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I'm wondering, when having difficulties with the following kind of questions from GRE exercises, what's a suitable way to seek help from the experts in this site:


The following is an excerpt from the GRE verbal exercise.

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 of the passage would probably consider which of the following judgments to be most similar to the reasoning of critics described in bold?

  • (A) The world is certainly flat; therefore, the person proposing to sail around it is unquestionably foolhardy.
  • (B) Radioactivity cannot be directly perceived; therefore, a scientist could not possibly control it in a laboratory.
  • (C) The painter of this picture could not intend it to be funny, therefore, its humor must result from a lack of skill.
  • (D) Traditional social mores are beneficial to culture; therefore, anyone who deviates from them acts destructively.
  • (E) Filmmakers who produce documentaries deal exclusively with facts; therefore, a filmmaker who reinterprets particular events is misleading us.

The possible difficulties may be that students can know the key to the answer, say, C, in the case above, but they don't understand why. How should one ask questions for overcoming such difficulties smartly to seek help?

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Whether a question like this was accepted or rejected by the community depends largely on how the question is framed.

Using the question you have transcribed here, for example, you'd need to be far more specific than simply asking, "Why is the answer (C)?" I think such generalities might be perceived as lazy, vague, or off-topic. This is not a GRE Prep Academy.

It would be far better to ask a specific question that explains why you are wrestling with that particular GRE sample, particularly when your befuddlement is related to English language or usage.

So, for example, if you asked something along these lines:

I focused on what Fanon emphasizes: ideal internationalism that accommodates national identities. Because such identities are based only on non-physical borders, I thought that aligned best with a flat earth. So why is (A) wrong?

then at least you explained where your conundrum was, but this sounds more like a philosophical question than an English question, so I'd probably still vote to close.

On the other hand, if you asked something like this:

I'm pretty sure that the crux of this question lies in the phrase: intentional irony has led some critics to interpret the play’s thematic conflicts as mere confusion, contradiction, or eclecticism.

When I looked up eclecticism in the dictionary, I found it means: making decisions on the basis of what seems best instead of following some single doctrine or style. That confused me; confusion and contradiction seem like negative things, but eclecticism seems positive. Do the critics respect the play's conflicts? Or are they ridiculing them? Maybe eclectic has a negative connotation that I'm not aware of?

In that case, you've asked a question that's much more closely related to English, and framed it in a way that helps everyone clearly see where you are stumbling. Adding the dictionary definition shows that you've done some research on your own before jumping on here to ask your question. The issue is no longer about the answer to the GRE prep question per se, but about a language issue that arose from studying the test question; you might have just as easily found a similar issue reading a respected periodical.

I'd be surprised if such a focused, carefully-researched question was met with derision and summarily closed.

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    This pretty much sums up my position - probably better than I could have phrased it myself. Questions that boil down to "please explain what this [lengthy] passage means" get asked (and, sadly, answered) far too often on ELU. But if [the relevant section of] the passage is quoted purely in order to provide context for asking exactly what's meant by some particular word (such as your excellent choice of eclectic) then that's fine. And, yes - in that specific context, eclecticism does have negative connotations of disorganised, undisciplined, inconsistent. – FumbleFingers Jul 17 '12 at 22:24
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And maybe such a question would more properly belong in English Language Learners, at least after it graduates from the "proposal" stage.

  • Many test prep questions might land over there, I think, but I don't believe this particular one would be a good candidate; it's not really a basic question for beginners. – J.R. Jul 22 '12 at 16:10

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