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

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #12 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

"Well, then," said he, "this is the berth for me. Here you, matey," he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; "bring up alongside and help up my chest. I'll stay here a bit," he continued. "I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at—there"; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. "You can tell me when I've worked through that," says he, looking as fierce as a commander.

And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skipper accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.

How can the captain’s tone be described?

Possible Answers:

Smarmy

Diffident

Imperious

Deferential

Surreptitious

Correct answer:

Imperious

Explanation:

The captain immediately notes that the innkeeper should call him “captain” rather than his first name. However, we can also guess at his tone based on his gestures. The captain “threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold” and looked “as fierce as a commander.” This quickly rules out “deferential” and “diffident” and leaves us with our best choice, “imperious.”

Passage adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, 1883.

Example Question #13 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

. . . Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing.

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard. It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more. The thing that you personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is happening to me now, and will happen to me again to-morrow. Remember this, and you will be able to understand a little of why I am writing, and in this manner writing. . . .

(1897)

What is the overall tone of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Bitter and mean-spirited

Grief-stricken and desolate

Hopeful and at peace

Moralizing and didactic

Angry and vehement

Correct answer:

Grief-stricken and desolate

Explanation:

An acceptable way to describe the tone of this passage would be "grief-stricken and desolate." The speaker everywhere expresses grief and sadness and pain at his situation. Similarly, "desolate" means to lack consolation, to be wretched. All the speaker's references to the pain and suffering of his present condition fit this description.

The speaker does not display vehemence or anger, nor does he seem bitter or mean-spirited--to the contrary, he seems to be speaking to someone for their own good--nor does he display hopefulness. "Didactic" means to be overtly teaching something, and while there are moments of didacticism in the last paragraph, that is not the overriding tone of the passage, and nothing in the passage could rightly be called "moralizing"--that is, pushing an explicit moral or ethical agenda.

Passage adapted from Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1897).

Example Question #14 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

. . . Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing.

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard. It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more. The thing that you personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is happening to me now, and will happen to me again to-morrow. Remember this, and you will be able to understand a little of why I am writing, and in this manner writing. . . .

(1897)

What is the tone of the underlined and bolded sentence from the passage?

Possible Answers:

Horrified and disgusted

Jubilant and admiring

Bitter and angry

Longing and heart-broken

Scientific and closely observant

Correct answer:

Longing and heart-broken

Explanation:

An acceptable way to describe the tone of this sentence is "longing and heart-broken." "Longing" is appropriate because it is clear that the speaker cannot see the seasons change, but wishes he could. This is evident from the lengthy description of the seasons of nature, as well as from the statement at the end: "of these we know nothing and can know nothing." If he were able, he would go and observe the beauty of the outside world, but he cannot. This makes him extremely sad, which makes "heart-broken" another good descriptor for the tone of this sentence.  

Passage adapted from Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1897).  

Example Question #41 : Interpreting The Passage

Adapted from A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom; but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and provided for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Which of the following best describes the tone of this passage as a whole?

Possible Answers:

Melancholic and wistful

Satirical and good-natured

Callous but hopeful 

Harsh and satirical

Light and cheerful

Correct answer:

Harsh and satirical

Explanation:

The tone of this poem can best be described as harsh and satirical. The speaker pretends to suggest a logical idea, but uses the suggestion as a commentary on the state of his nation and the way the rich treat and view the poor. Though there are appeals to logic, it should not be taken as completely serious, and is hyperbolic in many ways. The satire here is known as Juvenalian satire, that is satire that is not intended to playfully instruct through irony, but rather to address societal evil with harsh mockery and ridicule.

Example Question #16 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

“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 is the tone of paragraph 1?

Possible Answers:

Moralizing

Sycophantic

Debilitating

Resilient

Enervating

Correct answer:

Moralizing

Explanation:

Through use of short, terse sentences and excessive repetition, the speaker is delivering a didactic speech. The paragraph is not enervating or debilitating (weakening) in tone, and it is also not resilient. Sycophantic, a synonym for fawning, is also not the right description.

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

Example Question #17 : Tone, Style, And Mood: 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)

The tone of the first paragraph is primarily _______________.

Possible Answers:

loving and effervescent

terse and impolite

conciliatory and diplomatic

apologetic and miserable

angry and agitated

Correct answer:

conciliatory and diplomatic

Explanation:

The tone of the first paragraph could rightly be identified as "conciliatory and diplomatic." "Conciliatory" indicates that the speaker is trying to address and calm some sort of conflict that occurred between himself and the addressee. For instance, the phrases "be not alarmed" and "pardon my freedom" have the tone of someone who is trying to make peace with an offended party. "Diplomatic" describes the formal and carefully polite way in which the speaker writes.  

Some parts of the first paragraph could almost be described as "apologetic," but none of it is "miserable" in tone, and so that answer is not correct.  

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

Example Question #18 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

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 is the tone of sentence 4?

Possible Answers:

Maudlin

Comically exasperated

Carefully disinterested

Epically wronged

Fervent

Correct answer:

Comically exasperated

Explanation:

By repeating “staring” so much, the speaker gives us the sense that they are fed up with the relentless heat. Through the use of hyperbole, the speaker conveys subtle humor about the situation, which makes Marseilles pungent and odorous.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857)

Example Question #19 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

1 The Maypole… was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which it seemed as though even smoke could not choose but come in more than naturally fantastic shapes, imparted to it in its tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty…. 2 With its overhanging stories, drowsy little panes of glass, and front bulging out and projecting over the pathway, the old house looked as if it were nodding in its sleep. 3 Indeed, it needed no very great stretch of fancy to detect in it other resemblances to humanity. 4 The bricks of which it was built had originally been a deep dark red, but had grown yellow and discoloured like an old man's skin; the sturdy timbers had decayed like teeth; and here and there the ivy, like a warm garment to comfort it in its age, wrapt its green leaves closely round the time-worn walls.

What is the tone of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Hysterical

Informative

Ethereal

Denunciatory

Litigious

Correct answer:

Informative

Explanation:

This passage is mildly comical, but it is not outright hysterical. It is also not ethereal (delicate and otherworldly), denunciatory (accusatory), or litigious (prone to filing lawsuits). It is, however, concerned with presenting facts and describing the Maypole in a relatively neutral way. In other words, the tone is informative.

Passage adapted from Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge (1841)

Example Question #20 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Prose

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 author’s tone can best be described as _______________.

Possible Answers:

Choleric

Fatuous

Circumlocutory

Peevish


Reverent

Correct answer:

Reverent

Explanation:

The author's discussion of nature is reverent in tone. ("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." "Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year.")

It is not "circumlocutory" (talking at great length without ever getting to the point) It is not "fatuous" (foolish or inane), nor is it "choleric" (angry) or "peevish" (irritable).

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

Example Question #41 : Tone, Style, And Mood

“The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.”

Which of the following words best describes the attitude towards ivory, as described by the author?

Possible Answers:

Disdain

Nostalgia

Reverence

Disgust

Fear

Correct answer:

Reverence

Explanation:

Of the options provided, reverence is the word that best reflects Conrad's description of the attitude towards ivory. The text that supports this is the author's description of people whispering and sighing the word ivory like they are praying to it. There is not enough evidence in the provided text to support the choice of any of the other words as a better answer.

Passage adapted from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899).

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