This printable supports Common Core ELA Standards ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1, ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2, ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 and ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6

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Analyzing Character (Grade 9)

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Analyzing Character

An excerpt from "The Life of Abraham Lincoln" by Henry Ketcham

The first quarter of the century closed with the year 1825. At that date Lincoln was nearly seventeen years old. The deepest impressions of life are apt to be received very early, and it is certain that the influences which are felt previous to seventeen years of age have much to do with the formation of the character. If, then, we go back to the period named, we can tell with sufficient accuracy what were the circumstances of Lincoln’s early life. Though we cannot precisely tell what he had, we can confidently name many things, things which in this day we class as the necessities of life, which he had to do without, for the simple reason that they had not then been invented or discovered.

In the first place, we must bear in mind that he lived in the woods. The West of that day was not wild in the sense of being wicked, criminal, ruffian. Morally, and possibly intellectually, the people of that region would compare with the rest of the country of that day or of this day. There was little schooling and no literary training. But the woodsman has an education of his own. The region was wild in the sense that it was almost uninhabited and untilled. The forests, extending from the mountains in the East to the prairies in the West, were almost unbroken and were the abode of wild birds and wild beasts. Bears, deer, wild-cats, raccoons, wild turkeys, wild pigeons, wild ducks and similar creatures abounded on every hand.

Consider now the sparseness of the population. Kentucky has an area of 40,000 square miles. One year after Lincoln’s birth, the total population, white and colored, was 406,511, or an average of ten persons–say less than two families–to the square mile. Indiana has an area of 36,350 square miles. In 1810 its total population was 24,520, or an average of one person to one and one-half square miles; in 1820 it contained 147,173 inhabitants, or about four to the square mile; in 1825 the population was about 245,000, or less than seven to the square mile.

The capital city, Indianapolis, which is to-day of surpassing beauty, was not built nor thought of when the boy Lincoln moved into the State.

Illinois, with its more than 56,000 square miles of territory, harbored in 1810 only 12,282 people; in 1820, only 55,211, or less than one to the square mile; while in 1825 its population had grown a trifle over 100,000 or less than two to the square mile.

It will thus be seen that up to his youth, Lincoln dwelt only in the wildest of the wild woods, where the animals from the chipmunk to the bear were much more numerous, and probably more at home, than man.

There were few roads of any kind, and certainly none that could be called good. For the mud of Indiana and Illinois is very deep and very tenacious. There were good saddle-horses, a sufficient number of oxen, and carts that were rude and awkward. No locomotives, no bicycles, no automobiles. The first railway in Indiana was constructed in 1847, and it was, to say the least, a very primitive affair. As to carriages, there may have been some, but a good carriage would be only a waste on those roads and in that forest.

The only pen was the goose-quill, and the ink was home-made. Paper was scarce, expensive, and, while of good material, poorly made. Newspapers were unknown in that virgin forest, and books were like angels’ visits, few and far between.

There were scythes and sickles, but of a grade that would not be salable to-day at any price. There were no self-binding harvesters, no mowing machines. There were no sewing or knitting machines, though there were needles of both kinds. In the woods thorns were used for pins.

Guns were flint-locks, tinder-boxes were used until the manufacture of the friction match. Artificial light came chiefly from the open fireplace, though the tallow dip was known and there were some housewives who had time to make them and the disposition to use them. Illumination by means of molded candles, oil, gas, electricity, came later. That was long before the days of the telegraph.

In that locality there were no mills for weaving cotton, linen, or woolen fabrics. All spinning was done by means of the hand loom, and the common fabric of the region was linsey-woolsey, made of linen and woolen mixed, and usually not dyed.

Antiseptics were unknown, and a severe surgical operation was practically certain death to the patient. Nor was there ether, chloroform, or cocaine for the relief of pain.

As to food, wild game was abundant, but the kitchen garden was not developed and there were no importations. No oranges, lemons, bananas. No canned goods. Crusts of rye bread were browned, ground, and boiled; this was coffee. Herbs of the woods were dried and steeped; this was tea. The root of the sassafras furnished a different kind of tea, a substitute for the India and Ceylon teas now popular. Slippery elm bark soaked in cold water sufficed for lemonade. The milk-house, when there was one, was built over a spring when that was possible, and the milk vessels were kept carefully covered to keep out snakes and other creatures that like milk.

Whisky was almost universally used. Indeed, in spite of the constitutional “sixteen-to-one,” it was locally used as the standard of value. The luxury of quinine, which came to be in general use throughout that entire region, was of later date.

These details are few and meager. It is not easy for us, in the midst of the luxuries, comforts, and necessities of a later civilization, to realize the conditions of western life previous to 1825. But the situation must be understood if one is to know the life of the boy Lincoln.

Imagine this boy. Begin at the top and look down him–a long look, for he was tall and gaunt. His cap in winter was of coon-skin, with the tail of the animal hanging down behind. In summer he wore a misshapen straw hat with no hat-band. His shirt was of linsey-woolsey, above described, and was of no color whatever, unless you call it “the color of dirt.” His breeches were of deer-skin with the hair outside. In dry weather these were what you please, but when wet they hugged the skin with a clammy embrace, and the victim might sigh in vain for sanitary underwear. These breeches were held up by one suspender. The hunting shirt was likewise of deer-skin. The stockings,–there weren’t any stockings. The shoes were cow-hide, though moccasins made by his mother were substituted in dry weather. There was usually a space of several inches between the breeches and the shoes, exposing a tanned and bluish skin. For about half the year he went barefoot.

There were schools, primitive and inadequate, indeed, as we shall presently see, but “the little red schoolhouse on the hill,” with the stars and stripes floating proudly above it, was not of that day. There were itinerant preachers who went from one locality to another, holding “revival meetings.” But church buildings were rare and, to say the least, not of artistic design. There were no regular means of travel, and even the “star route” of the post-office department was slow in reaching those secluded communities.

Into such circumstances and conditions Lincoln was born and grew into manhood.
Why does the author include details about population?
  1. To show how large the city was where Lincoln lived
  2. To help explain how remote of a region Lincoln lived in
  3. To provide an idea of how many people voted for Abraham Lincoln
  4. To support the amount of community support Lincoln had growing up
Knowing that Abraham Lincoln grew up to become President of the United States, why do you think the author spends so much time describing where he grew up?

How does the author describe what Lincoln looked like as a boy?

What does the author mean when he says, "Morally, and possibly intellectually, the people of that region would compare with the rest of the country of that day or of this day"?
  1. Those who come from the backwoods and the wildest regions are more intelligent than those in the rest of the country.
  2. People have the same opportunities to develop intelligence no matter where they come from.
  3. They lacked many of the resources that the rest of the country did for building intelligence.
  4. Even though they didn't have traditional schools and resources, they had other ways to build knowledge.
Why does the author include details about things like antiseptics and guns?

A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the president's outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn't even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned. "We want to see the president", the man said softly. "He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped. "We'll wait," the lady replied.

For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn't. And the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted to do.

"Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they'll leave," she told him. And he sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn't have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple.

The lady told him, "We had a son that attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. And my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus". The president wasn't touched - he was shocked. "Madam," he said gruffly, "We can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery".

"Oh, no," the lady explained quickly, "We don't want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard."

The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard".

For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now.

And the lady turned to her husband and said quietly, "Is that all it costs to start a University? Why don't we just start our own?" Her husband nodded. The President's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. And Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.
What can you infer was the author's intended theme?
  1. Money Matters
  2. Never be to quick to judge by appearances
  3. Harvard only cared what someone looks like
  4. It is more important to use your money wisely
In the beginning of the passage, why does the author describe the clothing the people wore?
  1. To help provide the irony at the end
  2. To get readers to make a judgement about the characters
  3. To show that the characters had no money
  4. Both a and b
The author of this passage most likely attended Harvard.
  1. True
  2. False
How did the president of Harvard show his character?

What effect did the gingham dress and homespun suit have on the way the couple was received?

Why did the president of the university look down upon the couple?
  1. He thought they were going to cause problems because they looked dangerous.
  2. He didn't think they were important enough to talk to because they looked poor.
  3. He had punished their son and felt they were to blame for the trouble he caused.
  4. He knew them from where he grew up and was trying to avoid them.

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