PSAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, and Purpose in Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #3 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, (Late a Citizen of Bourbon County, Kentucky,) during his Captivity with the Indians, in the Years 1755, '56, '57, '58, & '59 by James Smith (1799; ed. Glugg & Eliott, 1834)

After the departure of these warriors we had hard times; and though we were not altogether out of provisions, we were brought to short allowance. At length Tontileaugo had considerable success, and we had meat brought into camp sufficient to last ten days. Tontileaugo then took me with him in order to encamp some distance from this winter-cabin, to try his luck there. We carried no provisions with us; he said he would leave what was there for the women and children, and that we could shift for ourselves. We steered about a south course up the waters of this creek, and encamped about ten or twelve miles from the winter-cabin. As it was still cold weather, and a crust upon the snow, which made a noise as we walked, and alarmed the deer, we could kill nothing, and consequently went to sleep without supper. The only chance we had, under these circumstances, was to hunt bear-holes; as the bears, about Christmas, search out a winter lodging-place, where they lie about three or four months without eating or drinking. This may appear to some incredible, but it is well known to be the case by those who live in the remote western parts of North America.

The next morning early we proceeded on, and when we found a tree scratched by the bears climbing up, and the hole in the tree sufficiently large for the reception of the bear, we then felled a sapling or small tree against or near the hole, and it was my business to climb up and drive out the bear, while Tontileaugo stood ready with his gun and bow. We went on in this manner until evening without success. At length we found a large elm scratched, and a hole in it about forty feet up, but no tree nigh suitable to lodge against the hole. Tontileaugo got a long pole and some dry rotten wood, which he tied in bunches with bark; and as there was a tree that grew near the elm, and extended up near the hole, but leaned the wrong way, so that we could not lodge it to advantage, to remedy this inconvenience he climbed up this tree and carried with him his rotten wood, fire, and pole. The rotten wood he tied to his belt, and to one end of the pole he tied a hook and a piece of rotten wood, which he set fire to, as it would retain fire almost like punk, and reached this hook from limb to limb as he went up. When he got up with his pole he put dry wood on fire into the hole; after he put in the fire he heard the bear snuff, and he came speedily down, took his gun in his hand, and waited until the bear would come out; when it did appear he attempted taking sight with his rifle; but it being then too dark to see the sights, he set it down by a tree, and instantly bent his bow, took hold of an arrow, and shot the bear a little behind the shoulder. I was preparing also to shoot an arrow, but he called to me to stop, there was no occasion; and with that the bear fell to the ground.

Being very hungry, we kindled a fire, opened the bear, took out the liver, and wrapped some of the caul-fat round, and put it on a wooden spit, which we stuck in the ground by the fire to roast; then we skinned the bear, got on our kettle, and had both roast and boiled, and also sauce to our meat, which appeared to me to be delicate fare. After I was fully satisfied I went to sleep; Tontileaugo awoke me, saying, "Come, eat hearty, we have got meat plenty now."

The next morning we cut down a lynn-tree, peeled bark and made a snug little shelter, facing the southeast, with a large log betwixt us and the northwest; we made a good fire before us, and scaffolded up our meat at one side. When we had finished our camp we went out to hunt; searched two trees for bears, but to no purpose. As the snow thawed a little in the afternoon, Tontileaugo killed a deer, which we carried with us to camp.

Sometime in February the four warriors returned, who had taken two scalps and six horses from the frontiers of Pennsylvania. The hunters could then scatter out a considerable distance from the winter-cabin and encamp, kill meat, and bring it in upon horses; so that we commonly, after this, had plenty of provision.

Based on the passage, the primary purpose for the hunting was __________.

Possible Answers:

to provide entertainment during the winter months

to keep the population of predators low

to provide meat for the camp while the warriors were away

to provide meat for the narrator and his companion, as they had left the rest at the main camp

to demonstrate the bravery of the men in the area

Correct answer:

to provide meat for the camp while the warriors were away

Explanation:

The first and last paragraphs tell us that the “warriors” who do most of the hunting had left, so the narrator and his companion go hunting to provide meat for the main camp. They take a portion of the meat, but it is obvious from the penultimate paragraph that they take most of the meat back to the “women and children” at the main camp.

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 by Friedrich Engels (ed. 1892, trans. Wischnewetzky)

The order of our investigation of the different sections of the proletariat follows naturally from the foregoing history of its rise. The first proletarians were connected with manufacture, were engendered by it, and accordingly, those employed in manufacture, in the working up of raw materials, will first claim our attention. The production of raw materials and of fuel for manufacture attained importance only in consequence of the industrial change, and engendered a new proletariat, the coal and metal miners. Then, in the third place, manufacture influenced agriculture, and in the fourth, the condition of Ireland; and the fractions of the proletariat belonging to each, will find their place accordingly. We shall find, too, that the factory hands are most enlightened as to their own interests, the miners somewhat less so, the agricultural laborers scarcely at all. We shall find the same order again among the industrial workers, and shall see how the factory hands, eldest children of the industrial revolution, have from the beginning to the present day formed the nucleus of the Labour Movement, and how the others have joined this movement just in proportion as their handicraft has been invaded by the progress of machinery. We shall thus learn from the example which England offers, from the equal pace which the Labour Movement has kept with the movement of industrial development, the historical significance of manufacture.

Since, however, at the present moment, pretty much the whole industrial proletariat is involved in the movement, and the condition of the separate sections has much in common, because they all are industrial, we shall have first to examine the condition of the industrial proletariat as a whole, in order later to notice more particularly each separate division with its own peculiarities.

It has been already suggested that manufacture centralizes property in the hands of the few. It requires large capital with which to erect the colossal establishments that ruin the petty trading bourgeoisie and with which to press into its service the forces of Nature, so driving the hand labour of the independent workman out of the market. The division of labour, the application of water and especially steam, and the application of machinery, are the three great levers with which manufacture, since the middle of the last century, has been busy putting the world out of joint. Manufacture, on a small scale, created the middle-class; on a large scale, it created the working-class, and raised the elect of the middle-class to the throne, but only to overthrow them the more surely when the time comes. Meanwhile, it is an undeniable and easily explained fact that the numerous, petty middle-class of the “good old times” has been annihilated by manufacture, and resolved into rich capitalists on the one hand and poor workers on the other.

The centralizing tendency of manufacture does not, however, stop here. Population becomes centralized just as capital does; and, very naturally, since the human being, the worker, is regarded in manufacture simply as a piece of capital for the use of which the manufacturer pays interest under the name of wages. A manufacturing establishment requires many workers employed together in a single building, living near each other and forming a village of themselves in the case of a good-sized factory. They have needs for satisfying which other people are necessary; handicraftsmen, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, carpenters, stonemasons, settle at hand. The inhabitants of the village, especially the younger generation, accustom themselves to factory work, grow skillful in it, and when the first mill can no longer employ them all, wages fall, and the immigration of fresh manufacturers is the consequence. So the village grows into a small town, and the small town into a large one. The greater the town, the greater its advantages. It offers roads, railroads, canals; the choice of skilled labour increases constantly, new establishments can be built more cheaply because of the competition among builders and machinists who are at hand, than in remote country districts, whither timber, machinery, builders, and operatives must be brought; it offers a market to which buyers crowd, and direct communication with the markets supplying raw material or demanding finished goods. Hence the marvelously rapid growth of the great manufacturing towns. The country, on the other hand, has the advantage that wages are usually lower than in town, and so town and country are in constant competition; and, if the advantage is on the side of the town to-day, wages sink so low in the country to-morrow, that new investments are most profitably made there. But the centralizing tendency of manufacture continues in full force, and every new factory built in the country bears in it the germ of a manufacturing town. If it were possible for this mad rush of manufacture to go on at this rate for another century, every manufacturing district of England would be one great manufacturing town, and Manchester and Liverpool would meet at Warrington or Newton; for in commerce, too, this centralization of the population works in precisely the same way, and hence it is that one or two great harbors, such as Hull and Liverpool, Bristol, and London, monopolize almost the whole maritime commerce of Great Britain.

From the whole of this passage, it can be inferred that the “centralizing tendency of manufacture” culminates in __________.

Possible Answers:

a disgruntled workforce

massive debt

an affluent agricultural proletariat

numerous health problems within the populace

the development of manufacturing towns

Correct answer:

the development of manufacturing towns

Explanation:

In the last paragraph, the author discusses “the marvelously rapid growth of the great manufacturing towns.” This rapid growth is attributed twice in the paragraph to the “centralizing tendency,” the second time with the author stating, “the centralizing tendency of manufacture continues in full force, and every new factory built in the country bears in it the germ of a manufacturing town.” This supports the answer fully.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 by Friedrich Engels (ed. 1892, trans. Wischnewetzky)

The order of our investigation of the different sections of the proletariat follows naturally from the foregoing history of its rise. The first proletarians were connected with manufacture, were engendered by it, and accordingly, those employed in manufacture, in the working up of raw materials, will first claim our attention. The production of raw materials and of fuel for manufacture attained importance only in consequence of the industrial change, and engendered a new proletariat, the coal and metal miners. Then, in the third place, manufacture influenced agriculture, and in the fourth, the condition of Ireland; and the fractions of the proletariat belonging to each, will find their place accordingly. We shall find, too, that the factory hands are most enlightened as to their own interests, the miners somewhat less so, the agricultural laborers scarcely at all. We shall find the same order again among the industrial workers, and shall see how the factory hands, eldest children of the industrial revolution, have from the beginning to the present day formed the nucleus of the Labour Movement, and how the others have joined this movement just in proportion as their handicraft has been invaded by the progress of machinery. We shall thus learn from the example which England offers, from the equal pace which the Labour Movement has kept with the movement of industrial development, the historical significance of manufacture.

Since, however, at the present moment, pretty much the whole industrial proletariat is involved in the movement, and the condition of the separate sections has much in common, because they all are industrial, we shall have first to examine the condition of the industrial proletariat as a whole, in order later to notice more particularly each separate division with its own peculiarities.

It has been already suggested that manufacture centralizes property in the hands of the few. It requires large capital with which to erect the colossal establishments that ruin the petty trading bourgeoisie and with which to press into its service the forces of Nature, so driving the hand labour of the independent workman out of the market. The division of labour, the application of water and especially steam, and the application of machinery, are the three great levers with which manufacture, since the middle of the last century, has been busy putting the world out of joint. Manufacture, on a small scale, created the middle-class; on a large scale, it created the working-class, and raised the elect of the middle-class to the throne, but only to overthrow them the more surely when the time comes. Meanwhile, it is an undeniable and easily explained fact that the numerous, petty middle-class of the “good old times” has been annihilated by manufacture, and resolved into rich capitalists on the one hand and poor workers on the other.

The centralizing tendency of manufacture does not, however, stop here. Population becomes centralized just as capital does; and, very naturally, since the human being, the worker, is regarded in manufacture simply as a piece of capital for the use of which the manufacturer pays interest under the name of wages. A manufacturing establishment requires many workers employed together in a single building, living near each other and forming a village of themselves in the case of a good-sized factory. They have needs for satisfying which other people are necessary; handicraftsmen, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, carpenters, stonemasons, settle at hand. The inhabitants of the village, especially the younger generation, accustom themselves to factory work, grow skillful in it, and when the first mill can no longer employ them all, wages fall, and the immigration of fresh manufacturers is the consequence. So the village grows into a small town, and the small town into a large one. The greater the town, the greater its advantages. It offers roads, railroads, canals; the choice of skilled labour increases constantly, new establishments can be built more cheaply because of the competition among builders and machinists who are at hand, than in remote country districts, whither timber, machinery, builders, and operatives must be brought; it offers a market to which buyers crowd, and direct communication with the markets supplying raw material or demanding finished goods. Hence the marvelously rapid growth of the great manufacturing towns. The country, on the other hand, has the advantage that wages are usually lower than in town, and so town and country are in constant competition; and, if the advantage is on the side of the town to-day, wages sink so low in the country to-morrow, that new investments are most profitably made there. But the centralizing tendency of manufacture continues in full force, and every new factory built in the country bears in it the germ of a manufacturing town. If it were possible for this mad rush of manufacture to go on at this rate for another century, every manufacturing district of England would be one great manufacturing town, and Manchester and Liverpool would meet at Warrington or Newton; for in commerce, too, this centralization of the population works in precisely the same way, and hence it is that one or two great harbors, such as Hull and Liverpool, Bristol, and London, monopolize almost the whole maritime commerce of Great Britain.

What is the main idea of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The whole industrial proletariat is involved in industry.

When considering agriculture, we must first look at those they supply.

To thoroughly examine the industrial proletariat in parts, it first must be addressed in its entirety. 

The separate spheres of the proletariat have numerous eccentricities.

There is no need to examine the proletariat as separate groups.

Correct answer:

To thoroughly examine the industrial proletariat in parts, it first must be addressed in its entirety. 

Explanation:

The second paragraph acts as a transition between the ideas of the proletariat in industry and the centralizing tendency of manufacture. The author states that before looking at the separate sections of the proletariat involved in industry, we must first consider the group as a whole.

Example Question #12 : Content Of Social Science / History Passages

"Goffman's Theory of Institutions" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociological inquiry often investigates members of society considered to be on its outer edges. These individuals often live in precarious and vulnerable situations. Traditionally, sociologists have studied these groups to gain insight into the lives of people who are forgotten victims of the blind eye of society. In 1961, Erving Goffman published the book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. This book outlined the theory of a total institution as seen in prisons and asylums. Goffman’s interests and theory helped to reveal the inner mechanics of asylums and the process of institutionalization that takes place within a total institution.

According to Goffman’s observations and subsequent theories, a total institution seeks to erode the relationships of an individual with the outside world and consume their personal identities and daily activities. The end goal of a total institution is to break down and deconstruct the barriers that separate the spheres of sleep, play, and work in an individual’s life by conducting all of these aspects of life in the same location under the same authority. In these institutions, Goffman stated that there is an intentional divide between a large, managed group and a supervisor, which often results in feelings of submissiveness and reluctance to leave the institutionalized setting on the part of the “inmates.” This suggests that these restrictive environments lead to the institutionalization of an individual into the group and away from his or her previous, independent life. In these structures, an individual’s admission procedures shape and engineer the new member in what may be described as a process of programming. This programming of an individual is characterized by a “leaving off” of one’s identity and a “taking on” of one supplied by the establishment. Members of these establishments are alienated from their previous lives and encircled by the ideals and principals of the new institution. A prolonged exposure to similar institutions results in a phenomenon known as "disculturation," which is an un-training that renders an individual temporarily incapable of managing certain features of daily life outside the structures of the institutions.

Sociologists often study groups forgotten or ignored by society. Goffman’s work illuminated issues with vulnerable populations at asylums and other institutions. Ethnographic field studies have continued this tradition and in doing so have theorized the causes of many of society’s ills. Goffman’s work is just one example of sociology’s ability to delve into an understudied region of society, propose explanations of issues, and theorize possible avenues of reform.

What part(s) of an individual's life did Goffman theorize a total institution sought to combine?

Possible Answers:

Play, work, and sleep

Work and sleep

Goffman theorized that instutitions only dealt with work.

Play and work

Correct answer:

Play, work, and sleep

Explanation:

In the second paragraph of the passage, it is stated that these instituitions seek to deconstruct the barriers that separate the spheres of sleep, play, and work in an individual's life. When the institution deconstructs these barriers, the institution combines the activities into a single part or sphere of personal existence.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

What is the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author points out flaws in his opponents' arguments in order to oppose the Constitution.

The author describes the features of the Constitution and the effects they may have on federal- and state-level government.

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

The author discusses the relative unimportance of constituents in his country's current governmental system.

The author compares features of the federal and state governments and concludes that they are very different from one another.

Correct answer:

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

Explanation:

While the passage begins with the author declaring his intention to "inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people," this is not the only idea that the selection focuses on. The author spends the rest of the passage discussing how governmental authority derives from the people, and how those who oppose the Constitution have forgotten about this in their arguments. The correct answer is thus, "The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is with the people it governs."

Example Question #3 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

encourage the use of slander to bring about political change

discourage the common man from political participation

urge truthful criticism of political immorality

discuss the art of lying

highlight the corruption in contemporary political practice

Correct answer:

urge truthful criticism of political immorality

Explanation:

The second paragraph focuses on emphasizing the importance of truthful criticism, as opposite to slanderous assailment. The first paragraph discusses the need to regulate and relentless expose the immorality of political and economic society. The correct answer then is that the primary purpose of this passage is to urge truthful criticism of political immorality. Of the four incorrect answer choices the only other possible answer could be: “to highlight the corruption in contemporary political practice.” But, this answer choice is too limited in scope and only references one aspect of the passage. Always choose the most comprehensive answer choice.

Example Question #1 : Passage Reasoning In Social Science Passages

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

Which of the following statements correctly describes structural-functionist theory as it is presented in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their functions within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms.

Structural-function theory theorizes about society by building structural models meant to demonstrate the social function of various behaviors.

Structural-functionist theory explores society through the observation of social conflicts.

None of the other answers

Structural-functionist theory explores society through observing the symbolic interaction of cultural norms and individual definitions of societal phenomena.

Correct answer:

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their functions within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms.

Explanation:

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their function within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms. The second paragraph of the passage states that "structural-functionalist theory outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society." This answer is very straightforward. A theory is structural-functionalist if it observes structures and their function within society.

Example Question #2 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Letting Go,” part of A Southern Woman’s Story by Phoebe Yates Pember (1879)

 Instructing him to find the doctor immediately and hastily getting on some clothing I hurried to the scene, for Fisher was an especial favorite. He was quite a young man, of about twenty years of age, who had been wounded ten months previously, very severely, high up on the leg near the hip and who by dint of hard nursing; good food and plenty of stimulant had been given a fair chance for recovery. The bones of the broken leg had slipped together, then lapped, and nature anxious as she always is to help herself had thrown a ligature across, uniting the severed parts; but after some time the side curved out, and the wounded leg was many inches shorter than its fellow. He had remained through all his trials, stout, fresh and hearty, interesting in appearance, and so gentle-mannered and uncomplaining that we all loved him. Supported on his crutches he had walked up and down his ward for the first time since he was wounded, and seemed almost restored. That same night he turned over and uttered an exclamation of pain.

Following the nurse to his bed, and turning down the covering, a small jet of blood spurted up. The sharp edge of the splintered bone must have severed an artery. I instantly put my finger on the little orifice and awaited the surgeon. He soon came--took a long look and shook his head. The explanation was easy; the artery was imbedded in the fleshy part of the thigh and could not be taken up. No earthly power could save him. 

The hardest trial of my duty was laid upon me; the necessity of telling a man in the prime of life, and fullness of strength that there was no hope for him. It was done at last, and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

"How long can I live?"

"Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery." A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

"You can let go--"

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away. No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation or merely passive submission, yet when shown in the aggregate in a hospital, it was sublime. Day after day, whether lying wasted by disease or burning up with fever, torn with wounds or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard. The wounded wards would be noisily gay with singing, laughing, fighting battles o'er and o'er again, and playfully chaffing each other by decrying the troops from different States, each man applauding his own.

The account of the death of the young Southern soldier is intended to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the immorality of the North during the Civil War

the limitations of medical practice during the war

the personal relationship between the author and the soldier

the suffering inflicted during war

the accepting nature of the Southern soldier

Correct answer:

the accepting nature of the Southern soldier

Explanation:

The account of the death of the young Southern soldier serves the purpose of supporting the author’s main argument that the Southern soldiers were brave, uncomplaining and accepting in the face of death. The author emphasizes how the young soldier died with dignity and composure, despite extremely traumatic circumstances and uses his story to segue into a conclusion about the nature of Southern soldiers as a collective unit.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Letting Go,” part of A Southern Woman’s Story by Phoebe Yates Pember (1879)

 Instructing him to find the doctor immediately and hastily getting on some clothing I hurried to the scene, for Fisher was an especial favorite. He was quite a young man, of about twenty years of age, who had been wounded ten months previously, very severely, high up on the leg near the hip and who by dint of hard nursing; good food and plenty of stimulant had been given a fair chance for recovery. The bones of the broken leg had slipped together, then lapped, and nature anxious as she always is to help herself had thrown a ligature across, uniting the severed parts; but after some time the side curved out, and the wounded leg was many inches shorter than its fellow. He had remained through all his trials, stout, fresh and hearty, interesting in appearance, and so gentle-mannered and uncomplaining that we all loved him. Supported on his crutches he had walked up and down his ward for the first time since he was wounded, and seemed almost restored. That same night he turned over and uttered an exclamation of pain.

Following the nurse to his bed, and turning down the covering, a small jet of blood spurted up. The sharp edge of the splintered bone must have severed an artery. I instantly put my finger on the little orifice and awaited the surgeon. He soon came--took a long look and shook his head. The explanation was easy; the artery was imbedded in the fleshy part of the thigh and could not be taken up. No earthly power could save him. 

The hardest trial of my duty was laid upon me; the necessity of telling a man in the prime of life, and fullness of strength that there was no hope for him. It was done at last, and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

"How long can I live?"

"Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery." A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

"You can let go--"

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away. No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation or merely passive submission, yet when shown in the aggregate in a hospital, it was sublime. Day after day, whether lying wasted by disease or burning up with fever, torn with wounds or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard. The wounded wards would be noisily gay with singing, laughing, fighting battles o'er and o'er again, and playfully chaffing each other by decrying the troops from different States, each man applauding his own.

In this passage the author emphasizes the __________ nature of the Southern soldier.

Possible Answers:

uncomplaining 

humorous 

sagacious

war-ravaged

nocturnal 

Correct answer:

uncomplaining 

Explanation:

The humorous, war-ravaged and perhaps even sagacious (wise) natures of the Southern soldier are all loosely referred to in this passage; however the primary intention of the author is to emphasize their uncomplaining nature. This is the only attribute that is consistently highlighted throughout the story of the young soldier dying, and again in the conclusion. The following excerpt summarizes the author’s emphasis: “No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation or merely passive submission, yet when shown in the aggregate in a hospital, it was sublime.”

Example Question #22 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Social Science / History Passages

"Goffman's Theory of Institutions" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociological inquiry often investigates members of society considered to be on its outer edges. These individuals often live in precarious and vulnerable situations. Traditionally, sociologists have studied these groups to gain insight into the lives of people who are forgotten victims of the blind eye of society. In 1961, Erving Goffman published the book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. This book outlined the theory of a total institution as seen in prisons and asylums. Goffman’s interests and theory helped to reveal the inner mechanics of asylums and the process of institutionalization that takes place within a total institution.

According to Goffman’s observations and subsequent theories, a total institution seeks to erode the relationships of an individual with the outside world and consume their personal identities and daily activities. The end goal of a total institution is to break down and deconstruct the barriers that separate the spheres of sleep, play, and work in an individual’s life by conducting all of these aspects of life in the same location under the same authority. In these institutions, Goffman stated that there is an intentional divide between a large, managed group and a supervisor, which often results in feelings of submissiveness and reluctance to leave the institutionalized setting on the part of the “inmates.” This suggests that these restrictive environments lead to the institutionalization of an individual into the group and away from his or her previous, independent life. In these structures, an individual’s admission procedures shape and engineer the new member in what may be described as a process of programming. This programming of an individual is characterized by a “leaving off” of one’s identity and a “taking on” of one supplied by the establishment. Members of these establishments are alienated from their previous lives and encircled by the ideals and principals of the new institution. A prolonged exposure to similar institutions results in a phenomenon known as "disculturation," which is an un-training that renders an individual temporarily incapable of managing certain features of daily life outside the structures of the institutions.

Sociologists often study groups forgotten or ignored by society. Goffman’s work illuminated issues with vulnerable populations at asylums and other institutions. Ethnographic field studies have continued this tradition and in doing so have theorized the causes of many of society’s ills. Goffman’s work is just one example of sociology’s ability to delve into an understudied region of society, propose explanations of issues, and theorize possible avenues of reform.

What is the end goal of a total institution?

Possible Answers:

The goal of a total institution is to strengthen community ties.

None of the choices are the end goal of a total institution.

The goal of a total institution is to deconstruct the ties an individual has with the outside world.

The goal of a total institution is to brainwash members of its community.

The goal of a total institution is to be completely self-sufficient.

Correct answer:

The goal of a total institution is to deconstruct the ties an individual has with the outside world.

Explanation:

The end goal of a total institution is to weaken the ties an individual has with the outside world. The institution encircles an individual in order to eliminate other relationships. In doing so, these institutions foster an individual's dependency upon the group for survival.

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