Passage to analyze:

Tillie Olsen's fiction and essays have been widely and rightly acknowledged as major contributions to American literature. Her work has been particularly valued by contemporary feminists. Yet few of Olsen's readers realize the extent to which her vision and choice of subject are rooted in an earlier literary heritage—the tradition of radical political thought, mostly socialist and anarchist, of the 1910's and 1920's, and the Old Left tradition of the 1930's. I do not mean that one can adequately explain the eloquence of her work in terms of its political origins, or that left-wing politics were the single most important influence on it. My point is that its central consciousness—its profound understanding of class and gender as shaping influences on people's lives—owes much to that earlier literary heritage, a heritage that, in general, has not been sufficiently valued by most contemporary literary critics.

Multiple-choice question:

The primary purpose of the passage is to:

  1. point out a literary heritage to which Olsen's work is related
  2. argue that Olsen's understanding of class and gender is her greatest gift as a writer
  3. acknowledge Olsen's importance as the leading spokesperson for a radical literary heritage
  4. urge literary critics to investigate the origins of a literary heritage
  5. suggest that Olsen's work has been placed in a literary heritage to which it does not belong

I had chosen 3 because his writing influences women. But answer is given 1. Where is my point is wrong?

1 Answer 1


The author makes the point that Olsen is rooted in (i.e. follows, builds on) a radical literary heritage, but not that she is a leading spokesperson for such a heritage. This passage discusses the background of Olsen's work. It does not touch on how important Olsen is, except in the first sentence which isn't specifically about her radical heritage. Thus (3) is wrong.

(1) is correct because the core point of the paragraph is to explain how Olsen's work relates to earlier radical writers and thinkers.

(2) is wrong because the author does not emphasize Olsen's understanding of gender or class. He merely asserts that she wrote about related topics. (4) is borderline: the author does urge readers to be aware of Olsen's literary heritage, but he doesn't specifically urge any investigation. (5) is wrong because the author doesn't claim that Olsen doesn't belong to the feminist heritage where she has been placed: he only claims that this isn't her sole heritage.

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