GED Language Arts (RLA) : Main Idea or Argument

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GED Language Arts (RLA)

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Main Idea Or Argument

Adapted from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, III.ii.82-117 (1599)


[This is a speech by Mark Antony]


Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious;

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest-

For Brutus is an honorable man;

So are they all, all honorable men-

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me;

But Brutus says he was ambitious,

And Brutus is an honorable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,

And Brutus is an honorable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal [a public festival]

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,

And sure he is an honorable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause;

What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?

O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

What is the overall purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To show that Caesar had loved the poor.

To lie about Brutus and defame his character.

To lament and mourn Caesar's passing and recount his marvelous deeds.

To make the people believe that, contrary to Brutus' words, Caesar was not ambitious.

To justify the killing of Caesar and show that Brutus was honorable.

Correct answer:

To make the people believe that, contrary to Brutus' words, Caesar was not ambitious.


At the very close of the passage, Mark Antony clearly rebukes the people for not mourning, and says that "men have lost their reason." He reminds the people that they had loved him with good reason. Throughout the speech, he brings forth examples of how Caesar was not as ambitious as he was made out to be by some (i.e. Brutus). By repeatedly noting that Brutus said this but by implying that it was not truly the case, Mark Antony wants to imply that Brutus was wrong and to show that Caesar was not ambitious. (Furthermore, he wants to show that Caesar did not deserve to be killed in this manner, but that only becomes clear later in the text, after our selection.)

Example Question #2 : Passage Meaning And Inference

As he [Dorian Gray] thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expel every sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already gone away. He would go and look.


 . . .


He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the painted feet, as though the thing had dripped—blood even on the hand that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. The world would simply say that he was mad. They would shut him up if he persisted in his story.... Yet it was his duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to make public atonement. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders. The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinking of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there been nothing more in his renunciation than that? There had been something more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? ... No. There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had spared her. In hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake he had tried the denial of self. He recognized that now.

Passage adapted from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Which of the following is the best expression of the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Dorian thought that his painting should be even uglier than it was before, and he was correct

None of these

Dorian simply went to the painting to express disgust, as usual

Dorian thought that his “good deed” of “sparing” Hetty would reverse the ill effects of his previous misdeeds, but he was mistaken

Correct answer:

Dorian thought that his “good deed” of “sparing” Hetty would reverse the ill effects of his previous misdeeds, but he was mistaken


“Dorian thought that his ‘good deed’ of ‘sparing’ Hetty would reverse the ill effects of his previous misdeeds . . .” is the correct answer. This questions tests your ability to understand the main idea of the passage. Essentially, this passage depicts Dorian’s realization that, despite everything he had done earlier (attempting to “save” Hetty), his soul remained corrupted. Indeed, Dorian comes to the realization that he “saved” Hetty for all of the wrong reasons (i.e. he was selfish, vain, etc).

Example Question #2 : Main Idea Or Argument

On the 24th of February, 1815, the look-out at Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

As usual, a pilot put off immediately, and rounding the Chateau d'If, got on board the vessel between Cape Morgion and Rion island.

Immediately, and according to custom, the ramparts of Fort Saint-Jean were covered with spectators; it is always an event at Marseilles for a ship to come into port, especially when this ship, like the Pharaon, has been built, rigged, and laden at the old Phocee docks, and belongs to an owner of the city.

The ship drew on and had safely passed the strait, which some volcanic shock has made between the Calasareigne and Jaros islands; had doubled Pomegue, and approached the harbor under topsails, jib, and spanker, but so slowly and sedately that the idlers, with that instinct which is the forerunner of evil, asked one another what misfortune could have happened on board. However, those experienced in navigation saw plainly that if any accident had occurred, it was not to the vessel herself, for she bore down with all the evidence of being skilfully handled, the anchor a-cockbill, the jib-boom guys already eased off, and standing by the side of the pilot, who was steering the Pharaon towards the narrow entrance of the inner port, was a young man, who, with activity and vigilant eye, watched every motion of the ship, and repeated each direction of the pilot.

The vague disquietude which prevailed among the spectators had so much affected one of the crowd that he did not await the arrival of the vessel in harbor, but jumping into a small skiff, desired to be pulled alongside the Pharaon, which he reached as she rounded into La Reserve basin.

When the young man on board saw this person approach, he left his station by the pilot, and, hat in hand, leaned over the ship's bulwarks.

He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as a raven's wing; and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.

"Ah, is it you, Dantes?" cried the man in the skiff. "What's the matter? and why have you such an air of sadness aboard?"

"A great misfortune, M. Morrel," replied the young man,—"a great misfortune, for me especially! Off Civita Vecchia we lost our brave Captain Leclere."

Passage adapted from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)

After reading the passage, were the spectators correct? And if so, how?

Possible Answers:

No, the spectators were incorrect about the mishandling of the ship.

No, the spectators were incorrect about any misfortune.

Yes, the spectators were correct in that they guessed something unfortunate happened on board.

  Yes, the spectators were correct in that they thought the ship was being mishandled.

Correct answer:

Yes, the spectators were correct in that they guessed something unfortunate happened on board.


“Yes. The spectators were correct in that they guessed something unfortunate happened on board” is the correct answer. This question tests your ability to understand a sub-theme of the passage: the “vague disquietude” of the spectators. Basically, the passage starts off by mentioning that some of the spectators (those watching the ship come into port) suspected that something was wrong, although there was no physical damage to the ship itself. These suspicions are finally played out at the very end of the passage when Dantes reveals that “a great misfortune” happened on board: they lost the captain.

Example Question #3 : Main Idea Or Argument

What dire offence from amorous causes springs, 

What mighty contests rise from trivial things, 

I sing — This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due: 

This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view: 

Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,    (5)

If She inspire, and He approve my lays. 


… Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray,

And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day.

Now lapdogs give themselves the rousing shake,

And sleepless lovers just at twelve awake:(10)

Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,

And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.

Belinda still her downy pillow prest,

Her guardian Sylph prolong’d the balmy rest.

Based on these lines, what is this poem’s main theme?

Possible Answers:





Unrequited passion

Correct answer:



Judging by the poem’s lighthearted tone, we can rule out “wrath” and “revenge.” Although “passion” is not a bad guess, there’s nothing in the poem’s tone to indicate that this passion will be unrequited. Furthermore, we can note phrases such as such as “amorous causes” (line 1) and “sleepless lovers” (line 10), all of which point to the subject’s main theme: love.

Passage adapted from The Rape of the Lock (1712) by Alexander Pope.

Example Question #4 : Main Idea Or Argument

1About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. 2 All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. 3 She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. 4 But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them. 5 Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. 6 Miss Ward's match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugal felicity with very little less than a thousand a year. 7 But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did it very thoroughly. 8 She could hardly have made a more untoward choice.

Based on the content of the passage, what is the author’s opinion toward marriage?

Possible Answers:

It is a primarily fiscal system that disadvantages women in particular

None of these other choices

It is a primarily romantic system of equal partnerships

It is a primarily social system that provides a beneficial hierarchy

It is a primarily self-interested system that fosters youthful rebellion

Correct answer:

It is a primarily fiscal system that disadvantages women in particular


We can see here that the female characters’ choices of husband are limited by the amount of money they have and by their social status. Marriage is not discussed in particularly rosy-eyed or romantic terms, and youthful rebellion, equal partnerships, and beneficial hierarchies are not even alluded to in the passage.

Passage adapted from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814)

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