Prose passage 1:
The following excerpt is from Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (published in 2018). In this passage two girls, Willa and Sonya, head out into a neighborhood to sell candy for their school orchestra’s fund-raiser. Read the passage carefully. Analyze how Tyler uses literary elements and techniques to convey the complex relationships among the characters; use specific quotes from the test to prove your analysis.
The houses on Harper Road were newish. Ranch-style, they were called. They were all on one level and made of brick, and the people who lived there were newish, too—most of them employed by the furniture factory that had opened over in Garrettville a couple of years ago. Willa and Sonya didn’t know a one of them, and this was a good thing because then they wouldn’t feel so self-conscious pretending to be salesmen.
Before they tried the first house, they stopped behind a big evergreen bush in order to get themselves ready. They had washed their hands and faces back at Sonya’s house, and Sonya had combed her hair, which was the straight, dark, ribbony kind that a comb could slide right through. Willa’s billow of yellow curls needed a brush instead of a comb, but Sonya didn’t own a brush and so Willa had just flattened her frizzes with her palms as best she could. She and Sonya wore almost-matching wool jackets with fake-fur-trimmed hoods, and blue jeans with the cuffs turned up to show their plaid flannel linings. Sonya had sneakers on but Willa was still in her school shoes, brown tie oxfords, because she hadn’t wanted to stop by home and get waylaid by her little sister, who would beg to tag along.
“Hold the whole carton up when they open the door,” Sonya told Willa. “Not just one candy bar. Ask, ‘Would you like to buy some candy bars?’ Plural.”
“I’m going to ask?” Willa said. “I thought you were.”
“I’d feel silly asking.”
“What, you don’t think I’d feel silly?”
“But you’re much better with grownups.”
“What will you be doing?”
“I’ll be in charge of the money,” Sonya said, and she waved her envelope.
Willa said, “Okay, but then you have to ask at the next house.”
“Fine,” Sonya said.
Of course it was fine, because the next house was bound to be easier. But Willa tightened her arms around the carton, and Sonya turned to lead the way up the flagstone walk.
This house had a metal sculpture out front that was nothing but a tall, swooping curve, very modern. The doorbell was lit with a light that glowed even in the daytime. Sonya poked it. A rich-sounding two-note chime rang somewhere inside, followed by a silence so deep that they could begin to hope no one was home. But then footsteps approached, and the door opened, and a woman stood smiling at them. She was younger than their mothers and more stylish, with short brown hair and bright lipstick, and she wore a miniskirt. “Why, hello, girls,” she said, while behind her a little boy came toddling up, dragging a pull toy and asking, “Who’s that, Mama? Who’s that, Mama?”
Willa looked at Sonya. Sonya looked at Willa. Something about Sonya’s expression—so trusting, so expectant, her lips moistened and slightly parted as if she planned to start speaking along with Willa—struck Willa as comical, and she felt a little burp of laughter rising in her chest and then bubbling in her throat. The sudden, surprising squeak that popped out seemed comical too—hilarious, in fact—and the bubble of laughter turned to gales of laughter, whole waterfalls of laughter, and next to her Sonya broke into sputters and doubled in on herself while the woman stood looking at them, still smiling a questioning smile. Willa asked, “Would you like—? Would you like—?” but she couldn’t finish; she was overcome; she couldn’t catch her breath.
“Are you two offering to sell me something?” the woman suggested kindly. Willa could tell that she’d probably gotten the giggles herself when she was their age, although surely—oh, lord—surely not such hysterical giggles, such helpless, overpowering, uncontrollable giggles. These giggles were like a liquid that flooded Willa’s whole body, causing tears to stream from her eyes and forcing her to crumple over her carton and clamp her legs together so as not to pee. She was mortified, and she could see from Sonya’s desperate, wild-eyed face that she was mortified too, but at the same time it was the most wonderful, loose, relaxing feeling. Her cheeks ached and her stomach muscles seemed to have softened into silk. She could have melted into a puddle right there on the stoop.
Sonya was the first to give up. She flapped an arm wearily in the woman’s direction and turned to start back down in the flagstone walk, and Willa turned too and followed without another word. After a moment, they heard the front door gently closing behind them.
They weren’t laughing anymore. Willa felt tired to the bone, and emptied and a little sad. And Sonya might have felt the same way, because the sun still hung like a thin white dime above Bert Kane Ridge, but she said, “We ought to wait till the weekend. It’s too hard when we’ve got all this homework.” Willa didn’t argue.
Prose passage number 2 …. No date or author given… Analyze how the author uses literary elements and techniques to convey the passages’ complexity; use specific quotes from the test to prove your analysis.
When they met at the culvert the next day, Sofia was dressed in black again. Her fingernails were also painted black. She led him south, down a gently curving street of assertive mansions, her black boots gliding over the sidewalk with steps that felt like flowing water to Nathan. Sofia was carrying a new map covered with topographical lines, and she studied it as they turned west and passed a buffet of overdone tributes to assorted architectural styles: a mini Monticello here, a bloated Tudor cottage* there. “This street follows the old streambed,” Sofia said. “The city buried it, like, a hundred years ago. But the water’s still flowing down there. In a big drainpipe.”
A block later they reached another fence, and stood above another culvert from which the stream emerged, moving slower, wide and shallower, flowing into a tangle of branches and bushes.
Without a word Sofia climbed the fence and landed with a splash in about an inch of water. “Technically, I’m pretty sure this is trespassing,” Nathan said as he followed her. Sofia marched along the water, pulling back branches for him. Where is this woman taking me? he wondered, and after a few paces he got his answer, as they entered an open space where the suddenly dry air seemed to vibrate under a liberated, ferocious sun. The space was a kind of meadow, framed by two mansions, each so abundant with backyard paraphernalia, Nathan felt as if he’d entered the prop closet of a studio dedicated to making movies about suburban American excess. He saw competing steel barbecue machines with gauges and propane-tank attachments; one stood before a tiled-roofed Spanish-style mansion, the other at the base of a turret-topped Moorish castle, as if ready to prepare steaks and burgers for a medieval army. Next to the Spanish mansion a pathway of flat stones led to a child’s climbing structure made of fiery redwood. The Moorish castle’s domain included a marble dining table and a tennis court of emerald cement.
Sofia’s stream snaked through this gaudy landscape, making two gentle turns inside a channel sunken in crabgrass. “I just want to look at it for a while, if you don’t mind,” Sofia said, and she sat down on the grass with her sleeved arms wrapped around her knees. The water flowed in a smooth, flat current, like a bonsai-shrunken version of the Mississippi.
Nathan looked up at the windows of the multistoried mansions around them and wondered if the people inside would call the cops.
“Really, you just want to sit here?” Nathan said.
Sofia nodded with a gentle, wordless insistence. He joined her for a second, sitting on the grass. The water was silent here, and the houses were silent too, though the birds in the trees around them were engaged in a jazz improv of tweets and hoots and cackles.
After five minutes Nathan mumbled, “I’m going to keep on exploring. I’ll meet you, uh, downstream, I guess.”
Sofia didn’t look up to acknowledge Nathan as he walked away. He was disturbed by the aching weirdness of what he was doing, trespassing amid fake backyard ecologies, the creek leading him on a midday sleepwalk past olive trees, a rosebush, assorted cacti, grapevines, and four cypress trees that loomed over him like monstrous green sentinels. He stepped over a low wooden fence and heard high-pitched yelling. Peering through a patch of ferns, he saw a swimming pool and two boys in bathing suits. One of the boys stopped at the edge of a diving board and stared at Nathan when he stepped out into the full sunlight. Nathan waved. The boy waved back and jumped into the pool with a percussive splash.
Poem number 1: published in 2000
—New Orleans, November 1910
1 Four weeks have passed since I left, and still
I must write to you of no work. I’ve worn down
the soles and walked through the tightness
of my new shoes, calling upon the merchants,
5 their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking
my plain English and good writing would secure
for me some modest position. Though I dress each day
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves
you crocheted—no one needs a girl. How flat
10the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins.
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens
my throat. I sit watching—
though I pretend not to notice—the dark maids
15ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown
as your dear face, they’d know I’m not quite
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes
20of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine,
a negress again. There are enough things here
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard
25at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots
and irons of the laundresses call to me. Here,
I thought not to do the work I once did, back-bending
30and domestic; my schooling a gift—even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J—. How
I’d come to know words, the recitations I practiced
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
35I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field
I repeated whole sections I’d learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
40and think of you at home, Good-bye
is the waving map of your palm, is
a stone on my tongue.
In the following poem by Mayli Vang (published in 2000), the speaker describes her family. Read the poem carefully. Discuss how Vang uses contrasts to convey the complex relationships among the members of the speaker’s family.Include quotes from the poem to prove your analysis.
Father left when I was five
he dwells among the dead
in a land foreign to my imagination.
Remnants of his existence:
A black-and-white wallet-size picture,
a faded yellow shirt.
Mother keeps to the living room
sewing her life into cloth
too fearful to confront the world.
She has sewn forty patches of:
Make New Friends and Keep the Old
as Silver, the New Ones Gold.
Sister inhabits the kitchen
cooking her dreams away
the perfect daughter.
Wednesday’s menu for dinner:
rice, chicken boiled with bitter melon,
baby bok with garlic and pork.
Brother is nowhere to be found
out roaming the world he will inherit
he’s a man, okay.
Friday afternoon: a police officer
escorts him home for stealing
a Nestlé crunch bar at J. J. Newberry’s.*
I am in my room where thoughts
are locked in books and dreams
are stored on shelves. I’m still young
I keep telling myself.
2:30 A.M.: I am still writing
mother hits me on the head with my journal
can you eat straight A’s?
She wants to know.