Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Humble, Humorous, Encouraging
At the beginning of A Room of One's Own, Woolf swears up and down that she won't be able to say anything really profound about Women and Fiction. "All I [can] do," she writes, "[is] to offer you an opinion on one minor point–a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (1.1).
Are you picking up a note of false humility there? Yeah, us too. Woolf doesn't consider this a "minor" point at all.
The book isn't all humble pie, though. Woolf cracks a few jokes at the expense of prunes and sexist old men, calling prunes "stringy as a miser's heart" (1.26) and sarcastically praising an old bishop who writes both that "Cats do not go to heaven" and "Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare" (3.7).
We're looking at some clever rhetoric here: she's softening up the audience so that they're more willing to listen to her point. Effective?
We think so. When she finally tells us that Shakespeare's sister "lives in you and me" (6.23), we almost feel like heaving ourselves up out of our ergonomic chairs and penning a great work of literature.