A Guide to the GRE/Reading Practice 4

Reading Practice 4Edit

While it is often unclear to readers of the novel Flatbush whether the protagonist’s disappointment is more directed at society or her own family, the better view is that the latter is an allegory for the former. The main character, who moves from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn with her parents at the age of three, progressively elucidates the life of crime, gangs, dereliction and decay that awaits her two brothers, and to a lesser extent herself, as they grow older in the city. However, while the novel clearly propounds better education and nurture as a solution, it is unclear whether the novel is primarily faulting the family unit or civilization as a whole. Indeed, the curious shift between the father’s alcoholism and the decay and despair on the streets of Brooklyn in the 1970s confounds and polarizes many readers as to what, if anything, is the reform message in the book. However, it seems that there is a quite natural solution that the family in the story is a metaphor for society itself, and the two themes are part and parcel.

1. Based on the passage, which of the following is true about the novel Flatbush?

Select all that apply.

(A) It has been interpreted as faulting both society and the family unit for social problems.

(B) It primarily blames external and non-familial sources for urban decay in Brooklyn in the 1970s.

(C) Its protagonist is a Puerto Rican native growing up in Brooklyn in the 20th century.

2. Based on the information in the passage, the author of Flatbush would likely agree with which one of the following statements?

Select all that apply.

(A) Better education is a viable solution to problems of crime and urban decay.

(B) Social problems cannot be solved only at the family level.

(C) Problems within familial units are not the sole cause of social problems.

3. As used in the passage, “polarizes” most nearly means

(A) bifurcates

(B) instigates

(C) adjudicates

(D) invigorates

(E) placates


GRE humanities passages can often be some of the worst in terms of verbose, unclear language. Remember to follow language shifts and understand the "hard word" in sentences - that is, subjects, verbs, and verb objects.

It can sometimes help to try and imagine and re-explain what the author is talking about. For example, this passage is about a novel. Try and imagine what it would mean for an author to say that the novel is describing "dereliction."

Answers to Practice QuestionsEdit

1. (A), (C)

Choice (A) can be inferred from lines 20-22, which explains how the book “confounds” readers as to its social message. Answer (B), however, is incorrect. The book does not primarily blame external sources. Based on the passage, the book blames them both equally and uses one as an allegory for the other.

Answer (C) can be inferred - this is stated in lines 6-8. The mention of the 1970s in line 20 also indicates that the book takes place in the 20th century.

2. (A), (C)

Both (A) and (C) can be inferred from lines 12-14, however, choice (B) cannot, for the sole reason that choice (B) states primary. The book doesn't take the position that anything is a primary cause of anything.

3. (A)

“Bifurcates” means splits in half. As used in the passage, it is discussing how the book instills different opinions in its readers. “Instigates” means starts something, usually a conflict, while “adjudicates” means renders judgment on a particular matter, often in the context of a court. “Invigorates” refers to giving new life to something or encouraging it, while “placates” refers to satisfying or pacifying something.