Thesis Statements For Response To Literature

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The thesis statement is the center around which the rest of your paper revolves; it is a clear, concise statement of the position you will defend.

Getting Started:

If you’re just beginning to think about a thesis, it may be useful to ask yourself some of the following questions. This list is not exhaustive; anything that helps you consider your text or subject in a complex, unusual, or in-depth manner will get you on the right track:

  • Do I have a gut response to the prompt? Does anything from my reading jump to mind as something that could help me argue one way or another?
  • What is the significance of this text or subject? Why did my professor choose it? How does it fit into the broader themes or goals of the course?
  • How does this text or subject relate to the broader context of the place or time period in which it was written or in which it occurred?
  • Does this text or subject challenge or complicate my ideas about race, class, gender, or religion? About political, carceral, or educational institutions?
  • Does anything in this text seem to not “fit in” with the rest of it? Why could that be?
  • Are there aspects of the text (or two separate texts) which, when I compare and contrast them, can illuminate something about the text(s) that wasn’t clear before?
  • Does the author make any stylistic choices– perspective, word choice, pacing, setting, plot twists, poetic devices– that are crucial to our understanding of the text or subject?

Developing Your Ideas:

At this point you should have some potential ideas, but they don’t have to be pretty yet. Your next goal will be to play with them until you arrive at a single argument that fulfills as many of the above “Components of a Strong Thesis” as possible. See the following examples of weak or unfinished thesis statements:

Setting is an important aspect of Wuthering Heights.

Britain was stable between 1688 and 1783.

The first example is argumentative, but it’s not that argumentative– most critics agree that setting is important to Wuthering Heights. Both examples are too broad. One way to develop them is to consider potential conjunctions that would help you complicate your ideas:
 

See below for examples of stronger or more complete thesis statements. In part due to the addition of conjunctions “because” and “as,” these are more argumentative, more specific, and more complex:

Because the moors in Wuthering Heights are a personification of Heathcliff’s personality, their presence suggests that human emotion and the natural world are intricately entwined in the novel.

Corruption was a major source of stability in Britain between 1688 and 1783, as landed elites controlled every aspect of British government and ensured political stability at the cost of social equality.

I Have a Thesis. Now What?

Once you feel confident about your final thesis statement, you have conquered the most important (and usually, the most difficult) part of writing a paper. Here are two ways your thesis can help you figure out what to do next:

By Sarah Ostrow ’18. Definition of thesis statement adapted from earlier Hamilton College Writing Center Resource “Introductions and Thesis Statements.”
© Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center, Hamilton College

Components of a Strong ThesisComponents of a Weak Thesis
  • Argumentative, debatable
  • Specific
  • Original, goes beyond class discussion
  • Can be supported with textual evidence
  • Answers the prompt
  • Clearly and concisely stated
  • Summarizes, states a fact
  • Broad, makes a generalization
  • Repeats class discussion or other critics
  • Unrelated to or contradicted by the text
  • Unrelated or partial response to prompt
  • Language is vague, wordy

Conjunction

Conjunction’s Purpose

  • Because, so, as
  • But, however, yet, although, despite
  • When, where
  • Unless, except
  • Before, once, until
  • Specifies your reasoning
  • Introduces nuance
  • Confines idea to specific time or place
  • Introduces an exception to your idea
  • Specifies order in which things occur

 

Wuthering Heights Examples

British History
Examples

Gathering evidence: Look back at your text(s) and begin compiling a list of quotations or ideas that would support your thesis statement.

  • Descriptions of the moors
  • Descriptions of Heathcliff, or moments when other characters talk about him
  • Instances of political corruption from 1688-1783 that led to stable government
  • Instances of social inequality from 1688-1783

Considering structure: See if your thesis statement gives you any clues about how to organize your thoughts into body paragraphs.

The moors and Heathcliff can each have their own paragraph. Or separate paragraphs can tackle separate qualities, i.e. the wild nature of both, the morose nature of both, etc.

Political corruption and social inequality can each have their own paragraph. Or, if there are cause-and-effect relationships between specific instances of corruption and inequality, each pair can have its own paragraph.

Introduction

Summary:

This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.

Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2011-10-19 02:27:10

What Makes a Good Literature Paper?

An argument

When you write an extended literary essay, often one requiring research, you are essentially making an argument. You are arguing that your perspective-an interpretation, an evaluative judgment, or a critical evaluation-is a valid one.

A debatable thesis statement

Like any argument paper you have ever written for a first-year composition course, you must have a specific, detailed thesis statement that reveals your perspective, and, like any good argument, your perspective must be one which is debatable.

Examples

You would not want to make an argument of this sort:

Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play about a young man who seeks revenge.

That doesn't say anything-it's basically just a summary and is hardly debatable.

A better thesis would be this:

Hamlet experiences internal conflict because he is in love with his mother.

That is debatable, controversial even. The rest of a paper with this argument as its thesis will be an attempt to show, using specific examples from the text and evidence from scholars, (1) how Hamlet is in love with his mother, (2) why he's in love with her, and (3) what implications there are for reading the play in this manner.

You also want to avoid a thesis statement like this:

Spirituality means different things to different people. King Lear, The Book of Romans, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance each view the spirit differently.

Again, that says nothing that's not already self-evident. Why bother writing a paper about that? You're not writing an essay to list works that have nothing in common other than a general topic like "spirituality." You want to find certain works or authors that, while they may have several differences, do have some specific, unifying point. That point is your thesis.

A better thesis would be this:

Lear, Romans, and Zen each view the soul as the center of human personality.

Then you prove it, using examples from the texts that show that the soul is the center of personality.

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