Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Corn-Pone Opinions
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Corn-Pone Opinions
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

Corn-Pone Opinions

Background Information:
This excerpt, written by the distinguished novelist and social critic Mark Twain, is found in The Portable Mark Twain. By “corn-pone opinions,” Twain meant the tendency of people to abandon any view or belief “which might interfere with their bread and butter... In matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperity.”

I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter...is a most rare thing — if it has indeed ever existed... Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians, why Baptists are Baptists, why Mormons are Mormons, why thieves are thieves, why monarchists are monarchists, why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats... Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value... We all do no end of feeling and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter...is a most rare thing — if it has indeed ever existed...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: People do not think independently, but rather as part of a mass. I firmly believe, based on the evidence I have seen, that people rarely—if ever—think autonomously and rationally about the clothes they wear, the social rules to which they adhere, the books they choose to read, the political or religious views they hold, or indeed about anything whatsoever.




Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians, why Baptists are Baptists, why Mormons are Mormons, why thieves are thieves, why monarchists are monarchists, why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: People maintain their ideological and belief systems because they were raised within those systems, not because they have critically analyzed their beliefs. This truth is exemplified by the fact that people belong to the same religious groups within which they were born. The same sort of indoctrination occurs within any social system: religious, political, or otherwise.




Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: People see themselves as thinking through important political questions, and they do, in fact, “think about” those questions. But rather than think autonomously, they think within the perspectives of their political party. They read to understand their own party’s views, but they do not read dissenting views. People hold fast to their views, but because those views are so narrow in focus, they are essentially worthless.




We all do no end of feeling and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: People often come to situations with a lot of emotional energy, but that energy is mistaken for rational thought. Collectively we validate our group’s beliefs, and we get more emotional energy from sharing group goals and perspectives. We feel more powerful. We call these collective beliefs “public opinion.” We worship our group ideology. We see it as “the truth.” Some even see it as divine truth from God.