ACT Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Ideas in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

The following is an excerpt from The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1794)

"Were it possible" said the Friar, "for man to be so totally wrapped up in himself as to live in absolute seclusion from human nature, and could yet feel the contented tranquillity which these lines express, I allow that the situation would be more desirable, than to live in a world so pregnant with every vice and every folly; but this never can be the case. This inscription was merely placed here for the ornament of the grotto, and the sentiments and the hermit are equally imaginary. Man was born for society. However little He may be attached to the world, he never can wholly forget it, or bear to be wholly forgotten by it. Disgusted at the guilt or absurdity of mankind, the misanthrope flies from it: he resolves to become an hermit, and buries himself in the cavern of some gloomy rock. While hate inflames his bosom, possibly he may feel contented with his situation: but when his passions begin to cool; when time has mellowed his sorrows, and healed those wounds which he bore with him to his solitude, think you that content becomes his companion? Ah! no, Rosario. No longer sustained by the violence of his passions, he feels all the monotony of his way of living, and his heart becomes the prey of ennui and weariness. He looks round, and finds himself alone in the universe: the love of society revives in his bosom, and he pants to return to that world which he has abandoned. Nature loses all her charms in his eyes: no one is near him to point out her beauties, or share in his admiration of her excellence and variety. Propped upon the fragment of some rock, he gazes upon the tumbling waterfall with a vacant eye; he views without emotion the glory of the setting sun."

What does the speaker think of man in society?

Possible Answers:

That society is cruel.

That he hates it.

None of the other answers

That he is a part of it, in some ways, always.

That he does not need it.

Correct answer:

That he is a part of it, in some ways, always.

Explanation:

Writing “he never can wholly forget it,” of society, Lewis makes it clear that he thinks man is a part of society.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

This is an excerpt from Meditation 17 by John Donne (1623)

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. 

 

This passage is written in which narrative style?

Possible Answers:

It switches between styles

Third person

First person

None of the other answers

Omniscient

Correct answer:

First person

Explanation:

The text is written in the first person, evinced in the usage of “I.”

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

Everyone will readily allow that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they can never entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigour, is that they represent their object in so lively a manner that we could almost say we feel or see it: but, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they can never arrive at such a pitch of vivacity as to render these perceptions altogether indistinguishable. All the colours of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landscape. The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

We may observe a like distinction running through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a fit of anger is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me that any person is in love, I easily understand your meaning and form a just conception of his situation, but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion.

What is Hume concerned with in the first sentence?

Possible Answers:

Joy and sadness

Mind and body

None of the other answers

Faith in God and faith in man

Fear and belief

Correct answer:

Mind and body

Explanation:

Hume is most concerned with mind and body in this opening sentence; his example has most bearing on that issue.

Example Question #3 : Humanities

This is an excerpt from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered those saying, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

What is the purpose of the following selection from the passage?

“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them.”

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

To elucidate the author’s point that man should not compare himself to others

To explain why God is the Supreme Being

To acknowledge the nature of the surrounding world, and its significance

To demonstrate the author’s commitment to beauty and perfection

Correct answer:

To elucidate the author’s point that man should not compare himself to others

Explanation:

The author uses the rose example as an analogy to demonstrate that man should not compare himself to what is before or after; only what is.

Example Question #5 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

This is an excerpt from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered those saying, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

What is the problem the author is trying to elucidate in this part of the passage?

“But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

Possible Answers:

That man cannot be happy without riches

That man does not live enough in the present to understand what he has

None of the other answers

That man postpones enjoyment, hoping he will reach it eventually

That man is blind to temptation

Correct answer:

That man does not live enough in the present to understand what he has

Explanation:

The passage is clearly focused on the notion that man does not live in the present and cannot see the “riches that surround him” given his mode of always thinking ahead and behind.

Example Question #4 : Humanities

This is an excerpt from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered those saying, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

This passage can best be described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A short story

An allegory

A piece of fiction

None of the other answers

A non-fiction essay

Correct answer:

A non-fiction essay

Explanation:

Given the author’s style and tone, incorporating the first person, it is clear that the author is writing a non-fiction essay.

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

This is an excerpt from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones, or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with a reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered those saying, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.

What is the purpose of this sentence?

“We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men and talents and characters they chance to see—painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke.”

Possible Answers:

To establish the influence of parents for posterity

To assert how dependent individuals are on rote learning

None of the other answers

To insult the use of individual growth

To lament the role of generations

Correct answer:

To assert how dependent individuals are on rote learning

Explanation:

The author here is clearly referring to man’s need to gain more independence in learning and thought.

Example Question #6 : Humanities

This is an excerpt from Meditation 17 by John Donne (1623)

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

This excerpt does NOT feature which of the following themes?

Possible Answers:

Faith

Devotion

Humanity

Literature

Chastity

Correct answer:

Chastity

Explanation:

There is no textual reference to chastity anywhere in this excerpt.

Example Question #7 : Humanities

Adapted from Thoughts on Man (1831) by William Godwin

It is, in reality, obvious that man and woman, as they come from the hands of nature, are so much upon a par with each other as not to afford the best subjects between whom to graft a habit of entire, unalterable affection. In the scenes of vulgar and ordinary society, a permanent connection between persons of opposite sexes is too apt to degenerate into a scene of warfare, where each party is forever engaged in a struggle for superiority, and neither will give way. A penetrating observer, with whom in former days I used intimately to converse, was accustomed to say that there was generally more jarring and ill blood between the two parties in the first year of their marriage than during all the remainder of their lives. It is at length found necessary, as between equally matched belligerents on the theatre of history, that they should come to terms, make a treaty of peace, or at least settle certain laws of warfare that they may not waste their strength in idle hostilities.

There is nothing in which the superiority of modern times over the ancient has been more conspicuous than in our sentiments and practices on this subject. This superiority, as well as several other of our most valuable acquisitions, took its rise in what we call the dark ages. Chivalry was, for the most part, the invention of the eleventh century. Its principle was built upon a theory of the sexes, giving to each a relative importance, and assigning to both functions full of honor and grace. The knights (and every gentleman during that period in due time became a knight) were taught, as the main features of their vocation, the "love of God and the ladies." The ladies in return were regarded as the genuine censors of the deeds of knighthood. From these principles arose a thousand lessons of humanity. The ladies regarded it as their glory to assist their champions to arm and to disarm, to perform for them even menial services, to attend to them in sickness, and to dress their wounds. They bestowed on them their colors, and sent them forth to the field hallowed with their benedictions. The knights on the other hand considered any slight toward the fair sex as an indelible stain to their order; they contemplated the graceful patronesses of their valor with a feeling that partook of religious homage and veneration, and esteemed it as perhaps the first duty of their profession to relieve the wrongs and avenge the injuries of the less powerful sex.

This simple outline as to the relative position of the one sex and the other gave a new face to the whole scheme and arrangements of civil society. It is, like those admirable principles in the order of the material universe or those grand discoveries brought to light from time to time by superior genius, so obvious and simple that we wonder the most common understanding could have missed them, yet so pregnant with results that they seem at once to put a new life and inspire a new character into every part of a mighty and all-comprehensive mass.

The passion between the sexes, in its grosser sense, is a momentary impulse merely. There was danger that, when the fit and violence of the passion was over, the whole would subside into inconstancy and a roving disposition, or at least into indifference and almost brutal neglect. But the institutions of chivalry immediately gave a new face to this. Either sex conceived a deep and permanent interest in the other. In the unsettled state of society which characterized the period when these institutions arose, the defenseless were liable to assaults of multiplied kinds and the fair perpetually stood in need of a protector and a champion. The knights, on the other hand, were taught to derive their fame and their honor from the suffrages of the ladies. Each sex stood in need of the other and the basis of their union was mutual esteem.

One of the main points made in the first paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

a declaration of prenuptial rules needs to be drawn up before a union is made

men and women are easy to unite in affection

men and women are like heroes and villains on a stage

men and women are equals

married couples squabble more in later years of marriage

Correct answer:

men and women are equals

Explanation:

The author says that men and women are “so much upon a par with each other;” they are therefore equally matched or, more simply, equals. The author does not mention prenuptial agreements and when “belligerents on the theatre of history” is mentioned, the allusion is to past events rather than historical dramas adapted for the stage.

Example Question #8 : Humanities

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says,—he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent grief’s, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at whatever period of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances,—master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

What is the main idea of the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The feelings gained from nature's wholeness belong to those who best interpret it, chiefly the poet.

Landscape, like the night's sky in the previous paragraphs, is a sum of its parts.

The poet's main occupation should be to subvert claims to ownership of the land.

The poet should get his or her inspiration from parts of things, not their whole.

Farmers are not worthy of the land they own and suppress the aspirations of the poet.

Correct answer:

The feelings gained from nature's wholeness belong to those who best interpret it, chiefly the poet.

Explanation:

The third paragraph serves to bring together the ideas from the previous two paragraphs, but its main idea is not that the night sky is like the landscape; this is only a partial idea. Two of the answer choices are erroneous, as there is neither question of farmers' claims to the land, nor suggestion that a poet must take their inspiration from parts of things. Another answer choice is likewise inaccurate as there is no suggestion that the poet should question warranty-deeds. The start of the paragraph suggests that the sublimity of nature, in a poetical sense, is gained from the sense that it is a whole made of unremarkable parts; the feelings of sublimity are easily gained by the poet who can bring these parts back into the idea of a whole.

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