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PURPOSE AND POINT OF VIEW

Purposes of Paragraphs Within Passages

In some cases, you may need to find the purpose that a particular paragraph serves within an entire passage. In order to find that purpose, you’ll want to examine both what comes before and what comes after, just as you would if you were finding the purpose of a sentence within a paragraph. Consider the passage below.

On March 5, 1867, the Moravian from the Montreal Ocean Company, ran its starboard quarter afoul of a rock marked on no charts of these waterways. Under the combined efforts of wind and 400-horsepower steam, it was traveling at a speed of thirteen knots. Without the high quality of its hull, the Moravian would surely have split open from this collision and gone down together with those 237 passengers it was bringing back from Canada.

This accident happened around five o’clock in the morning, just as day was beginning to break. The officers on watch rushed to the craft’s stern. They examined the ocean with the most scrupulous care. They saw nothing except a strong eddy breaking three cable lengths out, as if those sheets of water had been violently churned. The site’s exact bearings were taken, and the Moravian continued on course apparently undamaged. Had it run afoul of an underwater rock or the wreckage of some enormous derelict ship? They were unable to say. But when they examined its undersides in the service yard, they discovered that part of its keel had been smashed.

This occurrence, extremely serious in itself, might perhaps have been forgotten like so many others, if three weeks later it hadn’t been reenacted under identical conditions. Only, thanks to the nationality of the ship victimized by this new ramming, and thanks to the reputation of the company to which this ship belonged, the event caused an immense uproar.

No one is unaware of the name of that famous English ship owner, Cunard. In 1840 this shrewd industrialist founded a postal service between Liverpool and Halifax, featuring three wooden ships with 400-horsepower paddle wheels and a burden of 1,162 metric tons. Eight years later, the company’s assets were increased by four 650-horsepower ships at 1,820 metric tons, and in two more years, by two other vessels of still greater power and tonnage. In 1853 the Cunard Co., whose mail-carrying charter had just been renewed, successively added to its assets the Arabia, the Persia, the China, the Scotia, the Java, and the Russia, all ships of top speed and, after the Great Eastern, the biggest ever to plow the seas. So in 1867 this company owned twelve ships, eight with paddle wheels and four with propellers.

No transoceanic navigational undertaking has been conducted with more ability, no business dealings have been crowned with greater success. Given this, no one will be astonished at the uproar provoked by this accident involving one of its finest steamers.

Can you identify the purpose of the fourth paragraph in the passage? Use the questions below to find that purpose.

1. What is the main topic of the fourth paragraph?

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2. What does the author say about that topic?

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3. What does the author discuss in the paragraph immediately before this paragraph?

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4. What does the author discuss in the paragraph immediately following this paragraph?

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5.   Consider how these thoughts relate to one another. Why did the author write the fourth paragraph?

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The topic of the fourth paragraph is the Cunard Company. What does the author say about this company? He says that it is famous; it has large, powerful ships, and assets all over the world. In the paragraph immediately before the fourth paragraph, the author states that because of the company involved in the second accident, that accident caused an enormous uproar. In the paragraph immediately following the fourth paragraph, the author again emphasizes that the Cunard Company was successful, which is why no one was surprised that the Cunard ship’s accident caused such an uproar. So, why did the author write the fourth paragraph? He must have written it to provide evidence to explain why the company was important and to explain why the ship’s crash caused such concern. Without the fourth paragraph, you would not know why the Cunard Company was so important.

Notice that in the preceding example, you might not have been able to find the purpose of the fourth paragraph if you had not read the paragraphs immediately before and immediately after the fourth paragraph. Understanding context is important!