SSAT Middle Level Reading : Authorial Attitude, Tone, and Purpose in Poetry Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : How To Make Inferences Based On Poetry Passages

Adapted from “The Duel” by Eugene Field (1888)

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Not one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! What shall we do?"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw--
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my views from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and the pup
Is this: They ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

Which of these words best describes the tone of this poem?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



When trying to figure out the tone of a story you have to look for how the information is being presented to you and what the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience is. For example, the tone of a cartoon would likely be silly and the tone of a funeral speech would be very sad and serious. In this poem, the tone is silly and not serious because it is a story about a cloth dog and a cloth cat fighting told from the perspective of a clock and a plate—not the most serious of subjects. ("Gingham" and "calico" are each prints found on fabrics, so you can infer that the cat and dog are each objects made of fabric, not live animals.)

Example Question #1 : Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

“The flashing in the tabby’s eye” demonstrates __________.

Possible Answers:

the cat’s anger at having suffered an affront 

the cat’s relaxed belief that it was probably an accident

the author’s belief in the aggressive nature of cats

the dogs' fear at the anger of the cat

the cat’s good-humor during the uncomfortable situation

Correct answer:

the cat’s anger at having suffered an affront 


In context, “the flashing in the tabby’s eye” occurs shortly after she is “attacked." This part of the poem is surrounded by other descriptions of her anger, so it makes sense that it is meant to be an example of the “cat’s anger at having been attacked.” A “flashing in the eye” is an English idiom that means a look of anger or real meaning that can be seen in someone’s eyes. To provide further help, “suffered an affront” means been attacked or been insulted.

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