ACT Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases and Clauses in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #454 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders, and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

What is Poe referring to with the phrase "a magazine paper"?

Possible Answers:

An article

A composition

An essay

A theme

Correct answer:

An article

Explanation:

Poe's phrase is nearest in meaning to the word "article" since it refers specifically to a short work published in a periodical.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Self-Reliance (1841) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, nothing can come to hit but through his own work. A man is relieved and overjoyed when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, and the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What does the author mean by “imitation is suicide”?

Possible Answers:

Inspiration can be found in unlikely places

Genius deserts chaotic men

Joy comes from work

Great men are rare

Man must make original work

Correct answer:

Man must make original work

Explanation:

The author of this passage is describing the importance of self-reliance on the growth of man. When he states that “imitation is suicide” he means that man sacrifices his sense of self when he uses or copies the work of another. The author believes it is essential that man produced original work, as evidenced by the statement: “That though the wide universe is full of good, nothing can come to hit but through his own work.”

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Self-Reliance (1841) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, nothing can come to hit but through his own work. A man is relieved and overjoyed when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, and the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

What does the author most nearly mean by “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Possible Answers:

Society is always moving forwards against the chaos and darkness.

No work can be accomplished without the help of others.

Work done in God’s name does the greatest good.

Believe in your work and ignore the criticism of others.

Self-reliance can only take you so far.

Correct answer:

Believe in your work and ignore the criticism of others.

Explanation:

The author introduces the second paragraph with the statement: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” The purpose is to introduce the audience to the topic of that paragraph; the importance of self-reliance and individual confidence. The first part of the phrase focuses on commanding the reader to believe in his own abilities. The second part describes how every heart vibrates as it owns guidance, not the direction of others.

Example Question #41 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Reminiscence of Emily Collins" from the History of Women's Suffrage by Susan B. Anthony (1889). 

I was born and lived almost forty years in South Bristol, Ontario County—one of the most secluded spots in Western New York; but from the earliest dawn of reason I pined for that freedom of thought and action that was then denied to all womankind. I revolted in spirit against the customs of society and the laws of the State that crushed my aspirations and debarred me from the pursuit of almost every object worthy of an intelligent, rational mind. But not until that meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848, of the pioneers in the cause, gave this feeling of unrest form and voice, did I take action. Then I summoned a few women in our neighborhood together and formed an Equal Suffrage Society, and sent petitions to our Legislature; but our efforts were little known beyond our circle, as we were in communication with no person or newspaper. Yet there was enough of wrong in our narrow horizon to rouse some thought in the minds of all.

In those early days a husband's supremacy was often enforced in the rural districts by corporeal chastisement, and it was considered by most people as quite right and proper—as much so as the correction of refractory children in like manner. I remember in my own neighborhood a man who was a Methodist class-leader and exhorter, and one who was esteemed a worthy citizen, who, every few weeks, gave his wife a beating with his horsewhip. He said it was necessary, in order to keep her in subjection, and because she scolded so much. Now this wife, surrounded by six or seven little children, whom she must wash, dress, feed, and attend to day and night, was obliged to spin and weave cloth for all the garments of the family. She had to milk the cows, make butter and cheese, do all the cooking washing, making, and mending for the family, and, with the pains of maternity forced upon her every eighteen months, was whipped by her pious husband, "because she scolded." And pray, why should he not have chastised her? The laws made it his privilege—and the Bible, as interpreted, made it his duty. It is true, women repined at their hard lot; but it was thought to be fixed by a divine decree, for "The man shall rule over thee," and "Wives, be subject to your husbands," and "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord," caused them to consider their fate inevitable, and to feel that it would be contravening God's law to resist it. It is ever thus; where Theology enchains the soul, the Tyrant enslaves the body. But can any one, who has any knowledge of the laws that govern our being—of heredity and pre-natal influences—be astonished that our jails and prisons are filled with criminals, and our hospitals with sickly specimens of humanity? As long as the mothers of the race are subject to such unhappy conditions, it can never be materially improved. Men exhibit some common sense in breeding all animals except those of their own species.

All through the Anti-Slavery struggle, every word of denunciation of the wrongs of the Southern slave, was, I felt, equally applicable to the wrongs of my own sex. Every argument for the emancipation of the colored man, was equally one for that of woman; and I was surprised that all Abolitionists did not see the similarity in the condition of the two classes. I read, with intense interest, everything that indicated an awakening of public or private thought to the idea that woman did not occupy her rightful position in the organization of society; and, when I read the lectures of Ernestine L. Rose and the writings of Margaret Fuller, and found that other women entertained the same thoughts that had been seething in my own brain, and realized that I stood not alone, how my heart bounded with joy! The arguments of that distinguished jurist, Judge Hurlburt, encouraged me to hope that men would ultimately see the justice of our cause, and concede to women their natural rights.

Which of the following most closely explains the author's statement that "men exhibit some common sense in breeding all animals except those of their own species"? 

Possible Answers:

While men understand the domestication of other species, they do not acknowledge that women's rights are essential to improving the human condition. 

People are willing to cross-breed animals to improve hereditary linkages, but society is not willing to accept mixed race children. 

Men are able to domesticate animals, but cannot similarly control their wives 

Humans can breed out physical abnormalities in animals, but are unable to determine the scientific causes of genetic diseases in our own species. 

Societal conventions make it impossible for men to understand how women want to raise their children. 

Correct answer:

While men understand the domestication of other species, they do not acknowledge that women's rights are essential to improving the human condition. 

Explanation:

The author is explaining her view that mistreatment causes chronic unhappiness in women, leading to severe problems. She indicates that if mothers are unhappy when carrying children, there will be societal consequences when those children are born. She indicates however that men are incapable of understanding this connection or acknowledging that women's conditions must be improved. By drawing attention to "men's" careful breeding of "all animals" the author hopes to illuminate the folly of their ignorance and inattention towards women's health and safety.

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