Thursday, October 11, 2007

4.2--Thesis statements I

A. Here’s the problem:

This is the third and perhaps most important of my big three, along with clutter and commentary (2.7-2.10 & 3.7-3.8). A good thesis tells me you’ve established an interpretation of the text and that you know what you want to prove. A paper that opens without a clear statement of its central thesis sends a different message: “I don’t understand the work of literature or the question you’ve asked me, so I’m going to fake my way through this paper in the desperate hope you won’t notice.” Fortunately, I always notice. A good thesis is the first thing I look for in a paper.

B. What to do:

As you work on a paper, keep asking yourself, “Self—what am I trying to prove here?” Keep asking that question until you can answer it in a single sentence. Then rewrite that sentence using more specific words. Keep at it during revision until that sentence is the most precise statement of your central interpretation you can manage. Then check to make sure every paragraph in the paper supports and develops that thesis. I know it sounds like a lot, and it is—but it’s worth the effort.

C. Example: Elizabeth’s gradual realization coincides with her developing love for Mr. Darcy and her realization of her true feelings. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth is the real basis of the title of the book and is played out through the book.

Revised Version: Elizabeth’s feelings change from resentment to love, from recognizing how hasty she had been to understanding how well suited she and Darcy are. In order for these changes to occur, Elizabeth must come to understand her own prejudices and learn to see Mr. Darcy as he really is.

D. Now you try—write a revised version of one of the following sentences.

1. The characters in Pride and Prejudice were held by certain expectations and rules. They were expected to be refined, delicate, and poised.

2. Elizabeth’s opinions of Darcy and many of the other characters change seemingly from page to page in the story and allow the reader to make certain assumptions about the ending of the story that normally would not be able to be made.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources: