Holy Crap! It’s Wednesday again ALREADY?!
This question was posed by a reader who specifically asked for anonymity – I’m not sure why, exactly, as there’s really nothing incriminating in it, but you ask and I honor – so I’m just going to post the question and leave it at that. This was on a high school English test:
Rewrite this THESIS sentence with the correct verb tenses.
In Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposed humanity’s tendency to act selfishly even when faced with dire circumstances that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives and create irrational fear.
My daughter changed it to-
In Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposes humanity’s tendency to act selfishly even when faced with dire circumstances that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives and create irrational fear.
The three words that are underlined were underlined by her teacher as being incorrect- and she was marked down half a point. I KNOW her corrected sentence STILL is wrong, but I’m not sure WHY and I don’t think that the three words underlined are necessarily wrong.
Can you please #1 correct the sentence and #2 explain why the teacher underlined those three words?
THANK you so much.
I’m not making any promises that anything I say is right (you should all know by now that this disclaimer is implied in pretty much everything I say), but here’s what I think:
somewhere in the course of the sentence, the topic shifts. In the first part of the construction, we’re talking about how Golding is portraying humanity (and, by the way, your daughter was 100% correct in changing the “exposed” to “exposes.” We English types always talk about lit. in the present tense), but somewhere after that, the sentence shifts to talking specifically about the boys in the story.
Humanity is a collective noun and, as such, takes a singular verb, which is why I don’t really have a problem with the even when faced bit. It would be fine to say “Humanity has a tendency to act selfishly, even when faced with circumstances where cooperation is required” or something to that effect.
I suppose the argument could be made that, since Golding is the actual SUBJECT of the sentence, that he is, in fact, the one being faced with circumstances. If I were asked to change the sentence on an exam, I’d do more than change verb tenses – this is just a rotten sentence. I’d probably do something like this, and then have a long and probably heated conversation with the teacher afterward:
In Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposes humanity’s tendency to act selfishly in the face of dire circumstances, and shows that even children bear out that tendency when he puts his characters in situations that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives, and create irrational fear.
I’m not 100% satisfied with that, even, but it’s better than what we started with. Anyone else want to take a shot at this?
Happy Wednesday, Everyone! Next week, a question from O’Mama!