The author’s primary purpose in the passage is to

In Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry does not reject integration or the economic and moral promise of the American dream; rather, she remains loyal to
this dream while looking, realistically, at its incomplete realization. Once we recognize this dual vision, we can accept the play’s ironic nuances as deliberate social commentaries by Hansberry rather than as the “unintentional” irony that Bigsby attributes to the work. Indeed, a curiously persistent refusal to credit Hansberry with a capacity for intentional irony has led some critics to interpret the play’s thematic conflicts as mere confusion, contradiction, or eclecticism. Isaacs, for example, cannot easily reconcile Hansberry’s intense concern for her race with her ideal of human reconciliation. But the play’s complex view of Black self-esteem and human solidarity as compatible is no more “contradictory” than Du Bois’ famous, well-considered ideal of ethnic self-awareness coexisting with human unity, or Fanon’s emphasis on an ideal internationalism that also accommodates national identities and roles.

The author’s primary purpose in the passage is to

  1. explain some critics’ refusal to consider Raisin in the Sun a deliberately ironic play
  2. suggest that ironic nuances ally Raisin in the Sun with Du Bois’ and Fanon’s writings
  3. analyze the fundamental dramatic conflicts in Raisin in the Sun
  4. emphasize the inclusion of contradictory elements in Raisin in the Sun
  5. affirm the thematic coherence underlying Raisin in the Sun

An important thing to keep in mind about the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE as we use PowerPrep online to study is that it is just that—reading comprehension. In other words, as difficult as it may seem, and it can be pretty tricky, the test makers will always give us all the information we need in the passage to answer the question, even when the question asks us about the author’s primary purpose, like question 7 of the second Verbal section on practice test 1.

Questions that ask about the “primary purpose” or “central argument” of the passage are a type of question we’ve likely dealt with on every standardized test we’ve ever taken: main idea questions. Main idea questions can certainly be tricky because it’s easy for the test makers to create answers that use ideas from the paragraph but that are too specific to one part of the paragraph to reflect the main idea. Alternatively, we should also steer clear of answers that seem vaguely related to the passage but that aren’t quite particular enough to really articulate the main idea of the passage.

To answer a main idea question, we need to read the whole passage. (Quick tip: PowerPrep as well as the GRE will tell us that this passage is associated with questions 7-9, so we may want to do 8 and 9 first so that we have a really good idea of what the passage says before we come back to 7, the main idea question.)

After we read this passage, we might reflect on a couple of big ideas. First, the author presented her view, that the play reflects “ironic nuances” by remaining “loyal to [the American dream] while looking, realistically, at its incomplete realization.” However, she tells us that many critics fail to recognize Hansberry’s “capacity for intentional irony” and therefore do not agree with the author’s interpretation of the work, instead arguing that its central ideas are “confusion, contradiction, or eclecticism.” After giving us an example, the author refutes this idea by providing other examples of similarly complex views from Du Bois and Fanon.

Ok, so it seem like a pretty major part of the passage that the author disagrees with the views of many critics who don’t realize that Hansberry’s work is deliberately ironic and not just a mismatch of contradictions. Let’s see if there’s an answer that reflects something like this.

  • explain some critics’ refusal to consider Raisin in the Sun a deliberately ironic play

This answer does discuss something central to the passage, the views of critics, but it fails to recognize that the author disagrees with these critics, which was also very important. Similarly, the author doesn’t really go into a lot of detail about why critics refuse to recognize Hansberry’s ability to be a ironic. We can eliminate A because this is not the main idea of the passage.

  • suggest that ironic nuances ally Raisin in the Sun with Du Bois’ and Fanon’s writings

Again, this answer hits on ONE idea in the passage, and in this case it’s the closing idea, which makes this answer all the more tempting. However, B does not mention that this is contrary to what critics think. In fact, this idea is too specific to the end of the passage—the author’s point isn’t merely that the “ironic nuances” ally with these other two works, but rather that the “ironic nuances” are deliberate and purposeful, as opposed to what critics may believe. We can eliminate B.

  • analyze the fundamental dramatic conflicts in Raisin in the Sun

Tempting, but what is this answer really implying? This answer actually makes it sound as though the author goes in depth in analyzing the specific tensions provided in the action of the play, but this passage is more about how the play is interpreted by some critics versus how it is interpreted by the author. This answer is actually pretty far off, but somehow it still sounds good because it has related keywords. We can eliminate C.

  • emphasize the inclusion of contradictory elements in Raisin in the Sun

In contrast with answer B, D mentions an idea in the passage but doesn’t get specific enough. The author’s purpose is not merely to emphasize that contradictory elements exist—she and the critics could BOTH agree on that—but rather that these elements were deliberate and not unintentional. We can eliminate D.

  • affirm the thematic coherence underlying Raisin in the Sun

This answer sounds a little vague, but we should note that the conflict of this passage was between the author and other critics. The other critics feel that the play’s themes are contradictory or, in other words, that they lack coherence, while the author maintains that the themes contain deliberate irony and are therefore “compatible.” This answer is very sneaky because without mentioning the “author” or the “critics” specifically, it DOES articulate the author’s argument as opposed to that of other critics. E is, indeed, the main idea of the passage (which is good because we’ve eliminated everything else).

 

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