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PURPOSE AND POINT OF VIEW

The Purposes of Sentences in Paragraphs

As you can see, sometimes one or two words can determine the purpose of an entire sentence. Therefore, reading closely and paying attention to the specific wording that authors use is vital to understanding their purposes in writing. At other times, however, looking merely at the words within a sentence may not be enough; you may need to look at the surrounding sentences in order to gain a greater understanding of the context before you can identify the purpose of a thought. Consider the paragraph below.

Who really was responsible for the murder of James Gatz, or as he later became known to the world, Jay Gatsby? In his novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald plainly tells the story of how George Wilson shot and killed Gatsby in mid-afternoon on a summer’s day. However, stating that Wilson killed Gatsby is really only a superficial answer to the question. Wilson may have been the tool that delivered death to Gatsby, but the forces that brought that tool to Gatsby were many and subtle. Greed, misguided idealism, and selfishness all contributed their parts, operating for years behind the scenes to create the final event of Gatsby’s death.

What is the purpose of the sentence below?

Greed, misguided idealism, and selfishness all contributed their parts, operating for years behind the scenes to create the final event of Gatsby’s death.

1. What does the author say?

The author indicates that greed, misguided idealism, and selfishness all helped to cause Gatsby’s death.

2. Why does she make that statement?

In order to understand why the author says this, it’s important to consider what she was discussing immediately before this statement. Consider this earlier sentence.

However, stating that Wilson killed Gatsby is really only a superficial answer to the question.

Here, the author claims that blaming Wilson for Gatsby’s death doesn’t truly explain Gatsby’s death. After that she goes on to mention three things—greed, misguided idealism, and selfishness—that also helped to cause Gatsby’s death. Why does she mention these things, then? The answer must be that she mentions them to support her earlier claim that blaming Wilson for Gatsby’s death doesn’t truly explain Gatsby’s death.

When you are looking for the purpose of a particular sentence within a passage, remember: The sentence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The sentences that come immediately before and immediately after will discuss related ideas. Your job as the reader is to connect those ideas so that you can see how they relate to one another. Once you understand this relationship, you’ll understand the purpose of each sentence.

Now see if you can identify the purpose of a particular sentence on your own. Consider the paragraph below.

The most essential thing in the world for any individual is to understand himself. The next is to understand the other fellow. The truth is that life is largely a problem of running your own car as it was built to be run, and then of getting along with the other drivers on the highway. We come in contact with our fellowmen in all the activities of our lives and what we get out of life depends, to an astounding degree, on our relations with them.

Examine the sentence below, and use the questions that follow to identify the purpose of the sentence. Write your answers in the blank spaces below each question.

The truth is that life is largely a problem of running your own car as it was built to be run, and then of getting along with the other drivers on the highway.

1. What does the author say?

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2. What does the author discuss immediately before this sentence?

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3.   What does the author discuss immediately after this sentence?

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4.   Consider how these thoughts fit together. Why does he or she make that statement?

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In this case, what the author says is that one of the most important issues in life is running your car in the way that it was meant to be run, and that one of the other important issues in life is getting along with other drivers.

Why does the author say this? Consider the two sentences that appear immediately before this sentence. In these sentences, the author discusses how important it is for each of us to understand ourselves, and how important it is for us to understand our neighbors. Now consider the sentence that appears at the end of the paragraph. That sentence states that what we get out of life depends on our relations with other people.

How do these sentences relate to the sentence in question? Since the rest of the paragraph focuses on the importance of understanding ourselves and others, the sentence in question must also be related to the importance of understanding ourselves and others. Therefore, running your own carmust relate to the idea of understanding yourself, and getting along with other drivers must relate to understanding and getting along with others in life. Thus, the author is illustrating her idea by using a metaphor in which she compares driving to life. So the purpose of the sentence must be to provide an illustration of the author’s previous two sentences.

See if you can identify the purpose of a particular phrase on your own. Consider the paragraph below.

I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that someday I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality.

Examine the phrase below and use the questions that follow to identify the purpose of the phrase. Write your answers in the blank spaces below each question.

So far as I can recollect…

1. What does the author say?

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2.   What does the author discuss immediately before this sentence?

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3.   What does the author discuss immediately after this sentence?

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4.   Consider how these thoughts fit together. What is the purpose of the phrase in question?

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Here, what the narrator essentially says is that the information he is giving is true as far as he knows. Why does he say that? Examine the sentences that appear before this phrase. In these sentences he states that he does not know how old he is, and that he might be one hundred years old, but that he cannot tell for sure. Now examine the sentence that appears after that phrase. In that sentence, he states that he appears the same today as he did forty years ago. Both the sentences that appear immediately before and immediately after the phrase in question discuss the idea that the author does not seem to have aged, and he is not certain how old he really is. Therefore, this phrase must also relate to this idea. The purpose of the phrase is to demonstrate that the narrator might be wrong; he is not actually certain how old he is.

Read the paragraph below, and answer the questions that follow.

I shall read your book with trembling for you. Some years ago, when you were beginning to tell me your real name and birthplace, you may remember I stopped you, and preferred to remain ignorant of all. So I continued until the other day, when you read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the time, whether to thank you or not for the sight of them, when I reflected that it was still dangerous, in Massachusetts, for honest men to tell their names! They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the noose practically about their necks. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger surrounding you on all sides. In all the broad lands which the Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no single spot,—however narrow or desolate,—where a fugitive slave can plant himself and say, “I am safe.”

Examine the sentence below and use the questions that follow to identify the purpose of the sentence. Write your answers in the blank spaces below each question.

They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the noose practically about their necks.

1. What does the author say?

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2.   What does the author discuss immediately before this sentence?

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3.   What does the author discuss immediately after this sentence?

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4. Consider how these thoughts fit together. Why did he or she write the sentence in question?

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What the author says is that when the country’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they practically had nooses around their necks. Because a noose is used for hanging, the author must be saying that the founding fathers were in danger. Now consider what the author says immediately before the sentence in question. He states that it was dangerous for men in Massachusetts to reveal their names. Now consider what he says immediately after the sentence in question. Here, he states that the man to whom he is talking is surrounded by danger. So how do these thoughts fit together? The author discusses the fact that the man to whom is he speaking is in danger, and then discusses another instance of people who were in danger. Therefore, he must be using the sentence They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the noose practically about their necks to provide an example of a similar situation in which people were in danger.