1 week, 3 days ago

How to write a Literature thesis statement.

The online dictionary defines a thesis statement as ‘a short statement, usually one sentence, that summarises the main point or claim of an essay […] and is developed, supported, and explained in the text using examples and evidence’. Simply put, it’s the point of your essay. Back in high school, you were probably told to sum up your argument for every essay in your introduction, and a thesis statement is effectively the same idea, but reduced to one sentence. It’s no easy feat and can seem impossible at first, but it does make your academic writing easier because you can refer back to that statement to re-centre your essay.

Know what your essay will be about.

You can’t write an effective thesis statement if you don’t know what your essay will be about. It’s not enough to have a vague idea because otherwise, you’ll end up with a vague statement. If you’re struggling with the thesis statement but know about the rest of the essay, then write everything before you tackle the introduction. Writing the thesis statement first only helps if you definitely know what you’re writing about and need something to refer back to and keep your essay on track. When you’re writing your dissertation, your supervisor will likely tell you to write a ‘working’ thesis statement just to get your idea solidly down on paper. This statement will change and evolve throughout the writing process, and you shouldn’t be afraid to completely rewrite it once you’re done.

Test it on other people.

The idea of a thesis statement is that the reader will immediately understand what your essay is about from that one sentence. If your essay were a book, then your thesis statement would be the blurb. When you’re writing, ask yourself the question your essay is answering (e.g. ‘How does Shakespeare portray female characters?’) and transcribe your answer into a thesis statement draft. Once you have your thesis statement written down, ask a fellow student if they can guess what your main points of the essay will be based on your statement. This is important in making sure that your statement is cohesive but also in ensuring you can actually prove it in the main body of your essay - if the student asks for elaboration (e.g. ‘in what way is that character portrayed in that way?’) on your statement and you can’t answer them, then it’s not right. The thesis statement is not just stating a fact, it’s an interpretation or idea that can be disputed but which you’re attempting to prove.

An Example

The below is a thesis statement taken from an essay I did last year about Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, in which I got 72 (a first):

‘In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra’s theatricality, sexuality and race challenges the normative patriarchy of Rome and makes her a threat to the powerful male characters’.

I knew that my essay would be about gender, as Rome is a hypermasculine place within the play and Caesar constantly criticises Cleopatra and Egypt for her sexuality. Women are typically sorted into misrepresenting archetypes - the over-sexual nymph, the weeping maiden or the mad old woman. I asked myself the question ‘how does Shakespeare present gender in this play?’ and concluded that Cleopatra’s sexuality (aka femininity) threatens the male characters and ultimately Rome, as her sexuality divides the Roman leaders and empowers her in a way the male characters cannot overcome. Cleopatra is threatening because she goes against the heteronormative Rome: she is not Roman, she is oriental, and she is not a refined soldier, she is a theatrical and decadent queen, and she is not a man, she is a woman. I wrote my statement after my essay and was, therefore, able to use single words (theatricality, sexuality and race) that were explored further in the main body of the essay.

To Summarise

  • Determine your argument (Shakespeare misrepresents women like THIS rather than THIS)

  • Ask yourself/others your essay question and make your answer part of your statement

  • Check you prove your thesis statement throughout the essay

  • Revisit it once you’ve finished writing and check it’s as specific as possible

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