SSAT Upper Level Reading : Determining Authorial Tone in Literary Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #11 : Determining Authorial Tone In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal" by William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge (1800 ed.)

A slumber did my spirit seal; 
     I had no human fears: 
She seemed a thing that could not feel 
     The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force; 
     She neither hears nor sees; 
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course, 
     With rocks, and stones, and trees.

The tone of the passage is one of __________.

Possible Answers:

utter disbelief

polite deference

angry ranting

sad acceptance

sympathy for another's loss

Correct answer:

sad acceptance

Explanation:

The poem's tone remains fairly neutral and there is no marked lamentation, despite the possibility for one, given the poem's subject matter. Thus, the speaker demonstrates an acceptance of the death of the girl he describes, though the overall poem also takes on a sad character due to the girl's loss.

Example Question #41 : Author, Tone, And Intent

Adapted from "The Study of Poetry" in Essays in Criticism: Second Series by Matthew Arnold (1888)

"The future of poetry is immense because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, humanity, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has materialized itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry."

Let me be permitted to quote these words of my own as uttering the thought which should, in my opinion, go with us and govern us in all our study of poetry. We should conceive of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete, and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it. For finely and truly does Wordsworth call poetry “the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science,” and what is a countenance without its expression? Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”; our religion, parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now; our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge?

The author's tone can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

caustic

contemptuous

reverent

satiric

objective

Correct answer:

reverent

Explanation:

In this essay, Matthew Arnold is earnest and "reverent," or respectful, in discussing the great power of poetry. Readers can see this in the way that he calls for poetry to be regarded more highly at the start of the second paragraph: "We should conceive of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto." We can also see his reverence for poetry in the way that he claims that it will eventually usurp religion and philosophy, and that science "will appear incomplete without it."

 

Example Question #12 : Determining Authorial Tone In Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from White Fang by Jack London (1906)

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness -- a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

But there was life, abroad in the land and defiant. Down the frozen waterway toiled a string of wolfish dogs. Their bristly fur was rimed with frost. Their breath froze in the air as it left their mouths, spouting forth in spumes of vapor that settled upon the hair of their bodies and formed into crystals of frost. Leather harness was on the dogs, and leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged along behind. The sled was without runners. It was made of stout birch-bark, and its full surface rested on the snow. The front end of the sled was turned up, like a scroll, in order to force down and under the bore of soft snow that surged like a wave before it. On the sled, securely lashed, was a long and narrow oblong box. There were other things on the sled -- blankets, an axe, and a coffee-pot and frying-pan; but prominent, occupying most of the space, was the long and narrow oblong box.

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, -- a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again. It is not the way of the Wild to like movement. Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement. It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man -- man, who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement.

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

Possible Answers:

ironic

ominous

fascinated

nostalgic

bittersweet

Correct answer:

ominous

Explanation:

The author makes several references to the harsh, bitter environment of the North and to the struggle of the men and dogs to survive. Readers are left with the impression that something dangerous may be about to happen.

Example Question #13 : Determining Authorial Tone In Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

 I was half afraid. However, the only thing to be done being to knock at the door, I knocked, and was told from within to enter. I entered, therefore, and found myself in a pretty large room, well lighted with wax candles. No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing-room, as I supposed from the furniture, though much of it was forms and uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a draped table with a gilded looking-glass, and that I made out at first sight to be a fine lady’s dressing-table. Whether I should have made out this object so soon, if there had been no fine lady sitting at it, I cannot say. In an armchair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see. She was dressed in rich materials--satins, and lace and silks -- all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on -- the other was on the table near her hand -- her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass. It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeletons in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

The tone of the passage can be be described as ____________________.

Possible Answers:

confrontational

ironic

judgmental

approving

somber

Correct answer:

somber

Explanation:

The narrator describes the setting as "faded and yellow," the bride as "withered" and with "sunken eyes". The overall impression is one of faded beauty. There are no jokes or festive observations, and there are no judgmental assertions about characters.

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