GMAT Verbal : Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Analyzing Style, Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke (1790) (Project Gutenberg Edition)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!

The tone of this passage can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

angry

zealous

loving

laconic

somber

Correct answer:

zealous

Explanation:

Somber and laconic can be eliminated right away—there are too many exclamation points for the work to be melancholy and laid back in the way those words suggest. Angry and loving are both more correct, but they are subordinate to the much larger passion and enthusiasm which "zealous" denotes. 

Example Question #1 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

Which of the following adjectives best matches the author’s opinion of “intellectual interest,” underlined in the passage's third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Amazing

Preposterous

Regal

Important

Cultural

Correct answer:

Regal

Explanation:

Directly after this, Emerson says that we should "enthrone" and "obey" such intellectual interest. Such language evokes the idea of a king or queen, so it is appropriate to say that such imagery is "regal," which means pertaining to the matters of a monarch.

Example Question #1 : Interpreting Literary Devices

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

How is the underlined expression “poetic echo” used as an image in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It captures the sound of canon fire while applying it to the emotions aroused by it and other such actions of wartime.

It gives an evocative example of the loud sounds made by canon fire.

It reminds the reader of the importance of poetry in contrast to militarism.

It sets the stage for the argument the author will make against militarism.

It entices the reader and listener to go on to further considerations of the matter.

Correct answer:

It captures the sound of canon fire while applying it to the emotions aroused by it and other such actions of wartime.

Explanation:

The expression "poetic echo" clearly is meant to evoke the sound of canons echoing. It is said to be "poetic" because such canon fire seems to be something very positive to many people during Emerson's day. It is implied that it has a certain charm or beauty—that is, a certain kind of poetry.

Example Question #31 : Gmat Verbal

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

What can be inferred from the passage about the author's opinion of the hobo lifestyle?

Possible Answers:

The author views hobos as dangers to society.

The author believes hobos should never be allowed on trains.

The author thinks that hobos have no place in a modern society.

The author wishes that hobos would quit traveling on trains.

The author views it as a romantic lifestyle.

Correct answer:

The author views it as a romantic lifestyle.

Explanation:

The author describes the hobo lifestyle as something fun and interesting, proudly noting a hobo can ride any train that he or she would like. The final statement also shows great sympathy for hobos, where newspapers did not. All in all, the author's perspective is positive towards hobos, without necessarily desiring to follow the same lifestyle, which is a romantic perspective.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Style, Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

If the author included the perspective of the train crew, what effect would that have on the overall perspective of the passage?

Possible Answers:

It would create confusion over the actual circumstances of a hobo's death.

It would make train crews much less sympathetic to the reader.

It would portray the train crew as malicious and vindictive.

It would make the local newspapers look more untrustworthy.

It would portray the hobos in a less favorable light.

Correct answer:

It would portray the hobos in a less favorable light.

Explanation:

The author is fully on the side of the hobos, both because he was one and because he knows their stories better. The perspective of the train crew is in opposition to the author's statements about the unfortunate hobo who got caught underneath. Presumably a train crew would describe the hobo's actions in a much less favorable manner than the author does.

Example Question #1 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

The author's tone in this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

Sardonic

Detatched

Bemused

Didactic

Fanciful

Correct answer:

Sardonic

Explanation:

The author uses sarcasm and has a condescending attitute towards his supposed skeptical interlocutor, even suggesting that they cause themselves harm. His tone is sarcastic, scornful, and sardonic.

Example Question #1 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)

Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man. This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince legitimate reasons to excuse this non-observance. Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best. But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

The author implies that Achilles was __________.

 

Possible Answers:

a prince disciplined in combat

not able to defend himself

a good student

instilled with the ability to act with the mentalities of both man and beast 

compelled to adopt only beastlike behavior 

Correct answer:

instilled with the ability to act with the mentalities of both man and beast 

Explanation:

This question can be answered by quickly scanning the text for the word "Achilles," and then finding in the text that it was necessary for princes (such as Achilles) to learn to use "both natures," referring to the nature of a man and the nature of a beast. The correct answer choice reflects this while incorrect answer choices make assertions that are unsupported by the text. 

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Which of the following best describes the author’s presentation of Hegel’s thought about evolution?

Possible Answers:

It is a murky matter without much real reasoning at all.

It is not comprised of progressive stages, each being the natural cause of the next.

It is purely a matter for our casual reflection.

None of the other answers

It is a natural process, at least of sorts.

Correct answer:

It is not comprised of progressive stages, each being the natural cause of the next.

Explanation:

Among philosophers, Hegel is perhaps one of the hardest to read. Stay very close to this text and use context clues from within the passage. Clearly, Hegel is not being presented as an exponent of scientific evolution in the fashion of Darwin. The key portion of the passage is, "A system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other." Each stage is the "nearest truth" for the one following it. However, it is not the natural cause of it. Yes, Hegel is strange—and far more cryptic than this small selection. However, we have enough details to get our answer!

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Humanities Passages

Mounted primarily by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Easter Rising of 1916, also known as the Easter Rebellion, aimed both to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic at a time when the military assets of the United Kingdom were heavily engaged in World War I and thus largely unavailable for activity on the home front. Led by schoolteacher and barrister Patrick Pearse, members of the Irish Volunteers joined forces with the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of the all-female Cumman na mBan, together seizing key locations in Dublin and ultimately proclaiming the Irish Republic independent with the issue of the Easter Proclamation. After six days of fighting, the Rising was suppressed, its leaders court-martialed and executed. Militarily, the Rising was a failure; even with its attention divided, the British military out-classed and outnumbered the insurgent force. Yet support for republicanism continued to rise in Ireland in the wake of the Easter Rebellion. Though many members of the Dublin public were originally simply bewildered by the outbreak of the Rising, the harshness of the British response and the summary execution of the movement’s leaders garnered sympathy. In elections only two years later, Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party, won 73 seats out of 105, dominating the Irish delegation to the British parliament, and under their leadership the Irish would again declare their independence in 1919, establishing the Republic of Ireland which persists to this day.

According to the passage, which of the following is an accurate statement concerning the Irish Republic?

Possible Answers:

It was established in 1919 by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, in conjunction with Sinn Féin.

It was unpopular with the civilian population of Dublin, the majority of whom desired the continuation of British rule.

The sympathy that it garnered among members of the public in Ireland led to the success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 elections.

Its military successes were dwarfed by its political successes.

Its independence was initially short-lived and the Irish remained under British rule.

Correct answer:

Its independence was initially short-lived and the Irish remained under British rule.

Explanation:

This detail question announces itself by asking what is an accurate statement—the present tense verb signaling that the information needed to find the right answer was explicitly stated by the author, though, as always, not necessarily in the exact words used in the answer. The correct answer might feel wrong if your eyes skipped over the word initially. Even though the passage later describes the ultimate triumph of the Republic, it didn’t triumph in 1916.

Example Question #2 : Humanities

"Poetry and Philosophy" by Justin Bailey

As the logical positivism rose to ascendancy, poetic language was increasingly seen as merely emotive. Wittgenstein’s influential Tractatus argued that only language corresponding to observable states of affairs in the world was meaningful, thus ruling out the value of imaginative language in saying anything about the world. Poetry’s contribution was rather that it showed what could not be said, a layer of reality which Wittgenstein called the “mystical.” Despite Wittgenstein’s interest in the mystical value of poetry, his successors abandoned the mystical as a meaningful category, exiling poetry in a sort of no man’s land where its only power to move came through the empathy of shared feeling.

Yet some thinkers, like Martin Heidegger, reacted strongly to the pretensions of an instrumental theory of knowledge to make sense of the world. Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur all gave central value to poetry in their philosophical method; signifying a growing sense among continental thinkers that poetic knowing was an important key to recovering some vital way of talking about and experiencing the world that had been lost.

The author is primarily concerned with __________.

Possible Answers:

enumerating the reasons why Wittgenstein and his successors were misguided in their philosophical approach

describing the mainstream marginalization of poetry among philosophers of a certain period before noting significant exceptions

exploring the contribution of philosophy to discussions of poetic method and appreciation

arguing that given the current trajectory of philosophy, poetry will soon no longer be studied in mainstream society

explaining various theories of why poetic language has the power to move the human spirit

Correct answer:

describing the mainstream marginalization of poetry among philosophers of a certain period before noting significant exceptions

Explanation:

The first paragraph states the main argument, which can be gleaned from the first and last sentence of the paragraph. The second paragraph introduces a contrast with the word "yet" and then proceeds to enumerate three examples of philosophers who made poetry a part of their philosophical method. 

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