HSPT Reading : Authorial Purpose in Social Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #22 : Authorial Purpose

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

What is the primary purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To outline the ways in which American society has proven successful

To explain the historical development of the American class system

To disparage and condemn the American economic system

To downplay the importance of a Communist revolution

To minimize the suffering of the American people

Correct answer:

To disparage and condemn the American economic system

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is to highlight the manifest inequality that the author feels is present in the American economic system. The history of the American class system is never mentioned, nor is the Communist revolution specifically discussed. Similarly the author could not be said to be lauding the success of American society when he uses such critical and condemning language. Likewise, the suffering of the American people is emphasized rather than minimized. This means the only possible correct answer is that the primary purpose of this passage is to disparage and condemn the American economic system. The most apparent evidence for this can be found in the concluding sentences where the author turns his focus away from the criticism of specific individuals within the American economic system and focuses instead on lamenting the ruling power of money in the contemporary affairs of men.

Example Question #23 : Authorial Purpose

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

The author references his childhood experiences to emphasize __________.

Possible Answers:

the growth of the Communist movement

his belief that the Federal government has failed the American people

his association with the working classes

the terrible job conditions in working class America

the importance of his time in prison

Correct answer:

his association with the working classes

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author seeks to make clear the close association he feels with the working classes of America. This rhetoric can be seen at the beginning of the fourth paragraph, when the author says, “In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days.” The author’s description of his early adolescent work experiences is put in this passage to demonstrate the author’s close association with the working classes.

Example Question #24 : Authorial Purpose

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession - where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire the Emperor was chosen by seven electors which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries. And, the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

What can you infer about the author’s use of quotations around the word “elected”?

Possible Answers:

That he is deriding the influence of the Hapsburgs on European history

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

That he wishes to emphasize the personal wealth needed to stand for the position of Holy Roman Emperor

That he is mocking the Luxembourg family for their spectacular fall from grace

That he wants to highlight the democratic nature of the Holy Roman Empire

Correct answer:

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

Explanation:

When authors use quotation marks in text without actually describing something that someone has directly said, it is usually done to suggest that what the author is mocking or expressing his disbelief in something. So, when the author says, “The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their 'elected' position for almost four centuries," he really means that the position was clearly not an elected position.

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917) 

The prehistoric period is commonly divided, according to the character of the materials used for tools and weapons, into the Age of Stone and the Age of Metals. The one is the age of savagery; the other is the age of barbarism or semi-civilization.

Man's earliest implements were those that lay ready to his hand. A branch from a tree served as a spear; a thick stick in his strong arms became a powerful club. Later, perhaps, came the use of a hard stone such as flint, which could be chipped into the forms of arrowheads, axes, and spear tips. The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship. They may have been made several hundred thousand years ago. After countless centuries of slow advance, early people learned to fasten wooden handles to their stone tools and weapons and also to use such materials as jade and granite, which could be ground and polished into a variety of forms. Stone implements continued to be made during the greater part of the prehistoric period. Every region of the world has had a Stone Age.  Its length is reckoned, not by centuries, but by millennia.

The Age of Metals, compared with its predecessor, covers a brief expanse of time. The use of metals came in not much before the dawn of history. The earliest civilized peoples, the Babylonians and Egyptians, when we first become acquainted with them, appear to be passing from the use of stone implements to those of metal. Copper was the first metal in common use. The credit for the invention of copper tools seems to belong to the Egyptians. At a very early date they were working the copper mines on the peninsula of Sinai. The Babylonians probably obtained their copper from the same region. Another source of this metal was the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek name of the island means "copper." But copper tools were soft and would not keep an edge. Some ancient smith, more ingenious than his fellows, discovered that the addition of a small part of tin to the copper produced a new metal—bronze—harder than the old, yet capable of being molded into a variety of forms. At least as early as 3000 BCE we find bronze taking the place of copper in both Egypt and Babylonia. Somewhat later bronze was introduced into the island of Crete, then along the eastern coast of Greece, and afterwards into other European countries.

The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal. The Egyptians seem to have made little use of iron before 1500 BCE They called it "the metal of heaven," as if they obtained it from meteorites. In the Greek Homeric poems, composed about 900 BCE or later, we find iron considered so valuable that a lump of it is one of the chief prizes at athletic games. In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times. Iron is more difficult to work than either copper or bronze, but it is vastly superior to those metals in hardness and durability. Hence it gradually displaced them throughout the greater part of the Old World.

Why does the author think it is “difficult to believe [the first stone tools were] of human workmanship"?

Possible Answers:

Because their function is mysterious and not logical

Because the sheer number of them suggests at some sort of natural phenomenon 

Because their preservation seems divinely ordained

Because their design is so crude and simple 

Because their origin is likely from outer space

Correct answer:

Because their design is so crude and simple 

Explanation:

The author states “The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship.” The first half of the sentence explains why it was difficult to believe the implements were of human design. To help you at this stage, “implements” means tools and “rude, in this context means crude, simple, or primitive. So we know that the author is remarking that it was difficult to believe the earliest human tools were designed by man because they were so crude and simple as to look unlike something a human has created.

Example Question #25 : Authorial Purpose

Passage adapted from H.G Wells' Anticipations (1901)

Democracy of the modern type—manhood suffrage and so forth—became a conspicuous phenomenon in the world only in the closing decades of the eighteenth century. Its genesis is so intimately connected with the first expansion of the productive element in the State, through mechanism and a co-operative organization, as to point at once to a causative connection. The more closely one looks into the social and political life of the eighteenth century the more plausible becomes this view. New and potentially influential social factors had begun to appear—the organizing manufacturer, the intelligent worker, the skilled tenant, and the urban abyss, and the traditions of the old land-owning non-progressive aristocratic monarchy that prevailed in Christendom, rendered it incapable—without some destructive shock or convulsion—of any re-organization to incorporate or control these new factors. In the case of the British Empire an additional stress was created by the incapacity of the formal government to assimilate the developing civilization of the American colonies. Everywhere there were new elements, not as yet clearly analyzed or defined, arising as mechanism arose; everywhere the old traditional government and social system, defined and analyzed all too well, appeared increasingly obstructive, irrational, and feeble in its attempts to include and direct these new powers.

But now comes a point to which I am inclined to attach very great importance. The new powers were as yet shapeless. It was not the conflict of a new organization with the old. It was the preliminary dwarfing and deliquescence of the mature old beside the embryonic mass of the new. It was impossible then—it is, I believe, only beginning to be possible now—to estimate the proportions, possibilities, and inter-relations of the new social orders out of which a social organization has still to be built in the coming years. No formula of definite reconstruction had been evolved, or has even been evolved yet, after a hundred years. And these swelling inchoate new powers, whose very birth condition was the crippling, modification, or destruction of the old order, were almost forced to formulate their proceedings for a time, therefore, in general affirmative propositions that were really in effect not affirmative propositions at all, but propositions of repudiation and denial. "These kings and nobles and people privileged in relation to obsolescent functions cannot manage our affairs"—that was evident enough, that was the really essential question at that time, and since no other effectual substitute appeared ready made, the working doctrine of the infallible judgment of humanity in the gross, as distinguished from the quite indisputable incapacity of sample individuals, became, in spite of its inherent absurdity, a convenient and acceptable working hypothesis.

Which of the following sentences best describes the author's opinion regarding the organization of the forces leading to the social changes discussed in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It was impossible then—it is, I believe, only beginning to be possible now—to estimate the proportions, possibilities, and inter-relations of the new social orders out of which a social organization has still to be built in the coming years.

No formula of definite reconstruction had been evolved, or has even been evolved yet, after a hundred years. 

The new powers were as yet shapeless.

It was the preliminary dwarfing and deliquescence of the mature old beside the embryonic mass of the new.

It was not the conflict of a new organization with the old.

Correct answer:

The new powers were as yet shapeless.

Explanation:

The entire second paragraph is focused on what the author takes to be a pivotal point, namely that the social forces in question were not organized as a single whole. They exerted themselves as a kind of amorphous force on the existing structures, without yet having social structures and mechanisms that would be unique to them and their ways of life. Thus, the simple, "The new powers were as yet shapeless," is the best answer regarding his description of this matter.

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