LITERARY WORKS: PATTERNS FOR A THESIS

The thesis evaluates aspects within a literary work. The following examples are representative of many possible evaluations.

1. In (title of work), (author) uses, shows, illustrates (one aspect)

Example: In “Barn Burning," William Faulkner shows the characters Sadie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.

2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to define, strengthen, illustrate the (element of the work).

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.

3. In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one element), (another element), and (another element). The number of elements can vary from one to four.

Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting, structure and theme.

4. (Author) develops the character of _ in (title of work) through what he does, what he says, what other people say to him or say about him.

Example: Eudora Welty develops the character of Phoenix, in “A Worn Path,” through what she does, what she says and what other people say to her.

5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen (element of work).



6. (Author) shows, develops, illustrates the theme of _ in (play, poem, story).

Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of selfishness of the grandmother in
“A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his use of language.

Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A&P” through his use of figurative language

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Following are sample thesis statements demonstrating various aspects of traditional literary analysis. Though not arguable enough to warrent development as essays in a course on critical thinking, they nonetheless model effective literary theses.
Character Analysis
In his novel Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad symbolizes Jim’s development as a character by three incidents involving leaps or jumps that Jim fails to make, makes inadvertently, and makes deliberately.

Point of View
Shirley Jackson renders the horror of her story “The Lottery” through her rudimentary but expert characterization, her almost clinically detached selection of details, and her deceivingly simple diction.

Setting
The integration of setting and story in Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” may be followed in details about the Captain's cabin and the ocean itself, and also in Conrad’s suggestions that large, cosmic forces are at work in human affairs.

Comparison and Contrast
Both Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce portray the recollections of their heroes with ambiguity on toward early education; this ambivalence may be seen in the punishment it represents in both works, in the rebellious attitudes of the heroes, and in their respective liberation.

Imagery or Symbolism
In “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne dramatizes the idea that the overvaluation of an abstract concept of good and evil devalues human beings; he expresses this in the richly suggestive allegory and in the many symbols in the work, particularly the symbolism of the sunset, the walking stick, and the path through the woods.

Tone
In “The Open Boat” Stephen Crane shows admiration and sympathy for the four men cast adrift, and he also exhibits bafflement and mild scorn at the apparent indifference of the universe; Crane renders his admiration and scorn through his descriptions of the men, his commentary on the situation, and his irony.

This material comes from my own college textbook: Roberts, Edgar V. Writing Themes about Literature. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977. -- (This attribution by the author of The Secret Stage)