Quiz 8:
Purpose, Tone and Figurative Language

Copyright 2000 © Laraine Flemming.
Copyright is granted exclusively to instructors and students using textbooks written by Laraine Flemming. General distribution and redistribution are strictly prohibited.

Directions: Read the following selections. Then answer the accompanying questions.

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

1. Hurray for Oprah!

Words to Watch for:

languishing: failing, standing empty
clout: influence
perish: destroy
longitudinal: long-term
arbiters: judges

1 On November 17, 1999 talk show host Oprah Winfrey received a special gold medal from the prestigious National Book Foundation. In the words of a foundation spokesperson, the award was given in honor of her "influential contribution to reading and books." It's safe to say the foundation probably never expected the heated controversy that followed this announcement. Suddenly, intellectuals of every stripe—real, imagined, and pseudo—were debating the merits and drawbacks of Oprah's award.

2 As a dedicated reader of everything from cereal boxes to the novels of Henry James, I too would like to throw my hat in the ring and offer an opinion. With the exception of the marvelous Toni Morrison, I don't especially share Oprah's taste in writers; that fact notwithstanding, I think she richly deserves her award, for she has done something both amazing and wonderful. In an era of declining book sales and languishing libraries, she has persuaded millions of people to buy, read, and, above all, passionately discuss books. Moreover, her televised book discussions have made respected authors like Kaye Gibbons and Bernhard Schlink popular figures with an all but ready-made audience for their next book. She has done much the same for newcomers like Edwidge Danticat and Wally Lamb. Relatively unknown before Oprah drew attention to them, the books of both writers flew off the shelves once she made them book club choices. Given this trio of accomplishments, it's hard to imagine who might quarrel with the National Book Foundation's decision. Yet, as it turns out, Oprah's detractors are many and vocal.

3 Critics of Winfrey's award insist that she sets off a book-buying frenzy with each new selection, a fact that gives her way too much clout with the publishing industry, members of which openly court her in order to get positioned on her list of favorite books. Then there's the argument that she is inflicting her personal tastes on an unsuspecting and sheep-like public apparently incapable of deciding that they do not like an Oprah-chosen book. According to this perspective, people should only read books that have been suggested by established book reviewers and well-known writers, but a talk-show host, perish the thought! If these criticisms weren't expressed so frequently and with such deadly earnestness, they would seem almost ironic. In a nation obsessed with television, how can it possibly be a bad thing for books to become more popular. And why is it so terrible that so many people are reading books, lots of books, on Oprah's recommendation? As Mary Elizabeth Williams points out in a November issue of Salon, the Internet magazine, readers aren't born, they are "made when someone takes the time to nurture curiosity and other helpful suggestions along the way." Before Oprah, who in the publishing industry or literary community took the time to pitch books to the daytime television audience? No one, that's who. Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble bought air time at night, not in the afternoon. It was generally assumed that daytime television watchers were content with soap operas and couldn't handle anything deeper or more profound.

4 Even more dubious is the criticism levelled by Gavin McNett, another Salon contributor. McNett insists there's no sign that fans of Oprah's book club are "branching off to read anything else in great profusion--no fiction, nonfiction, or magazines." Yet with all due respect to Mr. McNett, how would he or anyone else know that to be true? There has been no longitudinal study researching the effects of Oprah's book club on her reading public. Who's to say that some of her members haven't gone from reading Breena Clarke's River, Cross My Heart, with its Washington setting, to picking up a copy of Gore Vidal's Lincoln, which also features the overheated world of politics.

5 Call me a cynic, but I think the outrage over Oprah's award has a source more selfish than concern over the reading habits she has nurtured in her audience. For the journal editors and book reviewers who have long considered themselves arbiters of literary taste in America, it must be tough to discover that a talk-show host with no particular literary training can become a literary taste maker with enough influence to rival and outshine any one of the prestigious figures writing for the New York Review of Books. Take, for example, the case of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. Positively reviewed in The New York Times, Schlink's book had modest sales. Its sales only took off when Oprah chose it for her book club, a fact not lost on anyone concerned about the fate of reading in America.

6 Whatever the motives of Oprah's detractors—and I may well be unfairly imputing to them an envy they never felt—her accomplishment stands on its own merits. She respected he audience enough to share with them her love of books, to assume that they too could find joy in reading. For that alone, she well deserves a medal. (Arnold Hill, The People's Press, December 1, 1999, pp. 16-17)


1. What is the main idea of the reading?

2. What is the purpose of this reading?

a.     to inform
b.     to persuade

3. Which of the following helped you make your decision?

a.     the title
b.     the thesis statement
c.     the author's tone
d.     the source of the reading

4. In paragraph 2, what metaphor does the author use to indicate the popularity of Oprah's choices? (Write out the portion of the sentence that contains the metaphor.)

5) How would you describe the author's tone?

a.     worried and solemn
b.     friendly and funny
c.     admiring of Oprah, but critical of her detractors
d.     emotionally neutral

2. Alan Freed Was More Than a Disc Jockey

Words to Watch for:

accessible: reachable, obtainable
predilection: bias, leaning
precarious: shaky

1 Ask anyone under 30 who Alan Freed was, and the response is likely to be a blank stare. Freed may be acknowledged by music critics as the man who helped coin the term "rock-and-roll"; still, few who aren't seriously graying at the temples remember his name. Yet Freed deserves to be remembered and not just for his influence on music. In the '50s, an era when racial segregation was a widely accepted principle, Freed was determinedly colorblind. In love with the rhythm-and blues music made by African American musicians, he made it accessible to everyone, insisting that what mattered was the music, not the color of the musician.

2 In 1951, Alan Freed was a Cleveland disc jockey playing mainstream pop when he happened to see a group of teenagers dancing to rhythm-and-blues. The music had a wild energy and rhythm that immediately enthralled Freed, and he began playing it on his radio show, late at night when sponsors were less likely to complain about Freed's predilection for what some called "race music." In fact, Freed was so worried about being censored for playing rhythm-and-blues that he and a friend, Leo Mintz, invented the term "rock-and-roll," hoping that a new name would keep them on the air. Almost immediately, Freed's selections found an audience and requests for rhythm-and-blues records began pouring in. By 1952, Freed, who now called himself "Moondog," hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, which many consider to be the first rock-and-roll concert. When 25,000 fans tried to push their way into a 10,000-seat capacity arena, a riot almost ensued and Freed had started his climb on the shaky ladder of fame.

3 By 1954 he was hosting a radio show in New York and playing rhythm-and-blues in the daylight hours. Although Freed didn't think of himself as such, he was, in his own way, continuing to crusade for civil rights. In the 1950s, it was a common practice for white artists to cover, or remake, the songs of black artists. The singer Pat Boone, for example, had a major hit when he re-recorded the song "Mabelline," written and first sung by the black artist, Chuck Berry. Even when the originals were better—and they usually were—most disc jockeys would play the white covers rather than the black originals. But Freed was not most disc jockeys. If he thought the original song was better, that's what he played. It was just too bad if the record companies didn't like it, because in the mid-'50s, Alan Freed was too powerful to be controlled.

4 When he got his own television show in 1957, Freed once again bucked the trend. Unlike other hosts, who showcased mostly white artists, Freed insisted on promoting anyone who made a good record, and much of the time that meant featuring black performers. His show was also controversial because it televised integrated audiences. As his biographer John A. Jackson points out, Freed made enemies because he refused to believe that segregation was an idea worth defending: "Here was this white guy bringing blacks and whites together to dance in the 1950s. It was unheard of."

5 Freed also hosted a series of major concerts featuring rhythm-and-blues acts like the Flamingoes and the Moonglows. As a result of those concerts, major record companies recognized there was money to be made from black performers. Although most of them exploited the performers they signed, it was still true that before Alan Freed, record companies in general weren't likely to sign black artists. In a sidewise acknowledgement of their debt to Freed, members of the Flamingoes have since bitterly complained that Freed unfairly took a songwriter's credit for several of their songs, yet still insist that, without his help, they never would have become popular.

6 Alan Freed's brief career was eventually destroyed by a scandal involving disc jockey "payola," the practice of accepting money to promote a particular piece of music. The practice was only illegal in two states, New York and Pennsylvania. In other states, it was considered legal if the revenues were reported to the IRS. But Alan Freed worked out of New York, and Congress didn't much care when he boldly told them that payola was like the money paid by lobbyists: It was a fee for services rendered. If Alan Freed didn't think payola was a bad practice, Congress did; he was found guilty of commercial bribery and fined. More importantly, his reputation as a music promoter was permanently stained, making television and radio sponsors reluctant to have their products linked to his name.

7 Some, like the actor Judd Nelson, who played Freed in a made-for-television movie of Freed's life, believe that the payola scandal was only an excuse to destroy Freed because of his refusal to maintain the practice of segregation in the music industry. Although such a conspiracy theory seems a bit far-fetched, it is true that the FBI had a file on Freed because he supported black performers and encouraged his enormous audience to do the same. Yet, to be admired for his civil rights record, Freed need not be seen as a hero, unblemished by any hint of corrupt or unethical behavior. Whatever the source of the payola scandal and Freed's role in it, he still took an important stand at a time when others in his field did not. As Judd Nelson recently expressed it in a New York Times article on Freed, he "didn't see color, he saw music." In the fifties, that was no small achievement.


1. What is the point of the author's argument?

2. Identify the reasons the author gives in support of that point?

3. Yes or no, does the author respond to critics of her position? ______
If your answer was yes, describe both the criticism and the author's response.


4. How would you describe the author's tone?

a.     sarcastic
b.     admiring
c.     ironic
d.     emotionally neutral

5. In paragraph 2, the author uses a metaphor that compares fame to

What is the point of that comparison?

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