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

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Prose

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, 
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —


What is the tone of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Happiness but reservation 

Patriotism and pride 

Modesty and peace

Poverty and strife

Celebration and anxiety 

Correct answer:

Patriotism and pride 


The townspeople are very patriotic and prideful, illustrated by diction such as "holy fire of patriotism," and "proud mothers and fathers."

Passage adapted from Mark Twain's "War Prayer" (1904).

Example Question #2 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Prose

All that day the heat was terrible. The wind blew close to the ground; it rooted among the tussock grass, slithered along the road, so that the white pumice dust swirled in our faces, settled and sifted over us and was like a dry-skin itching for growth on our bodies. The  horses stumbled along, coughing and chuffing. The pack horse was sick -- with a big open sore rubbed under the belly. Now and again she stopped short, threw back her head, looked at us as though she were going to cry, and whinnied. Hundreds of larks shrilled; the sky was slate colour, and the sound of the larks reminded me of slate pencils scraping over its surface. There was nothing to be seen but wave after wave of tussock grass, patched with purple orchids and manuka bushes covered with thick spider webs.

Jo rode ahead. He wore a blue galatea shirt, corduroy trousers and riding boots. A white handkerchief, spotted with red -- it looked as though his nose had been bleeding on it -- was knotted round his throat. Wisps of white hair straggled from under his wideawake -- his moustache and eyebrows were called white -- he slouched in the saddle, grunting. Not once that day had he sung "I don't care, for don't you see, My wife' mother was in front  of me!... ” It was the first day we had been without it for a month, and now there seemed something uncanny in his silence. Hin rode beside me, white as a clown; his black eyes glittered, and he kept shooting out his tongue and moistening his lips. He was dressed in a Jaeger vest, and a pair of blue duck trousers, fastened round the waist with a plaited leather belt. We had hardly spoken since dawn. At noon we had lunched off fly biscuits and apricots by the side of a swampy creek.  


Which two adjectives best describe all three characters in this passage? 

Possible Answers:

Secretive and sullen

Cautious and pragmatic 

Arrogant and caustic 

Jealous and volatile 

Weary and tense

Correct answer:

Weary and tense


We can infer that all three characters are weary because of the multiple references to the long journey they are on, as well as the heat and dirt. The weariness of the horse can also be read as a reflection of the characters' mental states. There are several descriptions that indicate that the characters are tense. The narrator says there is an "uncanny" feeling to the silence. Jo has stopped his good-natured singing for the first time in a month. Hin and the narrator have "barely spoken since dawn." The characters do not speak to each other, so we have no evidence that they are arrogant, caustic, jealous or volatile. Their behavior could be interpreted as sullen but the passage does not provide any reference to them being secretive. Likewise, there is no evidence that they are cautious and optimistic.

Passage adapted from Katherine Mansfield's "The Woman at the Store" (1912)

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