Literature Thesis Statement Worksheet

Once you've read the story or novel closely, look back over your notes for patterns of questions or ideas that interest you. Have most of your questions been about the characters, how they develop or change?

For example:
If you are reading Conrad's The Secret Agent, do you seem to be most interested in what the author has to say about society? Choose a pattern of ideas and express it in the form of a question and an answer such as the following:

Question: What does Conrad seem to be suggesting about early twentieth-century London society in his novel The Secret Agent?
Answer: Conrad suggests that all classes of society are corrupt.

Pitfalls:
Choosing too many ideas.
Choosing an idea without any support.

Now that you're familiar with the story or novel and have developed a thesis statement, you're ready to choose the evidence you'll use to support your thesis. There are a lot of good ways to do this, but all of them depend on a strong thesis for their direction.

For example:
Here's a student's thesis about Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.

In his novel, The Secret Agent, Conrad uses beast and cannibal imagery to describe the characters and their relationships to each other. This pattern of images suggests that Conrad saw corruption in every level of early twentieth-century London society.

This thesis focuses on the idea of social corruption and the device of imagery. To support this thesis, you would need to find images of beasts and cannibalism within the text.

Thesis and Introduction Worksheet

Katherine Milligan

Thesis Guidelines
Your thesis should...

... make an argument regarding your topic

Tender Buttons

Tender Buttons

    represents both a source of comfort and the threat of banality" is a thesis.

... consist of a strong statement

      -Weak value judgments like "interesting," "good," "bad," or "nice" are too vague to make for an effective thesis.
      -Your thesis should argue a point that is neither generally accepted (Shakespeare was a genius) nor self-evident (Hemingway writes simply).
      -Your thesis should not be too broad for the length of the paper. You cannot argue that "No love story of the twentieth century compares in intensity to Nabokov's

Lolita

      " in four pages. However, a paper of that length probably could effectively assert that "The novel

Lolita

    blurs the line between tenderness and violence."

Sample Thesis Statements

There are many similarities and differences between Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty.

Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women; Lolita is no exception.

Morality is not the issue in Lolita; artistry is.

Lolita is a novel about America.

Lolita is a novel about the corruption of America.

In Lolita, the corruption of America merely provides a convenient cover-up for Humbert Humbert's personal perversion.

Lolita is an interesting novel, although the narrator, Humbert Humbert, is evil.

Love is dead in the twentieth century novel.

Although World War II is never mentioned in Lolita, its influence on American society motivates the novel.

Introduction Guidelines
Your introduction should...

... lay the logical foundation for your paper.

      -present relevant concepts and define key terms. E.g. a paper on love and passion in

Lolita

      should begin with an explanation of the distinction between the two terms.
    -introduce your thesis. You don't have to give all your ideas away right at the beginning -- in fact, it's often more effective to save your conclusive point till the end -- but you must, at the very least, sketch the parameters of the question. What is it you plan to argue or prove in the paper?

... hook your reader.
mandatory

      -know what you're trying to argue. Have a thesis.
    -write succinctly and specifically. Say what your argument is and what steps you're going to take to prove it.

optional

      -use a key quotation. This does not have to be from the text on which you are writing. Cite it, unpack it, explain why it is relevant, and use it to formulate your thesis. Be sure the quotation is central to your argument and avoid cliches (e.g. "Love is blind").
      n.b. a quote from another source that begins a text is called an epigraph.
      -begin with a rhetorical question. The question should not be gratuitous, but should suggest to your reader the terms or the implications of the debate.
      -use creative writing techniques. Describe a particularly pertinent scene or situation from the text, emphasizing themes, images, etc. that will support your point. Be careful with this strategy. You rarely get mediocre results: your intro will turn out to be either splendid or abysmal.
      -give the larger context on which your thesis draws (but avoid generalization).
      Acceptable: Recent media attention to the murders of Megan Kanka and Jon Benet Ramsey has heightened public awareness about child sexual abuse. Thus the controversy over the new film version of Lolita has proved timely.
      Unacceptable: Child sexual abuse has always been a moral issue in the United States.
    -define a key term. E.g. Passion is fundamentally a self-centered emotion.

Sample Introductions

There are many similarities and differences between the characters of Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty. By examining these similarities and differences, several important ideas can be seen. Both characters are obsessive and paranoid, but Quilty is more successful than Humbert.

Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women. In the novel "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, the main character is seduced by a nymphet, Dolores Haze. He has always been attracted to nymphets due to a traumatic experience with his first love, Annabel, when he was young himself. After Lolita's mother dies, he has her all to himself, and they take two trips across the country, staying in motels and sightseeing. In the end, he is deceived by Lolita, who runs away with Quilty and later gets pregnant and marries someone else. This demonstrates how love is always doomed to failure, since his possession of her was always an illusion.

In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov writes that his novel has "no moral in tow" (314). Regardless of whether we agree with Nabokov, reducing Lolita to a discussion of moral issues misses the point. Lolita is a work of fiction and must be treated as such. The first few pages of the novel establish this point beyond the shadow of a doubt by alluding to such literary predecessors as Poe, Merimee, Dante, Proust, and Keats. Without understanding these allusions, the novel itself cannot be understood.

Is Lolita a love story? Answering this question in the affirmative requires a redefinition of the term "love." After all, Humbert Humbert causes more misery than joy to the object of his affections. Lolita's suffering, both mental and physical, is apparent throughout the novel. And yet Humbert's obsession with her goes beyond mere lust or passion. He is both tender and constant in his affections. As a close examination of the end of the novel will show, Humbert Humbert is a lover as well as a rapist.

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