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Reading Comprehension: Practice Question of the Week #6 Answer!

Reading Comprehension: Challenge Question!

I don’t think we’re doing work equivalent to our nineteenth-century novelists or even to some of our early twentieth-century novelists. Beyond that, several things have happened that have constricted us as a group or “trade.” One of them is the movement of the social sciences into the realm of fiction. Anthropology, psychology, and sociology are now using many of fiction’s devices and are forcing us to become more and more private and interior. We have given up the realm of public discourse and the political and social novel to an extent that we may not have realized. We tend to be miniaturists more than we used to be.

We look for the major statement that comes from the metaphor rather than trying to put together the sloppy, all-encompassing novel of a Dreiser, for example. We do less reportage than we used to do in terms of the great social issues. Fortunately, there are exceptions. Novelists are writing about Vietnam. Black women novelists have been writing very social and political material. But, as a generalization, I think it’s true that we’ve constricted our field of vision. We have come into the house, closed the door, and pulled the shade. We’re reporting on what’s going on in the bedroom and in the kitchen but forgetting the street outside and the town and the highway.

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You can do as Jane Austen did, who ignored what was going on around her politically and socially, just to report on the lives of this family of sisters in an English village. Or you can do it on a large social canvas, as Dickens did. That is what we always want to do. The artist isn’t immune to his or her life and times. To a certain extent he or she is conditioned by them and has to overcome them. Ireland was always in Joyce even though he left and wandered around. You see that when you read his work.

What I mean to say is that it’s not just the writers today, although you would expect more of them if you were an artist: It’s everybody. We seem to be living in a state of mind that’s controlling us as a nation but that we haven’t quite defined yet. We’re living a national ideology that’s invisible to us because we’re inside it.

I would rephrase that to say we’ve been living according to premises that we haven’t examined for a long time. Our unexamined premises cause even artists to reflect the conformity of our thinking. For example, many young artists want to get rich painting. They have no passion for painting, just for the painting game. We have young writers who take
up the craft to become famous, so that the doing of it is not what they love, it’s the being of someone doing it. Another example is the level of political discourse in the country as it’s existed in the past eight or ten years—the pieties, the simplistic reliance on the worst impulses we have to make us fearful or easily patriotic, to make us stop thinking.


Which statement best summarizes the author’s point in paragraph four?

  1. Writers today are merely reflecting a national consciousness.
  2. Artists are more critical of art than the average person is.
  3. As a nation, we are unaware of the world around us.
  4. We are being guided by a national ideology that we do not understand because we are part of it.
  5. Writers face the same influences as the general public does.

C is the correct answer!
This question challenges your ability to narrow your scope and summarize one paragraph. (C) is the best choice. The similar language is the key: “that’s invisible to us because we’re inside it” compares to (C), “we are unaware of the world around us.“

In the context of the entire passage (A) could appear to be correct, but the question asks for a summary of the paragraph only.

(B) could be inferred from the paragraph butis merely a part of the paragraph, not the primary point.

(D) seems too general, even vague: (“national ideology”). It is also somewhat demeaning, (“being guided . . . we do not understand”), which is not seemingly the author’s intent.

(E) distorts the meaning of the paragraph. The author speaks to everybody’s “state of mind”—an internal notion—while (E) suggests “outside influences.”
Let us know if you have any questions about the answer and explanation.

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2 Responses to Reading Comprehension: Practice Question of the Week #6 Answer!

  1. Erin June 8, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    Hi! I know this was posted a long time ago, but could you explain further why D is wrong? It’s much less vague than C, and equally demeaning. But D has more support from the passage: It rewords and summarizes the last two sentences of the fourth paragraph. Also, C leaves out half of the author’s point in that paragraph (which is not just that we are unaware, but that that this lack of awareness affects us all). Thanks!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 11, 2014 at 11:00 am #

      Yikes! I’ve never even seen this passage or question before. This came on at the very infancy of the GRE Magoosh product. Not sure how it has eluded my eyes all this time. But you are definitely correct in your reasoning. (C) is way too general. (D) is more spot on. In fact, it’s too spot on–it word for word nearly with a sentence in the passage. This would never happen on the GRE or the SAT or any standardized test. This blog post should be yanked to avoid similar confusion–specific to the passage and about standardized test in general.

      Sorry for any confusion 🙂

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