abeyance that question as to whether the fault of her marriage should or should not be pardoned by her family.

When a man marries an heiress for her money, if that money be within her own control, as was the case with Miss Macleod's fortune, it is generally well for the speculating lover that the lady's friends should quarrel with him and with her. She is thereby driven to throw herself entirely into the gentleman's arms, and he thus becomes possessed of the wife and the money without the abominable nuisance of stringent settlements. But the Macleods, though they quarrelled with Alice, did not quarrel with her à l'outrance. They snubbed herself and her chosen husband, but they did not so far separate themselves from her and her affairs as to give up the charge of her possessions. Her four hundred a year was settled very closely on herself and on her children, without even a life interest having been given to Mr. Vavasor, and therefore when she died the mother's fortune became the property of the little baby. Under these circumstances, the big people did not refuse to interest themselves to some extent on behalf of the father. I do not suppose that any actual agreement or compact was made between Mr. Vavasor and the Macleods, but it came to be understood between them that if he made no demand upon them for his daughter's money, and allowed them to have charge of her education, they would do something for him. He was a practising barrister, though his practice had never amounted to much, and a practising barrister is always supposed to be capable of filling any situation which may come his way. Two years after his wife's death Mr. Vavasor was appointed assistant commissioner in some office that had to do with insolvents, and which was abolished three years after his appointment.

Why did Mr. Vavasor marry Alice?

Possible Answers:

Because he liked her friends

Out of spite

Because she was pregnant 

Because he is kind

For her money

Correct answer:

For her money

Explanation:

The first sentence of the second paragraph states that "when a man marries an heiress for her money;" we can take this to apply to the marriage Trollope is discussing here.

Example Question #1302 : Passage Based Questions

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 assumed from the passage that if Elinor were in Marianne's position, she would respond by __________.

Possible Answers:

trying to appear calm and unaffected to preserve her pride and avoid hurting her loved ones with her pain

running away from the entire situation

crying to Marianne and her mother about her pain and the loss of the love of the man she esteemed so well

devising an elaborate plan to achieve revenge on the man who hurt her

begging Willoughby to take her back

Correct answer:

trying to appear calm and unaffected to preserve her pride and avoid hurting her loved ones with her pain

Explanation:

Some insight into Elinor's probable behavior can be gained from her advice to Marianne. She advises her that "a reasonable and laudable pride...resists such malevolence," and urges her to try to keep herself composed "for my mother's sake and mine."

Example Question #9 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Literary Fiction Passage Content

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.”

One can infer from the passage and the title of the work from which it is adapted that Dorian Gray __________.

Possible Answers:

is likely to show up later in the story

is not real

is married

is Lord Henry’s brother

is dead

Correct answer:

is likely to show up later in the story

Explanation:

The title of the work this passage is drawn from is provided: The Picture of Dorian Gray. From this, we know that the portrait is going to play a large role in the story that follows. All that the passage tells us about Dorian Gray is that Basil Hallward painted his portrait, he is good-looking, and the portrait turned out well. Nothing suggests that he is dead, married, not real, or Lord Henry’s brother. (This last one is perhaps the most unlikely, as Lord Henry explicitly states that he does not know Dorian Gray’s name.) The inference we can make from the passage and its source is that Dorian Gray “is likely to show up later in the story.” This is a fair inference to make, given that the entire work is titled after the portrait of him and one character has already said he does not know him.

Example Question #10 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Literary Fiction Passage Content

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

"The Signora had no business to do it," said Miss Bartlett, "no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!"

"And a Cockney, besides!" said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora's unexpected accent. "It might be London." She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English church (Rev. Cuthbert Eager, M. A. Oxon.), that was the only other decoration of the wall. "Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside. I suppose it is one's being so tired."

"This meat has surely been used for soup," said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.

"I want so to see the Arno. The rooms the Signora promised us in her letter would have looked over the Arno. The Signora had no business to do it at all. Oh, it is a shame!"

"Any nook does for me," Miss Bartlett continued, "but it does seem hard that you shouldn't have a view."

Lucy felt that she had been selfish. "Charlotte, you mustn't spoil me; of course, you must look over the Arno, too. I meant that. The first vacant room in the front—" "You must have it," said Miss Bartlett, part of whose traveling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother—a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.

"No, no. You must have it."

"I insist on it. Your mother would never forgive me, Lucy."

"She would never forgive me."

The ladies' voices grew animated, and—if the sad truth be owned—a little peevish. They were tired, and under the guise of unselfishness they wrangled. Some of their neighbors interchanged glances, and one of them—one of the ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad—leant forward over the table and actually intruded into their argument. He said:

"I have a view, I have a view."

Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him. He was an old man, of heavy build, with a fair, shaven face and large eyes. There was something childish in those eyes, though it was not the childishness of senility. What exactly it was Miss Bartlett did not stop to consider, for her glance passed on to his clothes. These did not attract her. He was probably trying to become acquainted with them before they got into the swim. So she assumed a dazed expression when he spoke to her, and then said: "A view? Oh, a view! How delightful a view is!”

The Arno is most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

a statue housed in a nearby museum

a famous fountain in the courtyard

a specific district of London

a specific suite in the pension

a river

Correct answer:

a river

Explanation:

Throughout the passage, we are told few things about the Arno. We know that Lucy wants to see the Arno, as she says so in the fourth paragraph. The same paragraph tells us that "The rooms the Signora promised [them] in her letter would have looked over the Arno," so the Arno is something that can be "looked over." Based on these details, we can tell that the Arno isn't a suite in the pension, as rooms in the pension "look over" it. Similarly, the Arno cannot be "a statue in a nearby museum," because it would not be able to be seen from a room if it were in a museum. It makes no sense that the Arno would be "a specific district of London," as the two women are not in London in the passage. The Arno similarly cannot be "a famous fountain in the courtyard," as in the passage, the two women have rooms overlooking the courtyard yet are upset about not being able to see the Arno. The only remaining answer choice is the correct one: "a river." This makes sense, as a room might "look over" a river, and a river might be something one might want to see when traveling around in a foreign country.

Example Question #74 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Literature Passages

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

"The Signora had no business to do it," said Miss Bartlett, "no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!"

"And a Cockney, besides!" said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora's unexpected accent. "It might be London." She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English church (Rev. Cuthbert Eager, M. A. Oxon.), that was the only other decoration of the wall. "Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside. I suppose it is one's being so tired."

"This meat has surely been used for soup," said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.

"I want so to see the Arno. The rooms the Signora promised us in her letter would have looked over the Arno. The Signora had no business to do it at all. Oh, it is a shame!"

"Any nook does for me," Miss Bartlett continued, "but it does seem hard that you shouldn't have a view."

Lucy felt that she had been selfish. "Charlotte, you mustn't spoil me; of course, you must look over the Arno, too. I meant that. The first vacant room in the front—" "You must have it," said Miss Bartlett, part of whose traveling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother—a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.

"No, no. You must have it."

"I insist on it. Your mother would never forgive me, Lucy."

"She would never forgive me."

The ladies' voices grew animated, and—if the sad truth be owned—a little peevish. They were tired, and under the guise of unselfishness they wrangled. Some of their neighbors interchanged glances, and one of them—one of the ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad—leant forward over the table and actually intruded into their argument. He said:

"I have a view, I have a view."

Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him. He was an old man, of heavy build, with a fair, shaven face and large eyes. There was something childish in those eyes, though it was not the childishness of senility. What exactly it was Miss Bartlett did not stop to consider, for her glance passed on to his clothes. These did not attract her. He was probably trying to become acquainted with them before they got into the swim. So she assumed a dazed expression when he spoke to her, and then said: "A view? Oh, a view! How delightful a view is!”

Which of the following can we infer from the passage?

Possible Answers:

Lucy is a novelist.

Lucy and Miss Bartlett are currently visiting London.

Lucy and Miss Bartlett have been to London.

Lucy and Miss Bartlett are sisters.

Lucy and Miss Bartlett are attending a wedding in a foreign country.

Correct answer:

Lucy and Miss Bartlett have been to London.

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, Lucy recognizes the Signora's accent as a Cockney one and comments, "It might be London." After observing the English details of and people in the room, she adds, ""Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London?" In order to compare their current surroundings with London, both Lucy and Miss Bartlett would have had to have visited London before, so this is the correct answer. None of the other answers can be supported by the passage: since "Lucy's mother" paid for part of Miss Bartlett's traveling expenses, we can assume that the two women are not sisters, or Lucy's mother would also be Miss Bartlett's mother. We can infer that the women are not currently visiting London because Lucy compares the pension to London. No mention is made of Lucy's being a novelist or of the two women attending a wedding.

Example Question #72 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Literature Passages

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

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

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

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

Which of the following pairs of characters are most likely NOT enemies?

Possible Answers:

D'Artagnan's three friends and Monsieur de Wardes

The queen and the cardinal

Monsieur de Wardes and the cardinal

D'Artagnan and Monsieur de Wardes

Buckingham and the cardinal

Correct answer:

Monsieur de Wardes and the cardinal

Explanation:

This question requires you to consider subtle details conveyed throughout the entire passage. Let's consider each answer choice individually:

"D'Artagnan's three friends and Monsieur de Wardes" -  We can infer these characters are enemies because d'Artagnan's three friends fight with him and are injured, whereas Monsieur de Wardes fights against d'Artagnan in this same skirmish.

"Buckingham and the cardinal" - We can infer that these characters are enemies because while Buckingham knows that the cardinal tried to stop d'Artagnan from entering England, he does nothing to expel d'Artagnan from England, and instead travels to London with him.

"D'Artagnan and Monsieur de Wardes" - We can tell these characters are enemies because d'Artagnan describes his fight with Monsieur de Wardes in the first paragraph.

"The queen and the cardinal" - This one is tricky. We can tell that the queen and the cardinal are likely enemies because d'Artagnan is carrying a letter from the queen, yet the cardinal aimed to stop him from traveling freely.

"Monsieur de Wardes and the cardinal" - This is the correct answer choice, as these characters are likely to be working together from what we are told in the passage. The cardinal wanted to prevent d'Artagnan from entering England, and after d'Artagnan managed to get into England, Monsieur de Wardes attacked him. We can infer that the cardinal and Monsieur de Wardes are thus both working to stop d'Artagnan from carrying the queen's letter to its recipient.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Literature Passages

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

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

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

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

Based on what you have read in the passage, which of the following people or things would most likely be introduced as a character later in this story?

Possible Answers:

An alien

A wizard

A flower

A king

A toad

Correct answer:

A toad

Explanation:

The passage introduces us to the mole, the elderly rabbit, and the other rabbits as characters. Given that all of the characters in this passage are anthropomorphized animals, we would guess any other characters introduced later would likely also be anthropomorphized animals as well. So, the correct answer is "a toad," because a toad is the only answer choice which is an animal; a king and a wizard are people, and a flower and a rock are inanimate objects.

Example Question #22 : Inferences And Implied Ideas

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 second paragraph allows us to infer that the other passengers likely __________.

Possible Answers:

booked their tickets for the steamboat well in advance

only travel by steamboat because it is inexpensive

are traveling as a large group

did not bring their own meals with them for the journey

had luggage and were accompanied by friends to the dock

Correct answer:

had luggage and were accompanied by friends to the dock

Explanation:

At the beginning of the second paragraph, the man in cream-colors is described by what he lacks: 

“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.” 

The crowd identifies the man as a “stranger” (an unknown person and an unusual person), and because this is preceded by the information that the man does not have any luggage and was not accompanied by anyone to the dock, we can assume that the lack of these details is part of what makes him strange to the crowd. From this, we can infer that the other passengers likely differed from the man in cream-colors in this regard, meaning that the other passengers likely “had luggage and were accompanied by friends to the dock.

Example Question #1303 : Passage Based Questions

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 describes what the author implies in the underlined selection "in the extremest sense of the word" in the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The man speaks a different language and so cannot understand what the other passengers are saying or be verbally understood by them.

The man is dressed for the wrong climate, which is especially notable when comparing his garb with the garb of the other passengers.

The man has been cut off from contacting his family for an unknown reason.

The man is both strange and unknown to the other passengers.

The man is unknown to each and every one of his fellow passengers.

Correct answer:

The man is both strange and unknown to the other passengers.

Explanation:

In answering this question, it is important to pick up on the author’s use of the double meaning of “stranger.” “Stranger” can mean person one has not met and does not know, but “strange” can also mean weird and unusual. The author is using it both capacities, emphasizing that the man is both strange and unknown to the other passengers. One can pick up on the weird and unusual meaning by considering the sentence before the one containing the phrase, where the author details ways in which the man is different from a typical passenger: he arrives without any baggage or friends. 

As for the other answer choices, “The man has been cut off from contacting his family for an unknown reason” plays off of the meaning of “estranged,” not “stranger”; it is important to keep to the word being used. “The man is unknown to each and every one of his fellow passengers” merely emphasizes the meaning of “stranger” as unknown person, and misses the double meaning at work; similarly, “The man is dressed for the wrong climate, which is especially notable when comparing his garb with the garb of the other passengers” emphasizes the other weird and unusual definition but misses the unknown person one. “The man speaks a different language and so cannot understand what the other passengers are saying or be verbally understood by them” may sound plausible as the man in cream-colors doesn’t say anything in the passage, but he does end up writing in English “Charity thinketh no evil” on a slate he carries at the end of the passage, confirming that he knows how to write in English, making it unlikely that he also cannot speak it. Furthermore, at this point in the paragraph, we are given nothing to go on to infer that this is the case.

Example Question #83 : Interpreting The Passage

Adapted from "A Scandal in Bohemia" in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892 ed.)

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between drugs and ambition, the drowsiness of drugs, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.

One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the mystery that was solved there, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.

His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars. Then he stood before the fire and looked me over in his singular introspective fashion.

What might be an effect of Sherlock's lifestyle, given the narrator's description of him?

Possible Answers:

All of these answers

A hatred of other people

Forgetfulness about details

An obsession with his work and cases

None of these answers

Correct answer:

An obsession with his work and cases

Explanation:

Sherlock's methodical and obsessive style suggests that he is prone to obsession with his cases above and beyond and other sentiment; there isn't much evidence to suggest that Sherlock hates other people, and given the degree to which the passage discusses Sherlock Holmes' "delicate and finely adjusted temperament" and "immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation," it is highly unlikely that he forgets details.

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