SAT II Literature : Inferences: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #12 : Inferences And Implied Ideas

From Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than--"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science ... and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices--that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula--then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances--can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated--because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will--so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even ... to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent ...."

Which of the following is an example scenario that fits the speaker’s opinion regarding a possible future in which all desires are known as being derived from a formula?

Possible Answers:

Animals and humans will live in utter peace.

Lovers will passively live with one another without passion.

Philosophers will be encouraged to continue quibbling over the problem of free will.

Depression cases will greatly increase in numbers.

Scientists will come to rule the world.

Correct answer:

Lovers will passively live with one another without passion.

Explanation:

The best clue for this question is found when the speaker says, "man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to." This is the upshot of knowing that all desires conform to a formula. Therefore, while we can imagine many of the other options being potential answers, the best one sticks closest to the text. That one is the answer stating that lovers will lack passion—that is, they will not have desire for one another.

Example Question #11 : Inferences: Prose

Adapted from Notes from the Underground (1864) in White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1919, trans. Garnett)

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than—"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science . . . and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices—that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula—then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances—can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated—because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will—so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even . . . to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent. . . ."

What seems to have been the reaction of the people being spoken to in this passage?

Possible Answers:

They are scientifically in agreement, though they have doubts.

They are horrified by the speaker's words.

They are vexed at the speaker.

They wanted to be somewhere else.

They are intently listening.

Correct answer:

They wanted to be somewhere else.

Explanation:

The most direct clue about the actions of the other people in this passage is found in the speaker's words, "Stay, gentlemen." He seems to be telling them to remain, though they want to leave the area. The other options might indeed seem fine, for the speaker clearly is having to justify himself over and over. However, the only really clear action indication in the passage is the one made by this brief request that is made early in the conversation.

Example Question #2 : Inferences And Implied Ideas

Adapted from "The Book of the Grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth. No, it wasn’t a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.

. . .

In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.

You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.

The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.

For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.

At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:

That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

The "dream that was not a dream" could also be described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A delusion: the writer witnessed something that was not really there because he is going crazy.

The narrator knows it really was just a dream, but the writer believes it was something more.

A nightmare.

A vision: the writer witnessed something that was not physically there, but had profound meaning.

A sleepwalking episode: the writer encountered a strange scene while sleepwalking.

Correct answer:

A vision: the writer witnessed something that was not physically there, but had profound meaning.

Explanation:

The writer is described as not fully asleep, so he is not dreaming. The figures appear vividly before him even though they are not really there, so it can be said he is having a vision.

Example Question #61 : Interpreting The Passage

Adapted from Notes from the Underground (1864) in White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1919, trans. Garnett)

"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analyzing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than—"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself. I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science . . . and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices—that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula—then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances—can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated—because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will—so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even . . . to the chemical retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted without our consent. . . ."

Which of the following would best finish the underlined quotation?

Possible Answers:

... a great deception expressed by politicians.

... one aspect of human life.

... a sum of physical causes.

... a farce for children's games.

... an outrageous game for power.

Correct answer:

... a sum of physical causes.

Explanation:

Throughout this selection, the speaking character talks about how freedom is really just based on the physical makeup of the human being. This is quite obvious throughout the last paragraph. Therefore, it is most likely that he would have finished the underlined sentence by remarking that free will is not real at all but is instead merely the outcome of physical causes.

Example Question #82 : Content

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.  This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”

… The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

What can be inferred about the author’s opinion of the speaker?

Possible Answers:

The author despises the speaker

The author disagrees with the speaker’s pedagogy

The author disagrees with the speaker’s domestic life

The author agrees with the speaker’s fortitude

The author admires the speaker

Correct answer:

The author disagrees with the speaker’s pedagogy

Explanation:

The author holds up the speaker’s pedagogy (i.e. his educational approach) for criticism and ridicule. By making the speaker a pedant, practically an academic fascist, the author is displaying clear disapproval for the speaker’s opinions. (It might be tempting to guess that the author despises the speaker, but this choice is too extreme given the context.)

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854)

Example Question #12 : Inferences: Prose

"Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur without the aid of four strong men besides the cook.

Yes. It took four men, all four a-blaze with gorgeous decoration, and the chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and caste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third presented his favorite napkin; a fourth (he of two gold watches) poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two."

(1859)

Given that the passage is set at the dawn of the French Revolution, what phrase best suggests that non-nobles are discontented and thinking of overthrowing the government?

Possible Answers:

"Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men"

 "Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite rooms without."

 "one of the great lords in power at the Court"

"It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring heavens."

"and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France"

Correct answer:

"and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France"

Explanation:

The key word "sullen" describes the discontentment some had with the Monseigneur's extravagance. The phrase of "rapidly swallowing France" indicates that the Monseigneur's actions are a detriment to the French people.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Example Question #13 : Inferences: Prose

"Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur without the aid of four strong men besides the cook.

Yes. It took four men, all four a-blaze with gorgeous decoration, and the chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and caste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third presented his favorite napkin; a fourth (he of two gold watches) poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two."

(1859)

What element of this passage suggests that it is appropriate to be included in a novel about the French Revolution?

Possible Answers:

It describes the dissatisfaction of a peasant class

It gives a history of a ruling class

It describes the extravagance of a ruling class

It provides a caricature of a meal

It summarizes unsatisfying jobs for peasants

Correct answer:

It describes the extravagance of a ruling class

Explanation:

Dickens spends much time describing an elaborate ceremony. Such an elaborate ceremony might provoke discontent among peasants, prompting a revolution as a result.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Example Question #14 : Inferences: Prose

Bubbly Creek" is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the yards: all the drainage of the square mile of packing houses empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic acid gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished temporarily. The packers used to leave the creek that way, till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out. Once, however, an ingenious stranger came and started to gather this filth in scows, to make lard out of; then the packers took the cue, and got out an injunction to stop him, and afterward gathered it themselves. The banks of "Bubbly Creek" are plastered thick with hairs, and this also the packers gather and clean.

(1906)

Based on the passage, we can infer that the author _________________.

Possible Answers:

felt that the conditions in Bubbly Creek were necessary for the packers to continue to produce meat efficiently

believed that conditions in Bubbly Creek would eventually improve

believed that the packers were responsible for the unsanitary conditions in the creek

was an employee of the packers

worked for the government

Correct answer:

believed that the packers were responsible for the unsanitary conditions in the creek

Explanation:

Sinclair cites the packers for dumping both grease and chemicals into what is clearly an dangerous and unsanitary environment.  He makes no mention of any efforts to clean the creek, even going so far as to accuse the packers of trying to profit from gathering both grease and hairs that have accumulated there.

Passage adapted from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906)

Example Question #82 : Content

1. 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.

It can be inferred that the author of this passage believes that:

I. Man is diminished when cut off from nature
II. Nature is more powerful than human culture
III. To enter nature is to return to childhood.

Possible Answers:

I and II only

II only

I, II, and III

I only

II and III only

Correct answer:

I and II only

Explanation:

The author argues that man is diminished when cut off from nature. ("How willingly we would escape . . . the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us." " . . . quit our life of solemn trifles.")

He states that nature is more powerful than human culture. ("Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.")

The author says nothing about childhood. (His description of the changes undergone by man as he returns to nature could be interpreted that way, but the author doesn't actually say it. Always choose answers that are clearly supported by something specific in the text.)

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

Example Question #15 : Inferences: Prose

“Shall I?” I said briefly; and I looked at his features, beautiful in their harmony, but strangely formidable in their still severity; at his brow, commanding, but not open; at his eyes, bright and deep and searching, but never soft; at his tall imposing figure; and fancied myself in idea his wife. Oh! it would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition. . . . I should suffer often, no doubt, attached to him only in this capacity: my body would be under a rather stringent yoke, but my heart and mind would be free. I should still have my unblighted self to turn to: my natural unenslaved feelings with which to communicate in moments of loneliness. There would be recesses in my mind which would be only mine, to which he never came; and sentiments growing there, fresh and sheltered, which his austerity could never blight, nor his measured warrior-march trample down: but as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable.

(1847)

The central conflict in this passage can best be summarized as ________________.

Possible Answers:

An internal conflict within the speaker over whether to travel or remain at home

A debate between a husband and wife about a divorce 

A debate between two characters about marital equality 

An internal conflict within the speaker concerning a marriage proposal

A debate between two characters about slavery

Correct answer:

An internal conflict within the speaker concerning a marriage proposal

Explanation:

This passage contains only the voice of the inner monologue of the speaker, which rules out the answers that suggest a debate between two people. From the phrase "shall I?" that begins this passage, it is clear that the central conflict is one of the speaker debating whether or not to take a particular course of action. The second sentence ends with the speaker saying that she "fancied myself in idea his wife," which makes evident that what she is conflicted about is a marriage proposal.

Passage adapted from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847)

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