LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #71 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

"The Novel" by William Floyd (2015)

The first significant period of popularity for the novel was the mid eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. Scholars have often debated why extended prose narratives became the most significant form of writing for the public during this era. Certainly the availability of cheaper publishing tools meant books were more accessible to more people, and the time period was one of widespread reading in a number of ways, such as letters and pamphlets as well as books. Yet perhaps the most significant cause of the novel’s explosion into the center of popular culture might be that it best reflected the newfound interiority and privacy of eighteenth century Western Europe.

The Industrial Revolution brought changes to nearly every element of society, but significantly transformed home life. Increased social mobility meant that multigenerational families were becoming much less common and more people lived at home. The booming wealth brought by the Industrial Revolution also created more spacious domiciles for those who were still living with family, giving most members of society a chance to have individual spaces where someone could seek out some measure of solitude. The changing social mores of the era also meant that everyday conversation began to take on a subject matter and tone that was previously seen as inappropriate or scandalous. The day to day existence and average life experience of the typical person was radically different than that of the previous generation. Whereas before the Industrial Revolution the entire social structure of the world revolved around community, by the mid seventeenth century the individual became the center of the social universe.

All of these changes perfectly suited the strengths of the novel, particularly as it was written and consumed in the eighteenth century. Where a play has at its core a public performance and poetry was meant to be said aloud, the novel provides a focus on interior thoughts, psychology, and character development. For a world newly experiencing privacy and intimate space, the conversational style and philosophical musings of the novel matched the new reality that the novel reader was encountering. More significantly, the most popular novels, until about the twentieth century, were usually published in a serialized format. By getting the next installment each week or month, readers consumed novels in much the same manner as they read letters from home or snippets of news. Novels fit into the fabric of life during the Industrial Revolution because they were about interiority, individualism, and striving for something new.

Which of the following statements best captures the author's main idea?

Possible Answers:

Very few novelists appropriately captured the changes in society brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

The rise in popularity of the novel in European society was widely linked to the rise of commercial interests that profited from book sales.

The novel first achieved widespread popularity at the same time that privacy became a notable concept in Western European society.

Novels were not well respected forms of entertainment and writing before the Industrial Revolution.

Novels were only created after the technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

Correct answer:

The novel first achieved widespread popularity at the same time that privacy became a notable concept in Western European society.

Explanation:

The author makes the claim that novels were initially popular in the wake of the Industrial Revolution in the opening paragraph of the passage; however, the author makes the statement that the changes brought about on society were reflected in the novels of the time. The author's main idea is that the notion of privacy, which was first present during the Industrial Revolution, was key to development of the novel as an art form.

Example Question #71 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

"Perspective" by William Floyd (2015)

In the visual arts, “perspective” describes creating a two-dimensional image which has the illusion of depth and shading to make it appear like a three-dimensional image. The ability to paint with perspective was a Renaissance idea, when painters such as Jan van Eyck and Leonardo da Vinci created scenes which had a revolutionary look, particularly as compared to the notably flat medieval paintings of earlier artists. These reflected life in a way that it was thought painting could never hope to achieve. The question that obviously arises from this revolution in painting is why the artists of the middle ages felt so comfortable with their lack of such perspective.

The fifteenth century Italian painter and Dominican friar born Guido Pietri was dubbed Fra Beato Angleico, which in English is “the Blessed Angelic Friar,” for the way he captured the imagination of his contemporaries. While he painted less than a century before da Vinci, Fra Angelico appears to belong to a different tradition entirely, with a completely different aesthetic sense. His portraits are oddly formal, while his crowd scenes are so busy as to be overwhelming. To look at his “Annunciation of the Virgin” or “Last Judgement” is to see a painting which is almost too flat and busy, necessitating a careful look at each element, moving across the painting, rather than being able to take in the entire scene of the painting at once.

Which might be the actual expectation of a medieval painter. Any scene with a dozen saints has such precision in the portrayal of each saint, who has to be recognizable to every worshipful person viewing it, that it requires an up close view of every single element. Additionally, the subject matter is presented in such a way as to make the viewer move from left to right. This essentially means that a medieval viewer “read” a painting as much as they viewed it. Each element was a self-contained piece which needed to be viewed in a specific order. Rather than conveying one scene, the painting was actually more of a storytelling device. Naturally, the time of perspective was also the time the printing press brought widespread literacy to Europe. With more people being able to read a text, a painting had less need to function as a text itself, making a revolution in painting a necessity for the genre.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The revolution in perspective changed the way paintings were viewed during the Renaissance.

The use of perspective was the singular invention of Leonardo da Vinci.

The printing press helped change the role of painting significantly.

Leonardo da Vinci made the paintings of Fra Angelico seem quaint and tired.

Medieval painters were not nearly as talented as their Renaissance counterparts.

Correct answer:

The revolution in perspective changed the way paintings were viewed during the Renaissance.

Explanation:

The author mostly discusses how paintings were viewed and how this changed significantly during the Renaissance. While Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Angelico, and the printing press all play a role in the argument presented by the author, they are all used in the service of describing how perspective had changed the way paintings were viewed during the Renaissance.

Example Question #381 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Culture and Anarchy (1868) by Matthew Arnold.

The disparagers of culture make its motive curiosity; sometimes, indeed, they make its motive mere exclusiveness and vanity. The culture which is supposed to plume itself on a smattering of Greek and Latin is a culture which is begotten by nothing so intellectual as curiosity; it is valued either out of sheer vanity and ignorance, or else as an engine of social and class distinction, separating its holder, like a badge or title, from other people who have not got it. No serious man would call this culture, or attach any value to it, as culture, at all. To find the real ground for the very differing estimate which serious people will set upon culture, we must find some motive for culture in the terms of which may lie a real ambiguity; and such a motive the word curiosity gives us. I have before now pointed out that in English we do not, like the foreigners, use this word in a good sense as well as in a bad sense; with us the word is always used in a somewhat disapproving sense; a liberal and intelligent eagerness about the things of the mind may be meant by a foreigner when he speaks of curiosity, but with us the word always conveys a certain notion of frivolous and unedifying activity. In the Quarterly Review, some little time ago, was an estimate of the celebrated French critic, Monsieur Sainte-Beuve, and a very inadequate estimate it, in my judgment, was. And its inadequacy consisted chiefly in this: that in our English way it left out of sight the double sense really involved in the word curiosity, thinking enough was said to stamp Monsieur Sainte-Beuve with blame if it was said that he was impelled in his operations as a critic by curiosity, and omitting either to perceive that Monsieur Sainte-Beuve himself, and many other people with him, would consider that this was praiseworthy and not blameworthy, or to point out why it ought really to be accounted worthy of blame and not of praise. For as there is a curiosity about intellectual matters which is futile, and merely a disease, so there is certainly a curiosity,—a desire after the things of the mind simply for their own sakes and for the pleasure of seeing them as they are,—which is, in an intelligent being, natural and laudable. Nay, and the very desire to see things as they are implies a balance and regulation of mind which is not often attained without fruitful effort, and which is the very opposite of the blind and diseased impulse of mind which is what we mean to blame when we blame curiosity. Montesquieu says:—"The first motive which ought to impel us to study is the desire to augment the excellence of our nature, and to render an intelligent being yet more intelligent." This is the true ground to assign for the genuine scientific passion, however manifested, and for culture, viewed simply as a fruit of this passion; and it is a worthy ground, even though we let the term curiosity stand to describe it.

Which of the following statements best describes the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Culture should be focused entirely on the elevated elements derived from Latin and Greek.

Curiosity is an important element in understanding the pursuit of culture.

Curiosity has never been in culture in a way that has benefited culture.

Culture is problematically linked to the tastes of a handful of elites.

Curiosity has a pervasive tendency to destroy and crush the finer points of culture.

Correct answer:

Curiosity is an important element in understanding the pursuit of culture.

Explanation:

The passage is essentially a defense of the use of "curiosity" in culture, especially against certain unnamed critics who despise its use. While the author does not name any critics, there is plenty of vitriol, which shows that he disagrees with these critics and wishes to have a better use of curiosity to create effective culture.

Example Question #383 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Rembrandt (1893) by Josef Israels.

While the world pays respectful tribute to Rembrandt the artist, it has been compelled to wait until comparatively recent years for some small measure of reliable information concerning Rembrandt the man. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seem to have been very little concerned with personalities. A man was judged by his work which appealed, if it were good enough, to an ever-increasing circle. There were no newspapers to record his doings and, if he chanced to be an artist, it was nobody's business to set down the details of his life. Sometimes a diarist chanced to pass by and to jot down a little gossip, quite unconscious of the fact that it would serve to stimulate generations yet unborn, but, for the most part, artists who did great work in a retiring fashion and were not honored by courts and princes as Rubens was, passed from the scene of their labors with all the details of their sojourn unrecorded.

Rembrandt was fated to suffer more than mere neglect, for he seems to have been a light-hearted, headstrong, extravagant man, with no capacity for business. He had not even the supreme quality, associated in doggerel with Dutchmen, of giving too little and asking too much. Consequently, when he died poor and enfeebled, in years when his collection of works of fine art had been sold at public auction for a fraction of its value, when his pictures had been seized for debt, and wife, mistress, children, and many friends had passed, little was said about him. It was only when the superlative quality of his art was recognized beyond a small circle of admirers that people began to gather up such fragments of biography as they could find.

Shakespeare has put into Mark Antony's mouth the statement that "the evil that men do lives after them," and this was very much the case with Rembrandt van Ryn. His first biographers seem to have no memory save for his undoubted recklessness, his extravagance, and his debts. They remembered that his pictures fetched very good prices, that his studio was besieged for some years by more sitters than it could accommodate, that he was honored with commissions from the ruling house, and that in short, he had every chance that would have led a good business man to prosperity and an old age removed from stress and strain. These facts seem to have aroused their ire. They have assailed his memory with invective that does not stop short at false statement. They have found in the greatest of all Dutch artists a ne'er-do-well who could not take advantage of his opportunities, who had the extravagance of a company promoter, an explosive temper and all the instincts that make for loose living.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Rembrandt was a disgusting man in his personal life who did not do the kinds of actions that should be celebrated.

Rembrandt was well known in his own era, but did not do enough to be well remembered in history.

Rembrandt's artistic style was much more put together than the shambolic personal life he lead.

Rembrandt is more well-known as an artist than a man because he lived the kind of life that escaped notice in his own era.

Rembrandt should be remembered better as a man, because it improves the understanding of his artistic merits.

Correct answer:

Rembrandt is more well-known as an artist than a man because he lived the kind of life that escaped notice in his own era.

Explanation:

The passage discusses Rembrandt's poor business and personal life in some detail, but does so to highlight that the limitations of what we do know about Rembrandt the man. In particular, the author makes the point that Rembrandt's life escaped notice because of the tendencies of his contemporaries to not capture aspects of Rembrandt's life.

Example Question #384 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

"Ed Sullivan and All the Rest" by William Floyd (2015)

Modern television talk shows center on the host, with the guests as a side dish that still accentuates the main entrée of the funny person at the center of the spectacle. Their forerunners were on television as early as television was in American homes, scene stealers such as Steve Allen and Jack Parr making even the most famous celebrities play inside their world. At the same time, though, one man showed how a television show could highlight a variety of performers, from the remarkable to the mundane and the famous to the unknown. If more television shows operated like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” maybe television would be less ego centric.

Ed Sullivan began his career before World War II as an entertainment and sports reporter, gaining his first significant notoriety as a celebrity maker for his gossip column in the New York Daily News. This influential position led him to be chosen as the host of “The Toast of the Town,” a variety show on CBS, in 1948. He was awkward on camera and made no effort to be a schmoozer or comedian. Despite his awkwardness, Ed Sullivan became a household name, with his show first informally and then officially being known as “The Ed Sullivan Show.” No one cared about watching Sullivan himself, but rather what Sullivan presented to his audience each week. Sullivan was a force behind the scenes, putting together the show that everyone wanted to watch each week.

The genius of Sullivan’s show was that it was truly a variety show. Sullivan made sure to show his audience ballet and opera selections, yet also never shied away from presenting Rock n Roll acts on his prestigious time slot. He was also a key benefactor for a number of young comedians, who would present their usual stand-up routines free of comment in front of a national audience. Naturally, the Beatles were not actually big in America until they had gotten the Sullivan anointment, but many other acts could credit Sullivan with a breakthrough. Considering the time he was on the air, 1948 to 1971, Sullivan made twentieth century American popular culture. With the fragmentation of culture through cable, the internet, and streaming services, no one can ever hope to have the same impact as a man described as having the personality of an Easter Island statue.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the main idea presented in the passage?

Possible Answers:

The Ed Sullivan Show was the most watched television show for the majority of its time on the air.

Ed Sullivan's unusual approach to hosting and running a variety show made his show more successful and influential than other figures.

Ed Sullivan was a boring host whose show was successful despite his abilities.

Ed Sullivan was hugely influential in his own time, but presents nothing to teach modern television hosts.

The Ed Sullivan Show featured a variety of performers to the detriment of the overall quality of the show.

Correct answer:

Ed Sullivan's unusual approach to hosting and running a variety show made his show more successful and influential than other figures.

Explanation:

The author discusses Ed Sullivan's career and approach to television at length, but importantly frames the discussion around the lessons modern television hosts could take from Sullivan's overall success. Thus, the author's main idea is best framed as being about why Sullivan was so successful and what made him stand out from other hosts.

Example Question #211 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from James Seth's A Study of Ethical Principles (1898)

Is the true method of ethics the method of science or that of philosophy? Our answer to this question must determine our general view of the ethical problem, and cannot fail to affect the solution which we reach. The characteristic tendency of our time to reduce all thought to the scientific form, and to draw the line sharply between natural or positive science, on the one hand, and metaphysics or philosophical speculation, on the other, has made itself felt in ethics, which is now defined as 'moral science' rather than as 'moral philosophy,' its older designation.

Yet, while we must recognise, in the view that the true method of ethics is scientific rather than philosophic, a return to the older and sounder tradition of ethical thought, it is necessary, in order to determine more precisely the place of ethics among the sciences, to distinguish carefully between two types or groups of sciences, both alike distinguishable from metaphysics or philosophy. The common task of all science is the rationalisation of our judgments, through their organisation into a system of thought: when thus systematised, our judgments are scientifically 'explained.'

But these judgments are of two kinds: judgments of fact and judgments of worth, or judgments of what is and judgments of what ought to be. There are, accordingly, two types of science: first, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the chaotic mass of our Is-judgments; secondly, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the no less chaotic mass of our Ought-judgments. The former type of science we may call natural or descriptive; the latter, normative or appreciative. The purpose of the natural or descriptive sciences is the discovery, by reason, of the actual or phenomenal order—the order that characterises 'matters of fact;' the purpose of the normative or appreciative sciences is the discovery, by the same reason, of the ideal order which always transcends and rebukes the actual order.

To the former class—that of the natural or descriptive sciences—belong all the sciences of nature and of man as a natural being. Ethics, on the other hand, is, like logic and aesthetics, a normative or appreciative science–a science of value. These three sciences deal with our critical judgments, as distinguished from our factual judgments; they endeavour to systematise these judgments by deducing them from a common standard of value, a final criterion of appreciation. Our several judgments, so far as they are consistent with one another, about the value of thoughts, of feelings, and of actions, are reducible to a common denominator of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. The discovery of this common denominator of intellectual, of aesthetic, and of moral judgment, and the construction of the system of principles which these judgments, when made coherent and self - consistent, constitute, is the task of the three normative sciences, — logic, aesthetics, and ethics.

So long as the distinction between a natural and a normative science is clearly realised, there is no reason why we should not recognise both a natural science and a normative science of ethics. What we may call the natural history of morality, the genetic study of the moral life (and the moral consciousness), is the presupposition of an intelligent interpretation of its significance, the indispensable preliminary to its reduction to ethical system. The business of such a preliminary investigation is simply to discover the causation of morality, the uniformities of sequence which characterise moral antecedents and consequents as they characterise all other phenomena. But such an investigation of the moral facts, though it is well entitled to the name of science, is only the handmaid of ethics as a normative science, as the effort to determine the meaning or content of the facts.

The author's primary purpose in this passage is ___________.

Possible Answers:

to distinguish between scientific and philosophical ethics

to distinguish between two categories and determine which parts of an academic discipline belong to each

to draw a distinction between "is" statements and "ought" statements

to determine whether ethics belongs to the sciences or philosophy

to describe the science of ethics

Correct answer:

to distinguish between two categories and determine which parts of an academic discipline belong to each

Explanation:

While the author discusses several points and subpoints in this passage, his primary purpose—the one to which all others are for the sake of and subordinated to—is drawing a distinction between the normative and natural science of ethics. This is best described as a distinction between two categories—the natural and the normative—and deciding which part of the science of ethics belongs to each.

Example Question #386 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery. Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many favors. I regarded the selection of myself as being somewhat remarkable. There were a number of slave children that might have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore. There were those younger, those older, and those of the same age. I was chosen from among them all, and was the first, last, and only choice.

I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.

Which of the following is the best title for the passage?

Possible Answers:

Glory to God

A Prosperous Life

My Escape from Bondage

My Persistent Faith

From the Plantation to Baltimore

Correct answer:

My Persistent Faith

Explanation:

The passage does give glory to God, but only at the very end. It mentions his escape from slavery to Baltimore as a free man, but only at the beginning. It also does not dwell on being self-satisfied about a now "prosperous life". The focus of the passage is on Douglass' faith in God's favor for him.

Example Question #387 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Trans-National America" by Randolph Bourne (1916)

No reverberatory effect of the great war has caused American public opinion more solicitude than the failure of the 'melting- pot.' The discovery of diverse nationalistic feelings among our great alien population has come to most people as an intense shock. It has brought out the unpleasant inconsistencies of our traditional beliefs. We have had to watch hard-hearted old Brahmins virtuously indignant at the spectacle of the immigrant refusing to be melted, while they jeer at patriots like Mary Antin who write about 'our forefathers.' We have had to listen to publicists who express themselves as stunned by the evidence of vigorous nationalistic and cultural movements in this country among Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians, and Poles, while in the same breath they insist that the mien shall be forcibly assimilated to that Anglo- Saxon tradition which they unquestioningly label 'American.'

As the unpleasant truth has come upon us that assimilation in this country was proceeding on lines very different from those we had marked out for it, we found ourselves inclined to blame those who were thwarting our prophecies. The truth became culpable. We blamed the war, we blamed the Germans. And then we discovered with a moral shock that these movements had been making great headway before the war even began. We found that the tendency, reprehensible and paradoxical as it might be, has been for the national clusters of immigrants, as they became more and more firmly established and more and more prosperous, to cultivate more and more assiduously the literatures and cultural traditions of their homelands. Assimilation, in other words, instead of washing out the memories of Europe, made them more and more intensely real. Just as these clusters became more and more objectively American, did they become more and more German or Scandinavian or Bohemian or Polish.

To face the fact that our aliens are already strong enough to take a share in the direction of their own destiny, and that the strong cultural movements represented by the foreign press, schools, and colonies are a challenge to our facile attempts, is not, however, to admit the failure of Americanization. It is not to fear the failure of democracy. It is rather to urge us to an investigation of what Americanism may rightly mean. It is to ask ourselves whether our ideal has been broad or narrow -- whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the 'melting- pot.' Surely we cannot be certain of our spiritual democracy when, claiming to melt the nations within us to a comprehension of our free and democratic institutions, we fly into panic at the first sign of their own will and tendency. We act as if we wanted Americanization to take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed. All our elaborate machinery of settlement and school and union, of social and political naturalization, however, will move with friction just in so far as it neglects to take into account this strong and virile insistence that America shall be what the immigrant will have a hand in making it, and not what a ruling class, descendant of those British stocks which were the first permanent immigrants, decide that America shall be made. This is the condition which confronts us, and which demands a clear and general readjustment of our attitude and our ideal.

The primary purpose of the passage is most likely to __________________.

Possible Answers:

Redefine what the founders intended democracy to look like  

Defend the idea of America as a “melting pot”

Denounce the recent trend against cultural assimilation

Call for a narrower definition of what it means to be American

Highlight how anti-assimilationism is a true expression of democracy

Correct answer:

Highlight how anti-assimilationism is a true expression of democracy

Explanation:

In the passage, Bourne argues that immigrants' resistance to assimilating is democracy in action. He thus is not denouncing those who do not assimilate, nor is he calling for either the maintaining of the "melting pot" vision of the American public or a narrower definition of what it means to be American (his definition is broader, in fact). Last, he does not quite want to redefine American democracy- in fact, he is arguing that the original definition allows for what America looked like at the time of Bourne's writing.

Example Question #388 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Trans-National America" by Randolph Bourne (1916)

No reverberatory effect of the great war has caused American public opinion more solicitude than the failure of the 'melting- pot.' The discovery of diverse nationalistic feelings among our great alien population has come to most people as an intense shock. It has brought out the unpleasant inconsistencies of our traditional beliefs. We have had to watch hard-hearted old Brahmins virtuously indignant at the spectacle of the immigrant refusing to be melted, while they jeer at patriots like Mary Antin who write about 'our forefathers.' We have had to listen to publicists who express themselves as stunned by the evidence of vigorous nationalistic and cultural movements in this country among Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians, and Poles, while in the same breath they insist that the mien shall be forcibly assimilated to that Anglo- Saxon tradition which they unquestioningly label 'American.'

As the unpleasant truth has come upon us that assimilation in this country was proceeding on lines very different from those we had marked out for it, we found ourselves inclined to blame those who were thwarting our prophecies. The truth became culpable. We blamed the war, we blamed the Germans. And then we discovered with a moral shock that these movements had been making great headway before the war even began. We found that the tendency, reprehensible and paradoxical as it might be, has been for the national clusters of immigrants, as they became more and more firmly established and more and more prosperous, to cultivate more and more assiduously the literatures and cultural traditions of their homelands. Assimilation, in other words, instead of washing out the memories of Europe, made them more and more intensely real. Just as these clusters became more and more objectively American, did they become more and more German or Scandinavian or Bohemian or Polish.

To face the fact that our aliens are already strong enough to take a share in the direction of their own destiny, and that the strong cultural movements represented by the foreign press, schools, and colonies are a challenge to our facile attempts, is not, however, to admit the failure of Americanization. It is not to fear the failure of democracy. It is rather to urge us to an investigation of what Americanism may rightly mean. It is to ask ourselves whether our ideal has been broad or narrow -- whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the 'melting- pot.' Surely we cannot be certain of our spiritual democracy when, claiming to melt the nations within us to a comprehension of our free and democratic institutions, we fly into panic at the first sign of their own will and tendency. We act as if we wanted Americanization to take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed. All our elaborate machinery of settlement and school and union, of social and political naturalization, however, will move with friction just in so far as it neglects to take into account this strong and virile insistence that America shall be what the immigrant will have a hand in making it, and not what a ruling class, descendant of those British stocks which were the first permanent immigrants, decide that America shall be made. This is the condition which confronts us, and which demands a clear and general readjustment of our attitude and our ideal.

The author would agree with which one of the following statements?

Possible Answers:

Uniformity has been a cornerstone of American culture

Immigrants during WWI were more resistant to American values than earlier generations

Immigrants have taken the American ideal of freedom too far

American society is shaped by dynamic, not static factors

America should have no mandated set of shared values

Correct answer:

American society is shaped by dynamic, not static factors

Explanation:

Bourne argues that Americans with recent Anglo-Saxon immigrant backgrounds had lost sight of how they and their ancestors clung to their cultural traditions in much the same way immigrants during WWI were doing. Thus, he would not say that immigrants have pushed their freedoms too far, nor would he say that uniformity is an especially relevant value in American history. However, he would not say that nothing links Americans -- he places high value on a belief in freedom and democracy, even if that looks different to those who criticize him. The answer then is that America is a dynamic, not a static thing, and that his critics are stuck thinking of an America that existed only in the past.

Example Question #389 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Trans-National America" by Randolph Bourne (1916)

No reverberatory effect of the great war has caused American public opinion more solicitude than the failure of the 'melting- pot.' The discovery of diverse nationalistic feelings among our great alien population has come to most people as an intense shock. It has brought out the unpleasant inconsistencies of our traditional beliefs. We have had to watch hard-hearted old Brahmins virtuously indignant at the spectacle of the immigrant refusing to be melted, while they jeer at patriots like Mary Antin who write about 'our forefathers.' We have had to listen to publicists who express themselves as stunned by the evidence of vigorous nationalistic and cultural movements in this country among Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians, and Poles, while in the same breath they insist that the mien shall be forcibly assimilated to that Anglo- Saxon tradition which they unquestioningly label 'American.'

As the unpleasant truth has come upon us that assimilation in this country was proceeding on lines very different from those we had marked out for it, we found ourselves inclined to blame those who were thwarting our prophecies. The truth became culpable. We blamed the war, we blamed the Germans. And then we discovered with a moral shock that these movements had been making great headway before the war even began. We found that the tendency, reprehensible and paradoxical as it might be, has been for the national clusters of immigrants, as they became more and more firmly established and more and more prosperous, to cultivate more and more assiduously the literatures and cultural traditions of their homelands. Assimilation, in other words, instead of washing out the memories of Europe, made them more and more intensely real. Just as these clusters became more and more objectively American, did they become more and more German or Scandinavian or Bohemian or Polish.

To face the fact that our aliens are already strong enough to take a share in the direction of their own destiny, and that the strong cultural movements represented by the foreign press, schools, and colonies are a challenge to our facile attempts, is not, however, to admit the failure of Americanization. It is not to fear the failure of democracy. It is rather to urge us to an investigation of what Americanism may rightly mean. It is to ask ourselves whether our ideal has been broad or narrow -- whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the 'melting- pot.' Surely we cannot be certain of our spiritual democracy when, claiming to melt the nations within us to a comprehension of our free and democratic institutions, we fly into panic at the first sign of their own will and tendency. We act as if we wanted Americanization to take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed. All our elaborate machinery of settlement and school and union, of social and political naturalization, however, will move with friction just in so far as it neglects to take into account this strong and virile insistence that America shall be what the immigrant will have a hand in making it, and not what a ruling class, descendant of those British stocks which were the first permanent immigrants, decide that America shall be made. This is the condition which confronts us, and which demands a clear and general readjustment of our attitude and our ideal.

Which of the following would make the best title for this section?

Possible Answers:

The Failure of Americanization

Creating a Path for Assimilation

Redefining America

The New Melting Pot 

A Cosmopolitan Ideal

Correct answer:

A Cosmopolitan Ideal

Explanation:

Though he doesn't name it in this section, Bourne goes on to argue for a more cosmopolitan way of thinking about America, combining but not mixing cultures. The melting pot image is not useful to Bourne. He also would not argue that Americanization had failed or advocate for a path for assimilation. Last, he is not arguing for a redefinition of America.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors