SAT II Literature : Form, Structure, Grammar, and Syntax

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Syntax And Structure Of Excerpts

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

What is the effect of the writing style in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

To show the craftiness of the monster

To capture the haste of the actions occurring in the paragraph

To show the shady character of the monster

To emphasize the power of the monster

To show the horror being experienced by Dr. Frankenstein

Correct answer:

To capture the haste of the actions occurring in the paragraph

Explanation:

Many actions occur in a short selection in this paragraph. The monster eludes Dr. Frankenstein and leaves the house quickly; Dr. Frankenstein sees him in the boat, the boat goes across the waters quickly, and finally it goes so far as not to be visible. All of these actions, reported in a mere two sentences, give the sense of speed and urgency occurring in this series of actions.

Example Question #8 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice, but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.

....

Thus Sir, I have taken a pretty general survey of the American Charters; and proved to the satisfaction of every unbiassed person, that they are intirely, discordant with that sovereignty of parliament, for which you are an advocate. The disingenuity of your extracts (to give it no harsher name) merits the severest censure; and will no doubt serve to discredit all your former, as well as future labours, in your favourite cause of despotism.

It is true, that New-York has no Charter. But, if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead the common principles of colonization: for, it would be unreasonable, to seclude one colony, from the enjoyment of the most important privileges of the rest. There is no need, however, of this plea: The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

 

(1775)

In the third paragraph where it says, "...if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead..." what does "it" refer to?

Possible Answers:

The speaker

"the sacred rights of mankind"

Mankind as a whole

The nonexistent Charter

New York

Correct answer:

New York

Explanation:

What "it" refers to in this sentence becomes clear if the larger context is viewed. The third paragraph of the passage starts thus: "It is true, that New-York has no Charter. But, if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead the common principles..." From the sentence that precedes these uses of "it," one can tell that New York is what is being referred to. Because New York "has no Charter," it is in need of a way to "support [its] claim to liberty," etc. The uses of "it" here could be replaced with "New York" and make sense; that is a sure way to tell what "it" refers to.

Passage adapted from Alexander Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted (1775).

Example Question #9 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.

.....

This, madam, is a faithful narrative of every event in which we have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty towards Mr. Wickham. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood, he has imposed on you; but his success is not, perhaps, to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of every thing concerning either, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination. You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night. But I was not then master enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed. For the truth of every thing here related, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who from our near relationship and constant intimacy, and still more as one of the executors of my father's will, has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.

 

(1813)

In the first paragraph, both "formation" and "perusal" are the subject of what verb(s) or verb compound?

Possible Answers:

"spared"

"had"

"must occasion"

"written and read"

"should have been spared"

Correct answer:

"must occasion"

Explanation:

The subject of a verb is the noun that performs the action of that verb. For instance, in the sentence, "The dog chewed the bone," the "dog" is the subject of the verb "chewed" because the dog is the thing (a noun) doing the chewing.

In the case of the nouns "formation" and "perusal," the action they are performing is found in the verb "occasion" or "must occasion." To occasion means to cause, or to make necessary. The speaker is saying that the formation (composition) and perusal (reading) of the letter will make necessary the "effort" mentioned earlier in the sentence.

Passage adapted from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).

Example Question #31 : Grammar And Syntax

1 Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.

2 A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. 3 Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. 4 Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. 5 The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. 6 These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

… 7 The churches were the freest from [the stare]. 8 To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches—dreamily dotted with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging—was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. 9 So, with people lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant church bells and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day.

What type of sentences does this passage primarily contain?

Possible Answers:

Imperative

Paratactic

Telegraphic

Ekphrastic

Hypotactic

Correct answer:

Hypotactic

Explanation:

Hypotaxis or hypotactic sentences are ones in which clauses are subordinate to other clauses (e.g. “I am late because I overslept”), and these are the kind of sentences we have here. Don’t confuse this with paratactic sentences, ones in which short, simple clauses are placed beside each other without subordination (e.g. “I am late; I overslept”). Telegraphic sentences are sentences with five or fewer words, and imperative sentences are commands. Ekphrasis is a poetic technique that does not generally apply to prose.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857)

Example Question #32 : Grammar And Syntax

There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. 2. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of the Indian Summer.  3. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. 4. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. 5. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. 6. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. 7. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. 8. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. 9. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. 10. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. 11. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us. 12. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. 13. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. 14. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. 15. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. 16. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. 17. How easily we might walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.

The pronoun “them” (sentence 11) refers to _____________.

Possible Answers:

night and morning

excessive thought

barriers

close and crowded houses

majestic beauties

Correct answer:

majestic beauties

Explanation:

In the previous sentence the author says, ". . . we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom." Sentence 11 continues that thought, exclaiming how wonderful it would be to "escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent" -- that is, to evade the mental obstacles that prevent him from experiencing the full power of nature's "majestic beauties."

Passage adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essay VI, Nature" (1836)

Example Question #33 : Grammar And Syntax

There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. 2. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of the Indian Summer.  3. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. 4. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. 5. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. 6. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. 7. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. 8. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. 9. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. 10. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. 11. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us. 12. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. 13. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. 14. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. 15. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. 16. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. 17. How easily we might walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.

What is the direct object of the verb “forced” (sentence 6)?

Possible Answers:

The gates of the forest

The surprised man of the world

City estimates

To leave

Nature

Correct answer:

The surprised man of the world

Explanation:

Sentence 6 is a passive construction: i.e., a sentence with a transitive verb and a direct object, but no subject. It is the "surprised man of the world" who is being forced (by an unspecified agent).

Passage adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essay VI, Nature" (1836)

Example Question #1 : Grammar And Syntax: Drama

For I-be Zeus my witness, who sees all things always-would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens; nor would I ever deem the country's foe a friend to myself; remembering this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe, and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends.

(Fifth century BCE)

In the last line of the passage, "she" refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

the country

the country's foes

the citizens of the country

the voyage

the country's allies

Correct answer:

the country

Explanation:

The author compares the country to a ship, and refers to both at the ship and the country (which have been tied together by a simile) at the same time when he writes "she prospers in our voyage"

(Adapted from the R. C. Jebb translation of Antigone by Sophocles 211-218, Fifth century BCE)

Example Question #2 : Grammar And Syntax: Drama

1 Two households, both alike in dignity,
  In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
  From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
  Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
5 From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
  A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
  Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
  Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
9 The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
  And the continuance of their parents' rage,
  Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
  Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
13 The which if you with patient ears attend,
     What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

(1595)

What is the subject of the verb "bury" in line 8?

Possible Answers:

"Two households" (line 1)

"misadventured piteous overthrows" (line 7)

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers" (line 6)

"these two foes" (line 5)

"their parents' strife" (line 8)

Correct answer:

"misadventured piteous overthrows" (line 7)

Explanation:

The subject of a verb is the thing that performs the action of the verb. For instance, in the sentence, "The dog barks," the verb is "barks" and the subject is "the dog." The thing performing the action of the verb "bury" (line 8) is the "misadventured piteous overthrows" (line 7). The "overthrows" are what "bury" the parents' strife.  

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1595).

Example Question #1 : Syntax And Structure Of Excerpts

Adapted from Richard III by William Shakespeare, I.i.1-42

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

The syntax of the first two lines __________.

Possible Answers:

makes it seem as if the speaker is the only one suffering from the “discontent” he describes

suggests that the “sun of York” is to blame for “the winter of our discontent”

emphasizes the timing of the events described

suggests that the speaker is an unreliable narrator

underscores the regular passing of the seasons

Correct answer:

emphasizes the timing of the events described

Explanation:

The first two lines of the passage are “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” What do you notice about the syntax, or the order in which words and phrases are presented? Whereas one might have phrased the line “The winter of our discontent is now made glorious summer by the sun of York” or “The sun of York has now made glorious summer of the winter of our discontent,” or in numerous other ways, Shakespeare has made the first word “Now.” This emphasizes the timing of the events described.

Example Question #1 : Syntax And Structure Of Excerpts

Adapted from Richard III by William Shakespeare, I.i.1-42

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

Consider the underlined selection. Which of the following is NOT true?

Possible Answers:

“Fair” and “well-spoken” are associated with the villain’s perspective, whereas “idle” is associated with the lover’s perspective.

The repetition of the words “prove” and “days” helps contrast the two roles being discussed.

The location of “lover” and “villain” at the end of their respective lines places them in contrast to one another.

The lover’s action is to “entertain,” whereas the villain’s action is to “hate.”

The syntax of the first two lines loosely mirrors the syntax of the latter two lines.

Correct answer:

“Fair” and “well-spoken” are associated with the villain’s perspective, whereas “idle” is associated with the lover’s perspective.

Explanation:

The syntax of the first two lines does indeed mirror that of the last two lines; they are similarly constructed in that they both follow the form of “I (cannot) prove a (noun) / to (verb) (descriptors) days.” The lover’s action in this sequence is to “entertain,” and the villain’s is to “hate.” The repetition of the words “prove” and “days” do contrast the two roles being discussed, as it places them in parallel to one another; similarly, the location of “lover” and “villain” at the ends of their respective lines place them in parallel with one another and contrast them. This leaves us with the correct answer, “‘Fair’ and ‘well-spoken’ are associated with the villain’s perspective, whereas ‘idle’ is associated with the lover’s perspective.” This is not true, as “fair” and “well-spoken” appear in the second line, which describes the action of the “lover,” whereas “idle” appears in the fourth line, which describes the action of the “villain.”

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