SAT II Literature : Figurative Language

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #11 : Figurative Language: 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)

As used in line 1, the term "Bubbly Creek" is an example of ___________________.

Possible Answers:

onomatopoeia

allusion

personification

paradox

understatement

Correct answer:

onomatopoeia

Explanation:

The sound of the word "bubbly" evokes a visual image of the bubbles forming on top of the creek. Thus, the image is an example of onomatopoeia.

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

Example Question #41 : Figurative Language

Passage adapted from Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

I thought I must be dreaming, for the three women threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. I seemed somehow to know their faces, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they should kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down; lest some day it should meet my wife's eyes and cause her pain, but it is the truth [. . . ]. I lay in the bed with an agony of delightful anticipation. One advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood. It was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal.

What is the effect of the underlined and bolded simile?

Possible Answers:

It connects the beauty of the women to valuable precious stones, implying that the narrator dreams of becoming rich

It connects the beauty of the women to valuable precious stones, implying that the narrator wishes to pay to be beautiful as well

It connects the beauty of the women to valuable precious stones, implying that their beauty is not pure or natural, but purchased through some vulgar means

It likens the beauty of the women to pearls, implying that these mysterious women have come from the ocean

It describes the beauty of the women solely in terms of color, implying that the narrator is an artist at heart

Correct answer:

It connects the beauty of the women to valuable precious stones, implying that their beauty is not pure or natural, but purchased through some vulgar means

Explanation:

These women deliberately cause the narrator to think impure, "wicked" thoughts, which go against his values as a married man. He does not admire their beauty, but is enthralled by it - they put him under a spell, into a dreamlike state. Their actions and appearances are vulgar, and so is false, purchased beauty.

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Drama

Yet I would have thee know that o'er-stubborn spirits are most often humbled; 'tis the stiffest iron, baked to hardness in the fire, that thou shalt oftenest see snapped and shivered; and I have known horses that show temper brought to order by a little curb.

(Fifth century BCE)

The excerpt uses a metaphor in order to express what main idea?

Possible Answers:

Describing the fate of those who refuse to listen 

Emphasizing the importance of learning from past life experiences

Warning the reader about the dangers of ignorance

Describing the fate of those who refuse to change their mind

Correct answer:

Describing the fate of those who refuse to change their mind

Explanation:

The "stubborn spirit" is the one that is hardest to humble—this means that people who refuse to adopt new ideas are doomed to destruction, while those who are open to learning and adjusting to situations are flexible and at less risk.

(Adapted from the R. C. Jebb translation of Antigone by Sophocles 520-525, Fifth century BCE)

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: 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)

This passage makes use of the literary devices __________________.

Possible Answers:

apostrophe and rhyme

meter and onomatopoeia

onomatopoeia and imagery

alliteration and irony

rhyme and meter

Correct answer:

rhyme and meter

Explanation:

This passage consistently uses rhyme at the end of the line. For instance:  dignity/mutiny, scene/unclean, attend, mend, etc. The passage also uses meter--specifically, it is written in iambic pentameter (lines of five metrical feet that each consist of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable).  

The passage does not use apostrophe (speaking to an inanimate or not-present addressee), onomatopoeia (words that represent sounds), or irony (a contradiction between literal meaning and intended meaning). It does, however, include some alliteration; see, for instance, the repetition of the "f" sound in line 5.  

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

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Drama

MEPHISTOPHELES: Tut, Faustus,

Marriage is but a ceremonial toy;

And if thou lovest me, think no more of it.        

I’ll cull thee out the fairest courtesans,

And bring them every morning to thy bed;(5)

She whom thine eye shall like, thy heart shall have,

Be she as chaste as was Penelope,

As wise as Saba, or as beautiful        

As was bright Lucifer before his fall.

Here, take this book peruse it thoroughly:  [Gives a book.] (10)

The iterating of these lines brings gold;

The framing of this circle on the ground

Brings whirlwinds, tempests, thunder and lightning;

Pronounce this thrice devoutly to thyself…

(1592)

Based on context, what does “cull thee out” (line 4) mean?

Possible Answers:

Describe to you

Eradicate

Choose for you

Proclaim for you

Label

Correct answer:

Choose for you

Explanation:

When the entire line and subsequent line are read, the answer becomes clearer. “I’ll cull thee out the fairest courtesans, / And bring them every morning to thy bed” leads us to imagine that the speaker is selecting these courtesans for the addressee. The other choices don’t make sense in the context of the second line.

Passage adapted from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (1592)

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Drama

HENRY V: And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me   (5)

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks   (10)

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

(1600)

According to the passage, why shall the gentlemen in England “think themselves accursed” (line 9)?

Possible Answers:

Because they will be considered stingy by others

Because they did not participate in the glorious battle

Because their friends all died without them

Because they will not belong to the “band of brothers”

Because they will not be made gentle

Correct answer:

Because they did not participate in the glorious battle

Explanation:

The speaker notes that the gentlemen in England will “hold their manhoods cheap” when people mention the St. Crispin’s Day battle. In other words, they will not be considered as manly as the men the speaker is addressing, the men who will actually take part in the battle. This speech glorifies battle and shames those who do not participate in it.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Henry V (1600)

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Drama

HENRY V: And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me   (5)

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks   (10)

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

(1600)

What is the meaning of “be he ne'er so vile” (line 6)?

Possible Answers:

He was never vile

Even if he is vile

None of these

Unless he is vile

He will never be vile

Correct answer:

Even if he is vile

Explanation:

Reading this line in contemporary English could be misleading, so be careful to consider the context. The speaker promises that the upcoming battle will turn men – all men – gentle. The only construction that fits with this idea of taming all the soldiers is “Even if he is vile.”

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Henry V (1600)

Example Question #1 : Figurative Language: Drama

TROILUS: Peace, you ungracious clamours! peace, rude sounds!

Fools on both sides! Helen must needs be fair,

When with your blood you daily paint her thus.

I cannot fight upon this argument;

It is too starved a subject for my sword.    (5)

How can line 5 be interpreted?

Possible Answers:

The men’s argument lacks substance

The cause of this war isn’t worthy

None of these other answers

I am too hungry to argue

The argument fails to motivate the troops

Correct answer:

The cause of this war isn’t worthy

Explanation:

Line 5, “It is too starved a subject for my sword,” is tricky to parse. However, we can use process of elimination to rule out the too-literal (“I am too hungry to argue”) and the too-liberal (The argument fails to motivate the troops). By deducing that “this argument” (line 4) refers to Helen’s beauty and not the bickering of the men, we are led to the best answer: the speaker believes that the cause of the war is unworthy of his fighting.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602).

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