Quiz 4: Determining Purpose

Copyright 2004 © Laraine Flemming.
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Directions: Read each selection. Then circle the appropriate letter to identify the author's purpose.

Note: Look over the opening list of vocabulary words to make sure you know what they mean when they appear in the selection.

Reading 1: Losing Curtis Mayfield

Words to Watch For

singular: special, unique
distinctive: special, individual
lush: rich

On December 26, 1999, songwriter and singer Curtis Mayfield died at the age of 57. Upon hearing of his death, many people mourned both the man and the musician. Possessed of singular musical gifts, Mayfield was not given to bragging or pretense. Despite a string of hit records and a tragic accident that left him paralyzed, he remained, until the end of his days, a generous and modest man who cared not just about his own well-being but also about the well-being of others.

In the 1960s, as the lead vocalist for the group known as the Impressions, Mayfield developed a distinctive style that combined gospel-influenced vocals with lush string and horn arrangements. Even more impressive than his musical style, however, was his ability to write complex, thoughtful and, above all, inspirational lyrics. A supporter of the civil rights movement that was sweeping the country, Mayfield composed songs—"Keep on Pushing," "People Get Ready," and "Amen"—that made civil rights themes a part of popular music.

By 1970, Mayfield left the Impressions to pursue a solo career and further explore connections between his politics and his music. His 1970 solo debut album Curtis reflected that goal in a sequence of powerful songs like "Move On Up" and "We People Who Are Darker than Blue." Although Mayfield never bragged about it, he most certainly paved the way for the politically charged lyrics of later singer/songwriters like Marvin Gaye ("What's Going On" ) and Stevie Wonder ("Innervisions").

Although Mayfield is probably best known for the soundtrack he wrote to accompany Gordon Parks's movie Superfly (1972), it's typical of the man that he was never wholly comfortable with the movie's success. From Mayfield's perspective, the movie did not focus enough on the social issues he considered most important, urban poverty and the African American struggle for civil rights. In a music world where young musicians all too often make headlines for the wrong reasons, Curtis Mayfield's quiet dedication to a just society will be deeply missed.


a. To inform
b. To persuade

Reading 2: Galveston's Killer Storm

Words to Watch For

blithely: without a care
bigotry: prejudice
bureaucratic: departmental

When the century began, Galveston, Texas was a thriving city, a cotton port of 38,000 just about ready to become the Gulf gateway to the Southwest. Yet tragically, within less than year, Galveston's shining future ground to a sudden halt. On September 8, 1900, Galveston, Texas was struck by a howling hurricane that brought 150 mph winds in its wake. The killer storm tore off roofs, shattered walls and splintered church steeples. Depending on the source cited, between 5,000 and 10,000 people died as a result of the hurricane. Pictures taken after the storm show corpses lying in a pile of rubble that had once been Galveston.

Even more horrifying than the tragic consequences of the storm is the very real possibility that many of those consequences could have been avoided. For one thing, many of Galveston's turn-of-the century citizens simply didn't believe that they could be in danger. Initially at least, they viewed the storm as a source of entertainment. Taking streetcars to the beachfront, they watched with excitement as the towering waves rose to spectacular heights. Back in the city, children sailed washtubs in the slowly flooding streets.

But the citizens of Galveston, many of whom died during the storm, certainly cannot be blamed for their stubborn unwillingness to believe in the hurricane's very real threat. If anything, they had been encouraged in their disbelief by Isaac Cline, who headed the U.S. Weather Bureau's Galveston office. Nine years before, in 1891, Cline had written an article dismissing the possibility of a killer storm. When such a storm finally arrived, he apparently found it hard to contradict his own claims. Although his memoir and several local accounts claim that Cline recognized his error once the hurricane was pounding the city and that he patrolled the beaches with warnings, Erik Larson, the author of Isaac's Storm, an account of the Galveston tragedy, points out that no survivor accounts of the storm recall any warnings from Cline.

Even more tragically, weather forecasters in Washington had blithely ignored the storm warnings of the Cuban Weather Bureau. In a perfect illustration of how bigotry so often leads to disaster, the Washington Bureau attributed the warnings to the supposed tendency of Latins to be excitable. While bodies were washing up on shore in Galveston, one Weather Bureau official was still claiming that the hurricane could not have been the one cited by Cubans. In his eyes, it just wasn't possible that Cuba was right and Washington was wrong. Sadly, the city of Galveston paid a terrible price for this bureaucratic blindness. (Source for the facts in this selection: Ken Ringle, "In the Eye of the Storm," The Washington Post, 8/5/99, p.C1)


a. To inform
b. To persuade

Reading 3: Punishing Deserters

Words to Watch For

virtual: in effect but not in reality
infractions: violations of rules
excruciatingly: intensely

During the Civil War, desertion was a virtual epidemic. On the Union side, close to 300,000 men dropped their guns and fled. The Confederacy lost fewer men but still the number of deserters was large—over 10,000 soldiers tried to walk any from the Southern cause. By the middle of the war, around 5,000 soldiers were deserting each and every month. While Army regulations at the time were rather relaxed when it came to infractions like drinking on duty, they were undeniably harsh when it came to desertion. On paper, desertion was punishable by death, but commanders, even the harshest of them, found it hard to shoot one of their own soldiers. During the course of the war, only a few hundred men were shot for deserting. Most were subject to humiliating and painful punishments, but intentionally left alive and capable of continued service to the cause.

One such punishment was called "bucking." The unlucky deserter would have his wrists tightly tied and forced over his knees. A stick forced between the arms and knees kept him bent over in an excruciatingly painful position often for days at a time. Soldiers who deserted were also punished by being gagged with a bayonet tied with twine across their open mouths. They were also hung by their thumbs, forced to carry heavy packs for miles, or made to walk half-naked in freezing weather.

But perhaps the most dreaded punishment for desertion was branding. A solider who had deserted and been caught would have the letter "D" burned or cut into his buttock or hip. In some cases, he was branded on the face. Regulations concerning the branding for desertion were quite specific. The letter had to be one and a half inches high, and it had to be either burned on with a branding iron or cut into the skin with a razor. After the wound was made, it was to be filled with black powder. The powder increased the pain of the punishment. More to the point, it ensured that the deserter's brand would last forever.

It is a measure of the desperation and terror felt by soldiers of both sides that, despite the threat of terrible punishments, they still dropped their guns and ran.


a. To inform
b. To persuade

Reading 4: The Legendary Pony Express

Words to Watch For

enterprising: willing to undertake new projects
exploits: adventures
obsolete: out-of-date

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Pony Express was created for businessmen and merchants who had urgent documents or messages that couldn't wait for stagecoach delivery. By coach, mail took weeks to travel across country, simply too long for businesses to wait. Conscious of the need for speed, an enterprising stage coach company started the Pony Express. As a mail carrier, the Pony Express lasted little more than a year and a half—from April 3, 1860 until November 20, 1861—but it made a lasting impression on the national consciousness.

Beginning on April 3, every Wednesday and Saturday two riders would leave from different parts of the country. One would leave Sacramento, California heading east at noon while another would depart from St. Joseph, Missouri at eight in the morning heading west. Throughout the day, a rider might cover anywhere from 75 to 100 miles. In his saddlebags were 20 pounds of letters wrapped in oilskin so they didn't get wet when the rider had to race through a stream or a river. When the rider arrived at what was called a "home station," he would pass his letters on to a new rider and sleep until an incoming rider delivered a new bag full of letters. At that point, the Pony Express rider would jump on a horse and set off the way he had come. So daring were some of the young riders that their exploits began to make their way into children's bedtime stories. The writer Mark Twain, in his travel memoir Roughing It, describes the excitement generated by the sight of the Pony Express riders racing across the landscape.

On October 24, 1861, the transcontinental telegraph line was completed. Almost at that moment, the speed offered by the Pony Express had become outdated. Merchants and businessmen in a hurry could now send a telegram; they didn't need a reckless young rider racing across country to deliver an important message. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the Pony Express became obsolete. Yet despite its short-lived existence, the Pony Express became the source for songs, stories, and legends some of which still exist to this very day.


a. To inform
b. To persuade

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