SAT II Literature : Tone, Style, and Mood: Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Drama

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Eighteenth And Nineteenth Century Drama

The Sun, in ancient guise, competing 
With brother spheres in rival song, 
With thunder-march, his orb completing, 
Moves his predestin'd course along; 
His aspect to the powers supernal 
Gives strength, though fathom him none may;
Transcending thought, the works eternal 
Are fair as on the primal day. 

With speed, thought baffling, unabating,
Earth's splendour whirls in circling flight; 
Its Eden-brightness alternating 
With solemn, awe-inspiring night; 
Ocean's broad waves in wild commotion,
Against the rocks' deep base are hurled; 
And with the spheres, both rock and ocean 
Eternally are swiftly whirled.

And tempests roar in emulation
From sea to land, from land to sea,
And raging form, without cessation,
A chain of wondrous agency,
Full in the thunder's path careering,
Flaring the swift destructions play;
But, Lord, Thy servants are revering
The mild procession of thy day.


The tone of the passage can best be described as _________________.

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



The first speaker's description of the normal course of the sun quickly gives way to descriptions of the ocean hurling itself against rocks and roaring tempests. The third speaker (Michael) warns that destruction is forthcoming, but people are unaware of the danger they face as they prepare for another day.

Passage adapted from Johann von Goethe's Faust (1808)

Example Question #11 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Drama

Passage adapted from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1897)
Translated by Gladys Thomas and Mary F. Guillemard (in public domain)

[Cyrano speaks to Roxane.]


  1. Ay, true, the feeling
  2. Which fills me, terrible and jealous, truly
  3. Love,--which is ever sad amid its transports!
  4. Love,--and yet, strangely, not a selfish passion!
  5. I for your joy would gladly lay mine own down,
  6. --E'en though you never were to know it,--never!
  7. --If but at times I might--far off and lonely,--
  8. Hear some gay echo of the joy I bought you!
  9. Each glance of thine awakes in me a virtue,--
  10. A novel, unknown valor. Dost begin, sweet,
  11. To understand? So late, dost understand me?
  12. Feel'st thou my soul, here, through the darkness mounting?
  13. Too fair the night! Too fair, too fair the moment!
  14. That I should speak thus, and that you should hearken!
  15. Too fair! In moments when my hopes rose proudest,
  16. I never hoped such guerdon. Naught is left me
  17. But to die now! Have words of mine the power
  18. To make you tremble,--throned there in the branches?
  19. Ay, like a leaf among the leaves, you tremble!
  20. You tremble! For I feel,--an if you will it,
  21. Or will it not,--your hand's beloved trembling
  22. Thrill through the branches, down your sprays of jasmine!

The overall tone of the speech is ___________.

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



The tone of this speech is joyful.

During the course of the speech it dawns on Cyrano that he's telling Roxane how he loves her, and that she may actually be hearing and understanding him at last. All of the negative images in the speech -- death, loneliness, isolation, sacrifice -- are contrasted with that glorious fact, and Cyrano decides that the joy of this moment would outweigh any future pain:

"Feel'st thou my soul, here, through the darkness mounting?
Too fair the night! Too fair, too fair the moment!"

Example Question #3 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Eighteenth And Nineteenth Century Drama

A bell rings in the hall; shortly afterwards the door is heard to open.

Enter NORA, humming a tune and in high spirits. She is in out-door dress and carries a number of parcels; these she lays on the table to the right. She leaves the outer door open after her, and through it is seen a PORTER who is carrying a Christmas Tree and a basket, which he gives to the MAID who has opened the door.)

Nora: Hide the Christmas Tree carefully, Helen. Be sure the children do not see it till this evening, when it is dressed. (To the PORTER, taking out her purse.) How much?

Porter: Sixpence.

Nora: There is a shilling. No, keep the change. (The PORTER thanks her, and goes out. NORA shuts the door. She is laughing to herself, as she takes off her hat and coat. She takes a packet of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two; then goes cautiously to her husband's door and listens.) Yes, he is in. (Still humming, she goes to the table on the right.)

Helmer: (calls out from his room). Is that my little lark twittering out there?

Nora (busy opening some of the parcels): Yes, it is!

Helmer: Is it my little squirrel bustling about?

Nora: Yes!

Helmer: When did my squirrel come home?

Nora: Just now. (Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.) Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.

Helmer: Don't disturb me. (A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.) Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?

Nora: Yes, but, Torvald, this year we really can let ourselves go a little. This is the first Christmas that we have not needed to economize.

Helmer: Still, you know, we can't spend money recklessly.

Nora: Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn't we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.

Helmer: Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due.

Nora: Pooh! we can borrow till then.


Which line in this excerpt marks the most significant change in tone?

Possible Answers:

"Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?"

"Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due."

"There is a shilling. No, keep the change."

"Is it my little squirrel bustling about?"

"Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought."

Correct answer:

"Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?"


The line "Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?" marks a change in Helmer's tone from sounding indulgent towards his wife and happy she has returned home, to sounding condescending and critical towards her. He switches from calling her "my little squirrel" to "my little spendthrift" and accuses her of wasting money. None of the other lines mark a significant shift in tone from the previous line spoken by that character.

Passage adapted from Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879)

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