What factors led to Germany being the most powerful of the Central Powers in WWI?
The history of the state of Germany leading up to the First World War is really a history of the German people themselves. The people that would eventually populate the state of Germany were an industrious, pragmatic, and proud bunch. Before its unification in 1871, the area that would become Germany consisted of a series of small nations, really little more than city-states with armies, that constantly fought each other. This norm of constant war meant that when the German people came together under one banner they were seasoned to the idea that the purpose of life was to serve the state, often at the expense of their own life or livelihood. However with no current enemies on the horizon, the German people turned their productive capacity to making their civilization into a bone fide European super-power. This meant that they would constantly update their arsenal, as well as establish innumerable factories for the supply of artillery, ammunition, and guns. Germany also invested heavily into the creation of railroads throughout the nation. This meant that on land, the German state was unrivaled by any single nation in its ability to mobilize troops, equip them, and deploy massive amounts of artillery and ammunition to its front lines. The other element of this toxic cocktail that became the German military is a bit less quantifiable than the guns and artillery. The German people themselves felt that for years now they had not been given the respect that they deserved from the other European powers, and that both culturally and militarily they were in fact superior to the other nations around them. This meant that when it came down to a war they were in it for the long haul, to earn their respect or fall on their own sword. This motivating idea of their own greatness and the willingness to give one's all to the state led German soldiers to be fiercely brave and incredibly resilient, even when faced with almost certain death.
Is it fair to attribute the onset of the American Civil War largely to the problem of slavery, or should I consider other factors as having a larger influence on the onset of the conflict, such as social and economic differences between the North and the South?
To properly address this question we actually have to take a few steps back to the period after the War of 1812, to the time period known as the Era of Good Feelings. This was time of relative national unity, a kind of rallying behind the idea that America was truly a world power after defeating the British a second time, and also the period in which the two economies of the North and South began to radically diverge. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 had breathed new life into the formerly declining slave-based economy of the South, allowing for the rise of sprawling plantations and firmly establishing a "Plantation Aristocracy", that then entrenched themselves in the positions of political power in the South. Meanwhile in the North the industrial revolution was roaring to life, providing low-skill jobs for the workers of the North, drawing them into the cities, and into the social and intellectual climates that cities provide. The mechanized methods of production in the North essentially negated the need for slave labor, and the burgeoning intellectual movement of the abolitionist cause found ready made tinder in the workers of the cities, who in reality opposed slavery because it meant serious competition for their jobs. To sum it up, the Civil War was essentially about slavery, there is really no way around that, but within the question of slavery, there are immense social and economic implications, meaning the South, in its view, could no more give up its slaves than it could give up the welfare of its economy or the social pride of its people.
When considering the tone of passage that contains a character, such as a Shakespearean monologue, should I address the feeling that the character has towards the subject or that of the author?
When considering the tone of a passage, you are always, unless explicitly asked to consider that of the character, considering the relationship and attitude of the actual author towards the subject of the passage. This can differ greatly from the relationship that the character in the passage has to the subject of the passage, and the author can even use the character as an antithesis of the attitude that he or she feels towards the subject. One clear example of this comes from the works of Ayn Rand, who will use certain characters, usually the antagonists, to express opinions and beliefs that she explicitly disagrees with or feels negatively towards. While understanding the relationship of the character to the subject is important, understanding the attitude of the author towards the subject, tone, is vital because it allows you to ultimately access the author's purpose.