SSAT Middle Level Reading : Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "A Very Narrow Shave" by John Lang in Adventures in Many Lands (1912)

It was a cold, clear, frosty morning when we started, the stars throbbing and winking as they seem to do only during frost, and we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation. Just before dawn, when the grey light was beginning to show us more clearly where we were going, we saw in the sand of the creek fresh tracks of a large bear, the water only then beginning to ooze into the prints left by his great feet, and I can hardly say that I gazed on them with the amount of enthusiasm that Halley professed to feel.

The author’s statement that water was “only then beginning to ooze into the prints” of the bear is primarily intended to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the things that are being revealed to the expedition in the increasing sunlight

the terrible weather that the party has to endure

the variety of creatures that exist in the forest

how ridiculous Halley’s enthusiasm is

the author’s fear that the bear is close at hand

Correct answer:

the author’s fear that the bear is close at hand

Explanation:

The fact that water was only just appearing in the prints left by the bear suggests that the bear had only recently passed over that ground. The author expresses that he looked on them with far less enthusiasm than Halley, which suggests he was afraid. Therefore the correct answer is that this statement was intended to highlight “the author’s fear that the bear is close at hand.” Although it might be reasonable to conclude that the author is highlighting how ridiculous Halley’s enthusiasm was, it is more reasonable to say that the author is contrasting Halley’s enthusiasm with his own lack of enthusiasm to show his fear.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1902) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Some few words on the chronology of these stories may not be out of place. The first of them, "A Study in Scarlet," published in '87, was the very first separate booklet of mine that ever appeared. "The Sign of Four" followed two years later. Then, in ‘91, the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” began to appear in the “Strand Magazine.” The public having shown them some favour I was persuaded to continue them into another series, “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” which came to an end in 1893. That it was an end, and that I had no intention of abusing the patience of the public, was shown by the last story in which, wisely or unwisely, I brought my hero as well as my stories to an end. The subject had begun to weary me, and it seemed to me that, while there was no reason to be ashamed of doing detective stories, it was unjustifiable that I should allow myself to be tempted into doing nothing else. “The Hounds of Baskerville” represents the inevitable relapse after repentance.

Which of these best describes the author's main purpose in writing this passage?

Possible Answers:

To briefly describe the history of his detective stories.

To announce his retirement from writing detective stories.

To create a catalogue of detective stories.

To apologize for writing detective stories.

Correct answer:

To briefly describe the history of his detective stories.

Explanation:

If the author wrote this passage in order to create a catalogue of his stories, we would be looking a list of titles with little other information; we can eliminate this option. And though the author does talk about a time in which he stopped writing Sherlock Holmes stories, the passage ends with his return to writing those stories, so we can eliminate the option "to announce his retirement." The narrator does at times have a negative tone when discussing detective stories -- for instance, "the subject had begun to weary me," or "I was persuaded to continue them" -- he never apologizes for writing the stories. "To briefly describe the history of his detective stories," is our best answer. 

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Little Post Boy (1846) by Bayard Taylor.

Very few foreigners travel in Sweden in the winter, on account of the intense cold. As you go northward from Stockholm, the capital, the country becomes ruder and wilder, and the climate more severe. In the sheltered valleys along the Gulf of Bothnia and the rivers that empty into it, there are farms and villages for a distance of seven or eight hundred miles, after which fruit trees disappear, and nothing will grow in the short, cold summers, except potatoes and a little barley. Farther inland, there are great forests and lakes, and ranges of mountains where bears, wolves, and herds of wild reindeer make their home. No people could live in such a country unless they were very industrious and thrifty.

I made my journey in the winter, because I was on my way to Lapland, where it is easier to travel when the swamps and rivers are frozen, and the reindeer-sleds can fly along over the smooth snow. It was very cold indeed, the greater part of the time; the days were short and dark, and if I had not found the people so kind, so cheerful, and so honest, I should have felt inclined to turn back more than once. But I do not think there are better people in the world than those who live in Norrland, which is a Swedish province, commencing about two hundred miles north of Stockholm.

They are a hale, strong people, with yellow hair and bright blue eyes, and the handsomest teeth I ever saw. They live plainly, but very comfortably, in snug wooden houses, with double windows and doors to keep out the cold; and since they cannot do much outdoor work, they spin and weave and mend their farming implements in the large family room, thus enjoying the winter in spite of its severity. They are very happy and contented, and few of them would be willing to leave that cold country and make their homes in a warmer climate.

Why do very few foreigners travel in Sweden in the winter?

Possible Answers:

The roads and train lines do not operate.

It is closed to tourists.

It is extremely cold.

It is full of wild bears.

All of these answers.

Correct answer:

It is extremely cold.

Explanation:

The author states: “Very few foreigners travel in Sweden in the winter, on account of the intense cold.” To help you “on account of” means because of, and intense means extreme or severe

Example Question #3 : Drawing Evidence From Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

How many books did the narrator's father have kept concerning his house, and what were they?

Possible Answers:

Two: a day-book and a journal

Three: a day-book, a book in which small accounts were recorded, and a journal

One: a day-book

Two: a day-book and a book in which small accounts were recorded

Three: a day-book, a memorial of household affairs, and a journal

Correct answer:

Two: a day-book and a journal

Explanation:

In the passage's final paragraph, the narrator states, "besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements . . . were entered . . . he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house." By reading this part of the passage carefully, we can tell that the narrator's father had two books kept concerning his house: "the day-book," also called the "memorial of household affairs," and the "journal" of "remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house." If one reads too quickly and misreads the function of the "or" conjunction as renaming the "day-book" as the "memorial of household affairs," or assumes the "day-book" is a book distinct from its description of "where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements . . . were entered," it's easy to mistakenly think that three books are being discussed.

Example Question #1 : Locating Details In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on the passage, which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

The narrator's father was a financial supporter of several prominent intellectuals. 

The narrator's father organized the public resource to help people learn of each other's needs described in the first paragraph.

The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself.

Small accounts, payments, and disbursements must be recorded by a secretary.

Lilius Gregorius Giraldus was an Italian scientist, and Sebastianus Castalio a German professor of philosophy.

Correct answer:

The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself.

Explanation:

Nowhere in the passage does it say that the narrator's father supported prominent intellectuals; the narrator discusses his father in the first paragraph and the support of prominent intellectuals in the second, and the ideas do not overlap in this way. The narrator's father also did not actually implement or organize the plan for the public resource to help people learn of each other's needs that is described in the first paragraph; we're told that he "that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice," but we're not told that he accomplished this. "Small accounts, payments, and disbursements must be recorded by a secretary" is false, as the passage describes these as, "small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand." Finally, "Lilius Gregorius Giraldus was an Italian scientist, and Sebastianus Castalio a German professor of philosophy" is false because the passage doesn't tell us that Giraldus was a scientist or Italian, or that Castalio was a professor of philosophy or German. The countries are mentioned as where each man died, but have nothing to do with his citizenship or background. The only remaining answer choice is the correct one: "The narrator thinks that keeping a journal of household accounts is a great idea, yet he has not done so himself." This is supported by two parts of the last paragraph: its introduction, "My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate)," and its conclusion, "An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it."

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Humanities Passages

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

According to the reasoning of the passage, which sentence directly explains the older meaning of “art” in the expression “liberal arts”?

Possible Answers:

The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.”

This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.”  

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.”

Correct answer:

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

Explanation:

Although this paragraph speaks about what the liberal arts were not, only a few of the sentences provide some description of what actually defined them. They were arts in the sense of being tools for helping students to reason properly.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

 I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.

They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bathtub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.

These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness that closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, “the day is ours, and what the day has shown."

Approximately how old was the narrator when she fell ill?

Possible Answers:

About six months old

About four years old

A little over two years old

About a year and a half old

The passage doesn't provide specific information about when the author fell ill; it just tells us that she did.

Correct answer:

About a year and a half old

Explanation:

In the last paragraph, the narrator says, "Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, 'the day is ours, and what the day has shown.'" Given that we can infer that the narrator's illness left her both blind and deaf given her statement of "Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me," we can then infer from her statement "But during the first nineteen months of my life i had caught glimpses of [things] which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out" that she was able to see, and thus not sick, for the first nineteen months of her life. This means that she fell ill when she was about a year and a half, or eighteen months, old.

Example Question #11 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

 I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.

They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bathtub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.

These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness that closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, “the day is ours, and what the day has shown."

In what month did the narrator contract her illness?

Possible Answers:

May

February

September

April

August

Correct answer:

February

Explanation:

In the passage's third paragraph, the narrator says, "Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby." So, she contracted her illness in February.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

 I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.

They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bathtub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.

These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness that closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, “the day is ours, and what the day has shown."

Which of the following is true based on the information presented in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Of the narrator's memories that she retains from early childhood, none of them are of natural things like trees and flowers.

The narrator was a talented singer before her illness.

The narrator never wore long dresses when she was very young.

The narrator remembered the word "water" after her illness.

One of the words that the narrator learned to say early on is "book."

Correct answer:

The narrator remembered the word "water" after her illness.

Explanation:

In the passage's first paragraph, the narrator states, "Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word." This tells us that the narrator remembered the word "water" after her illness. As for the other answer choices, each one is either contradicted by information presented in the passage, or no information is provided in the passage that supports it.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Loon" by Henry David Thoreau in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon, for such days especially they settle on to the lakes, like the milkweed down, having looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself. I pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when he came up I was nearer than before. He dived again but I miscalculated the direction he would take, and we were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface this time, for I had helped to widen the interval; and again he laughed long and loud, and with more reason than before.

He maneuvered so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him. Each time when he came to the surface, turning his head this way and that, he coolly surveyed the water and the land, and apparently chose his course so that he might come up where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat. It was surprising how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve into execution. He led me at once to the wildest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon.

He was indeed a silly loon, I thought. I could commonly hear the plash of the water when he came up, and so also detected him. But after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever, dived as willingly and swam yet farther than at first. It was surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruffled breast when he came to the surface, doing all the work with his webbed feet beneath. His usual note was this demoniac laughter, yet somewhat like that of a waterfowl, but occasionally when he had balked me most successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird, as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his looning—perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide. I concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of his own resources.

What is the defining feature of the loon in this passage?

Possible Answers:

His determination to protect his young

His callous disregard for human life

His ability to hide

His wild and cacophonous laugh

His aggressive nature

Correct answer:

His wild and cacophonous laugh

Explanation:

On numerous occasions in this passage, the author talks about the loon as having a “wild and cacophonous laugh," such as when the author says he “set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself.” That this is the defining feature of the loon, however, is not proved and established until the author says, “he uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird, as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls. This was his looning . . . “ The author is saying it is the noise he makes that qualifies him as a “loon.”

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