How to Write the Thesis Statement in an essay of literary analysis functions as follows



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How to Write the Thesis Statement

The thesis statement in an essay of literary analysis functions as follows:

  • It narrows your topic to a central idea—all topic sentences and body paragraphs will develop and support this idea.
  • It asserts something specific and significant about the topic.
  • It asserts an arguable claim.
  • It conveys your expert opinion and analyses.
  • It may preview how your ideas will be arranged within your essay (in other words, in what order your ideas appear within the body).
  • It is logical, precise, and reasonable.
  • It responds to how and why questions.

Here are some strategies for formulating a thesis statement:

  • I. Decode the writing prompt: Pay close attention to the language of the prompt. Underline or highlight words in the prompt that indicate specific areas of focus. Use the language of the prompt while composing your thesis, without being repetitive. Remember to address ALL aspects of the prompt, not just the parts you are most interested in.

II. Take inventory: Determine which supporting details or passages you will use in the body of your essay and ask yourself if each example really proves what you claim in your thesis. Avoid selecting arbitrary quotes or choosing quotes whose accompanying analysis may undermine or contradict what you claim in the thesis.

  • II. Take inventory: Determine which supporting details or passages you will use in the body of your essay and ask yourself if each example really proves what you claim in your thesis. Avoid selecting arbitrary quotes or choosing quotes whose accompanying analysis may undermine or contradict what you claim in the thesis.

III. Identify Relationships, Distinctions, & Categories: Once you have a variety of supporting details, determine what aspects of the thesis statement each detail supports. These distinctions or categories will be used to determine what your topic sentences and body paragraphs will be made up of.

  • III. Identify Relationships, Distinctions, & Categories: Once you have a variety of supporting details, determine what aspects of the thesis statement each detail supports. These distinctions or categories will be used to determine what your topic sentences and body paragraphs will be made up of.

IV. Revise and Draft: Revise and rewrite the thesis as many times as needed to achieve satisfaction. Begin with a “working thesis” statement that you are not married to. Plan to make revisions as you work through your essay. Frequently refer back to the original prompt to be sure that you are responding to all of the requirements. You may find that after you have written the body paragraphs, your paper has taken a different direction than you initially started out with. In that case, you must revise your thesis statement to suit the rest of your essay.

  • IV. Revise and Draft: Revise and rewrite the thesis as many times as needed to achieve satisfaction. Begin with a “working thesis” statement that you are not married to. Plan to make revisions as you work through your essay. Frequently refer back to the original prompt to be sure that you are responding to all of the requirements. You may find that after you have written the body paragraphs, your paper has taken a different direction than you initially started out with. In that case, you must revise your thesis statement to suit the rest of your essay.

Consider the following checklist when composing a thesis statement:

  • Do not use first-person point of view unless you are writing an autobiographical or personal narrative. Formal literary analysis requires the use of third-person point of view.
  • □ The thesis statement should be limited to one sentence.
  • □ Refer to the writing prompt frequently and be sure that your thesis clearly responds to all aspects of the writing prompt.

□ The thesis statement is located at the end of the introductory paragraph in a typical literary analysis essay.

  • □ The thesis statement is located at the end of the introductory paragraph in a typical literary analysis essay.
  • □ The thesis isa “roadmap” for the ideas presented in the essay; it informs the reader what will be analyzed and in what order.
  • □ The thesis statement presents ideas in logical, clear, and specific language; it avoids vague or abstract language, poor diction, and slang.

□ The thesis statement is analytical, not factual; it conveys the writer’s expert opinion, or assertion, and avoids stating the obvious. It answers how and why questions.

  • □ The thesis statement is analytical, not factual; it conveys the writer’s expert opinion, or assertion, and avoids stating the obvious. It answers how and why questions.
  • □ The thesis statement is logical, precise, specific, and reasonable.

Sample Thesis Statements:

  • Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the following samples. Refer to the checklist in your evaluations.

Sample 1:

  • “The controlling theme of memory develops meaning throughout Morrison’s Beloved as a narrative technique, weaving insight and emotion into the characters, plot, and symbols.”

Sample 2:

  • “Ana Castillo’s short story “Subtitles” explores the problematic and contradictory nature of Chicana identity in a dominant Anglo-American society through the literary conventions of metaphor, point of view, figurative language, and symbolism.”

Sample 3:

  • “In addition to their acts of bravery, the contrasting characteristics of pride and humility qualify Beowulf and Roland as heroic figures in the epic works Beowulf and The Song of Roland.

Sample 4:

  • “In Joyce’s most well-known novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he employs language as a powerful medium by which he chronicles and qualifies his hero’s internal journey and transformation. For each new phase of life’s journey, Stephen Dedalus embarks on a new phase of language that defines and details his physical, intellectual, and emotional development as an artist.”

Sample 5:

  • “Chopin’s protagonist Edna Pontellier transforms within her roles as wife and mother, from outward conformity and submission to complete rebellion and defiance against societal expectations.”

Sample 6:

  • “In Luis Rodriguez’s autobiographical novel Always Running he depicts the impact of negotiating the barriers of the English and Spanish languages in his early adolescence on his identity as a Chicano-American.”

Examples of weak thesis statements:

  • 1. The Vague Thesis:
  • “Queen Gertrude is an interesting character.”
  • - “Interesting” is an empty adjective.
  • 2. The Too-Obvious Thesis:
  • “Polonius loves to talk.”
  • - This thesis is a description more than an arguable claim.

3. The Too-Narrow Thesis:

  • 3. The Too-Narrow Thesis:
  • “All of Guildenstern lines could just as easily have been spoken by Rosencrantz.”
  • - Aside from being speculative, this example is too limited to serve as the basis for an entire paper.

4. The Too-Broad Thesis:

  • 4. The Too-Broad Thesis:
  • “All of Shakespeare’s heroines are witty and brave.”
  • The Old Man and the Sea shows that heroism means not reckless physical courage but endurance.”
  • - Either of these ideas would require a book to develop, and even then it would be over-generalized and unprovable.

5. The Illogical Thesis:

  • 5. The Illogical Thesis:
  • Avoid unqualified generalizations: always, never, everyone, nobody. Such statements make the reader think of various exceptions.
  • Avoid arguing matters of taste as though they were provable.
  • Gone with the Wind is the most touching novel ever written.”
  • - Like unqualified generalizations, this thesis creates a strong reaction, perhaps even resistance, in the reader. This thesis is also terribly cliché.

Avoid contradictions.

  • Avoid contradictions.
  • “Macbeth’s actions make him seem like a bad king. He isn’t really all bad but in many ways he is.”
  • - Aside from terrible diction, this undermines the writer’s authority and comes across as confused thinking.
  • - Expressing contrast, however, can be effective in a thesis as part of an arguable claim. See the following example:

“As a king, Macbeth is responsible for evil actions, but he also exhibits character strengths. Though he is a tyrant, he is also a decisive and competent ruler.”

  • “As a king, Macbeth is responsible for evil actions, but he also exhibits character strengths. Though he is a tyrant, he is also a decisive and competent ruler.”
  • - Notice that though contrast is expressed here, the emphasis is effective because said contrast is part of an established arguable claim.

The thesis is an arguable claim:

  • The thesis must assert an argument that could be disputed.
  • However, you as the writer, will prove your argument through logical supporting sub-points (topic sentences) and supporting evidence (text citation, or quotes).
  • Think of yourself as a lawyer trying to convince your reader that your stand on the topic is logical, insightful, and complete.


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