Literature and Literacy Criticism Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1 (page 2)
Literature and Literacy Criticism Critical Reading
Questions 1–5 are based on the following passage.
The following passage is from Frank McCourt's 1996 memoir Angela's Ashes. The author describes what it was like to go to school as a young boy.
We go to school through lanes and back streets so that we won't meet the respectable boys who go to the Christian Brothers' School or the rich ones who go to the Jesuit school, Crescent College. The Christian Brothers' boys wear tweed jackets, warm woolen sweaters, shirts, ties, and shiny new boots. We know they're the ones who will get jobs in the civil service and help the people who run the world. The Crescent College boys wear blazers and school scarves tossed around their necks and over their shoulders to show they're cock o' the walk. They have long hair which falls across their foreheads and over their eyes so that they can toss their quaffs like Englishmen. We know they're the ones who will go to university, take over the family business, run the government, run the world. We'll be the messenger boys on bicycles who deliver their groceries or we'll go to England to work on the building sites. Our sisters will mind their children and scrub their floors unless they go off to England, too. We know that. We're ashamed of the way we look and if boys from the rich schools pass remarks we'll get into a fight and wind up with bloody noses or torn clothes. Our masters will have no patience with us and our fights because their sons go to the rich schools and, Ye have no right to raise your hands to a better class of people so ye don't.
- The "we" the author uses throughout the passage refers to
- his family.
- the poor children in his neighborhood.
- the children who attend rich schools.
- the author and his brother.
- the reader and writer.
- The passage suggests that the author goes to school
- in shabby clothing.
- in a taxi cab.
- in warm sweaters and shorts.
- on a bicycle.
- to become a civil servant.
- The word pass as used in line 16 means to
- move ahead of.
- go by without stopping.
- be approved or adopted.
- come to an end.
- The author quotes his school masters saying Ye have no right to raise your hands to a better class of people so ye don't (lines 19–20) in order to
- demonstrate how strict his school masters were.
- contrast his school to the Christian Brothers' School and Crescent College.
- show how his teachers reinforced class lines.
- prove that the author was meant for greater things.
- show how people talked.
- The passage implies that
- the author was determined to go to England.
- the author was determined to be someone who will run the world.
- the author often got into fights.
- the author didn't understand the idea of class and rank in society.
- one's class determined one's future.
Questions 6–10 are based on the following passage.
In this excerpt from Toni Morrison's 1970 novel The Bluest Eye, Pauline tries to ease her loneliness by going to the movies.
One winter Pauline discovered she was pregnant. When she told Cholly, he surprised her by being pleased. [ . . . ] They eased back into a relationship more like the early days of their marriage, when he asked if she were tired or wanted him to bring her something from the store. In this state of ease, Pauline stopped doing day work and returned to her own housekeeping. But the loneliness in those two rooms had not gone away. When the winter sun hit the peeling green paint of the kitchen chairs, when the smoked hocks were boiling in the pot, when all she could hear was the truck delivering furniture downstairs, she thought about back home, about how she had been all alone most of the time then too, but this lonesomeness was different. Then she stopped staring at the green chairs, at the delivery truck; she went to the movies instead. There in the dark her memory was refreshed, and she succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.
- Pauline and Cholly live
- in a two-room apartment above a store.
- in a delivery truck.
- next to a movie theater.
- with Pauline's family.
- in a housekeeper's quarters.
- Lines 1–5 suggest that just prior to Pauline's pregnancy, Cholly had
- loved Pauline dearly.
- begun to neglect Pauline.
- worked every day of the week.
- cared about Pauline's dreams.
- graduated from college.
- Pauline's loneliness is different from the loneliness she felt back home (lines 10–11) because
- she's more bored than lonely.
- her family has abandoned her.
- she wants Cholly to be more romantic.
- she's a mother now.
- she shouldn't feel lonely with Cholly.
- Pauline's earlier dreams (line 14) were of
- being beautiful.
- having many children.
- being a famous actress.
- owning her own store.
- The passage suggests that going to the movies will
- inspire Pauline to become an actress.
- inspire Pauline to demand more respect from Cholly.
- only make Pauline more unhappy with her life.
- encourage Pauline to study history.
- create a financial strain on the family.
Questions 11–16 are based on the following passage.
In this excerpt from Sherman Alexie's novel Reservation Blues, Thomas struggles with his feelings about his father, Samuel.
Thomas, Chess, and Checkers stayed quiet for a long time. After a while, Chess and Checkers started to sing a Flathead song of mourning. For a wake, for a wake. Samuel was still alive, but Thomas sang along without hesitation. That mourning song was B-7 on every reservation jukebox.
After the song, Thomas stood and walked away from the table where his father lay flat as a paper plate. He walked outside and cried. Not because he needed to be alone; not because he was afraid to cry in front of women. He just wanted his tears to be individual, not tribal. Those tribal tears collected and fermented in huge BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] barrels. Then the BIA poured those tears into beer and Pepsi cans and distributed them back onto the reservation. Thomas wanted his tears to be selfish and fresh.
"Hello," he said to the night sky. He wanted to say the first word of a prayer or a joke. A prayer or a joke often sound alike on the reservation.
"Help," he said to the ground. He knew the words to a million songs: Indian, European, African, Mexican, Asian. He sang "Stairway to Heaven" in four different languages but never knew where that staircase stood. He sang the same Indian songs continually but never sang them correctly. He wanted to make his guitar sound like a waterfall, like a spear striking salmon, but his guitar only sounded like a guitar. He wanted the songs, the stories, to save everybody.
- Thomas, Chess, and Checkers are
- Native American.
- In line 3, a wake means
- the turbulence left behind by something moving through water.
- no longer asleep.
- a viewing of a dead person before burial.
- The fact that Thomas, Chess, and Checkers sing a song of mourning while Samuel is still alive suggests that
- Samuel is afraid to die.
- Samuel doesn't belong on the reservation.
- Samuel's life is tragic.
- they believe the song has healing powers.
- Samuel is a ghost.
- Thomas wants his tears to be "selfish and fresh" (line 13) because
- it is difficult for him to share his feelings with others.
- he wants to mourn his father as an individual, not just as another dying Indian.
- he feels guilty mourning his father before his father has died.
- he doesn't think the tribe will mourn his father's passing.
- tribal tears were meaningless.
- The sentence Then the BIA poured those tears into beer and Pepsi cans and distributed them back onto the reservation (lines 11–12) is an example of
- a paradox.
- dramatic irony.
- figurative language.
- In line 17, Thomas asks for help because
- he can't stop crying.
- he wants to be a better guitar player.
- he wants to be able to rescue people with his music.
- he can't remember the words to the song.
- no one wants to listen to him play.
Questions 17–24 are based on the following passage.
In this excerpt from John Steinbeck's 1936 novel In Dubious Battle, Mac and Doc Burton discuss "the cause" that leads hundreds of migratory farm workers to unite and strike against landowners.
Mac spoke softly, for the night seemed to be listening. "You're a mystery to me, too, Doc."
"Me? A mystery?"
"Yes, you. You're not a Party man, but you work with us all the time; you never get anything for it. I don't know whether you believe in what we're doing or not, you never say, you just work. I've been out with you before, and I'm not sure you believe in the cause at all."
Dr. Burton laughed softly. "It would be hard to say. I could tell you some of the things I think; you might not like them. I'm pretty sure you won't like them."
"Well, let's hear them anyway."
"Well, you say I don't believe in the cause. That's not like not believing in the moon. There've been communes before, and there will be again. But you people have an idea that if you can establish the thing, the job'll be done. Nothing stops, Mac. If you were able to put an idea into effect tomorrow, it would start changing right away. Establish a commune, and the same gradual flux will continue."
"Then you don't think the cause is good?"
Burton sighed. "You see? We're going to pile up on that old rock again. That's why I don't like to talk very often. Listen to me, Mac. My senses aren't above reproach, but they're all I have. I want to see the whole picture—as nearly as I can. I don't want to put on the blinders of 'good' and 'bad,' and limit my vision. If I used the term 'good' on a thing I'd lose my license to inspect it, because there might be bad in it. Don't you see? I want to be able to look at the whole thing."
Mac broke in heatedly, "How about social injustice? The profit system? You have to say they're bad."
Dr. Burton threw back his head and looked at the sky. "Mac," he said. "Look at the physiological injustice, the injustice of tetanus [ . . . ], the gangster methods of amoebic dysentery—that's my field."
"Revolution and communism will cure social injustice."
"Yes, and disinfection and prophylaxis will prevent others."
"It's different, though; men are doing one, and germs are doing the other."
"I can't see much difference, Mac."
[ . . . ] "Why do you hang around with us if you aren't for us?"
"I want to see," Burton said. "When you cut your finger, and streptococci get in the wound, there's a swelling and a soreness. That swelling is the fight your body puts up, the pain is the battle. You can't tell which one is going to win, but the wound is the first battleground. If the cells lose the first fight the streptococci invade, and the fight goes on up the arm. Mac, these little strikes are like the infection. Something has got into the men; a little fever has started and the lymphatic glands are shooting in the reinforcements. I want to see, so I go to the seat of the wound."
"You figure the strike is a wound?"
"Yes. Group-men are always getting some kind of infection. This seems to be a bad one. I want to see, Mac. I want to watch these group-men, for they seem to me to be a new individual, not at all like single men. A man in a group isn't himself at all, he's a cell in an organism that isn't like him any more than the cells in your body are like you. I want to watch the group, and see what it's like. People have said, 'mobs are crazy, you can't tell what they'll do.' Why don't people look at mobs not as men, but as mobs? A mob nearly always seems to act reasonably, for a mob."
"Well, what's this got to do with the cause?"
"It might be like this, Mac: When group-man wants to move, he makes a standard. 'God wills that we recapture the Holy Land'; or he says, 'We fight to make the world safe for democracy'; or he says, 'We will wipe out social injustice with communism.' But the group doesn't care about the Holy Land, or Democracy, or Communism. Maybe the group simply wants to move, to fight, and uses these words simply to reassure the brains of individual men. I say it might be like that, Mac."
"Not with the cause, it isn't," Mac cried.
- In lines 15–17, Doc Burton argues that
- even if the cause succeeds, it won't change anything.
- the cause is unstoppable.
- the supporters of the cause should establish a commune.
- the cause itself is always changing.
- change can only come about gradually.
- The cause the men refer to throughout the passage is
- Doc Burton is best described as
- an objective observer.
- a representative of the government.
- a staunch supporter of the cause.
- a visionary leader.
- a reluctant participant.
- According to Doc Burton, the strikes are like the infection (line 42) because
- the strikes are life-threatening.
- many of the strikers are ill.
- the size of the group has swollen.
- the strikes are a reaction to an injury.
- the strikes are taking place on a battleground.
- By comparing group-men to a living organism (lines 48–50), Doc Burton
- reinforces his idea that individuals are lost in the larger whole.
- shows that group-men is constantly changing and growing.
- supports his assertion that the strikers are like an infection.
- explains why he is with the strikers.
- reflects his opinion that the strikes' success depends upon unity within the group.
- According to Doc Burton, the main difference between group-men and the individual is that
- individuals can be controlled but groups cannot.
- individuals do not want to fight but groups do.
- individuals may believe in a cause but groups do not.
- groups are often crazy but individuals are not.
- people in groups can reassure one another.
- It can be inferred from this passage that Doc Burton believes the cause
- is just an excuse for fighting.
- is reasonable.
- will fail.
- will correct social injustice.
- will make America a more democratic place.
- Doc Burton repeats the word might in lines 56 and 62 because
- he doesn't believe Mac is sincere about the cause.
- he really wants Mac to consider the possibility that the group is blind to the cause.
- he is asking a rhetorical question.
- he doesn't want Mac to know the truth about the cause.
- he wants Mac to see that he isn't really serious in his criticism of the cause.
- b. The we go to school, so the reference must be to school-aged children. In addition, the passage contrasts the we's with the respectable boys and the rich ones (lines 2–3), so the we's are neither wealthy nor respected.
- a. The author and his classmates go to school through lanes and back streets (line 1) to avoid the students who go to school dressed in warm and respectable clothing. He also states in lines 15–16 that they are ashamed of the way we look, implying that they are poorly dressed.
- d. The boys would get into fights if the rich boys were to utter derogatory words or pass remarks.
- c. While the quote here does show how the author's school masters talked, it has a more important function: to show that his school masters reinforced the class system by telling the author and his classmates to stay in their place and not challenge the existing class structure.
- e. The author "knows," based only on the fact of which school the boys attend, what they will be when they grow up—the respectable boys will have the administrative jobs (lines 5–6) while the rich boys will run the government, run the world (lines 11–12). The author and those in his socio-economic class will be laborers (lines 12–14). The author emphasizes the certainty of this knowledge with the repetition of the phrase we know and the sentence We know that (line 15). Thus he demonstrates that their future was already set based upon their socio-economic standing.
- a. Lines 6-7 reveal that there are two rooms and lines 9–10 describe the truck delivering furniture downstairs.
- b. Lines 1–5 state that after Pauline became pregnant, Cholly had acted like the early days of their marriage when he would ask if she were tired or wanted him to bring her something from the store. This statement suggests that Cholly had not done that for a while, and therefore had begun to neglect Pauline.
- e. Although there is a state of ease (line 5) in the relationship between Pauline and Cholly, there is intense loneliness for Pauline. There may be less tension in this state of ease, but there does not appear to be more intimacy, because the loneliness prevails. We can infer that back home she was living with her family, not Cholly, and that Pauline would expect her husband to fulfill her need for companionship.
- a. At the end of the passage, Pauline rediscovers her dreams of romance. Line 14 tells us she succumbed to her earlier dreams, and the following sentence tells us what whose dreams were about: romantic love.
- c. Because the narrator states that romantic love and physical beauty are probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought (lines 15–16) because they both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion, and because these are the two ideas Pauline was introduced to in the theater, we can infer that she will only become more unhappy as a result of going to the movies.
- e. Lines 4–5 refer to the reservation jukebox, and line 12 refers to the reservation as well. If Thomas, Chess, and Checkers live on a reservation, they are most likely Native American.
- c. Because their song is one of mourning, c is the most logical choice. In addition, the context clue Samuel was still alive, but tells us that the song is traditionally reserved for the dead.
- c. To sing a mourning song for someone who is still alive suggests that that person's life is mournful—full of grief, sadness, or sorrow.
- b. In line 9, the narrator states that Thomas wanted his tears to be individual, not tribal, suggesting too that he felt his father deserved to be mourned as an individual.
- e. The author is speaking figuratively here—the BIA does not literally collect and ferment Indian tears and return them to the reservation in beer and Pepsi cans.
- c. In line 23, the narrator states that Thomas wanted the songs, the stories, to save everybody. The paragraph tells readers how many songs Thomas knew but how something seemed to be missing (e.g., he never sang them correctly); how Thomas wanted to play the guitar but how his guitar only sounded like a guitar (lines 22–23). He wanted his songs to do more, to rescue others.
- d. In lines 15–17, Doc Burton emphasizes change. He tells Mac that nothing stops and that as soon as an idea (such as the cause) is put into effect, it [the idea] would start changing right away. Then he specifically states that once a commune is established, the same gradual flux will continue. Thus, the cause itself is in flux and is always changing.
- b. The several references to communes suggest that the cause is communism, and this is made clear in line 31, when Mac says Revolution and communism will cure social injustice.
- a. In lines 21–25, Doc Burton describes his desire to see the whole picture, to look at the whole thing. He tells Mac he doesn't want to judge the cause as good or bad so that he doesn't limit his vision. Thus, he is best described as an objective observer.
- d. In the first part of his analogy, Doc Burton says that infections are a reaction to a wound—the wound is the first battleground (line 40). Without a wound, there is no place for the infection to fester. The strikes, then, are like the infection in that they are a reaction to a wound (social injustice).
- a. By comparing an individual in a group to a cell within the body (line 50), Doc Burton emphasizes the idea that the individual is really not an individual at all but rather part of a whole.
- c. In lines 59–62, Doc Burton argues that the group doesn't care about the standard or cause it has created because the group simply wants to move, to fight. Individuals such as Mac, however, believe in a cause (or at least think they do).
- a. Doc Burton seems to feel quite strongly that group-man simply wants to move, to fight, without needing a real cause—in fact, he states that the group uses the cause simply to reassure the brains of individual men (lines 61–62).
- b. Doc Burton knows how deeply Mac believes in the cause and knows that if he outright says the group doesn't really believe in the cause that Mac would not listen. Thus he says "It might be like this," emphasizing the possibility. Still Mac reacts hotly.
For more practice on literature and literacy critical reading questions, review:
- Literature and Literacy Criticism Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1 You are here
- Literature and Literacy Criticism Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 2
- Literature and Literacy Criticism Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 3
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