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Writing Thesis in Literature
“God Speed” by Edmund Leighton, 1900
Writing a thesis allows students to pursue an individualized course of study and create a lasting work of scholarship, acquiring new research and communication skills en route. A thesis is not required for all Literature majors, but is highly recommended for those considering graduate-level study in the humanities. The thesis is also appropriate for self-directed majors who wish to pursue a more specific topic in more depth than is possible through classwork alone. Students who undertake a thesis should be prepared to work independently and intensively on the project throughout the academic year. They receive substantial direction and rigorous criticism from their faculty readers, and present their work to the Literature community at the end of the process. A thesis demonstrates its author’s commitment and mastery of literary study.
Sample Titles of Recent Theses in Literature
In recent years, a number of our graduating seniors have written theses before progressing to major doctoral programs to continue their literary study. The range of topics they chose to write on is wide. Sample titles include:
“‘Turning Somersaults with a Hand Nailed to the Floor:’ Infinite Jest’s Recursive Presentation of Waste-Desire Cycles”
“Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: the Mobius Band of Authorship”
“Going Native: Representations of Savagery in Melville’s Fiction”
“The Life and Afterlife of the Text: Authority and Translation in Malory’s Tale of the Sankgreal”
“One World, One Life: The Politics of Personal Connection in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves”
“Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves” by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1973
What does a thesis do for me?
Thesis writers can be assured that they have been well prepared for graduate study, and can attest to that fact in their applications and interviews. They have also gained skills that will help them in any workplace. The intensive, self-motivated focus on one topic can be (at times) frustrating, overwhelming, and deeply gratifying: the rewards are many, and most students find their love of literature strengthened through their own efforts and dedication, as well as through the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty scholars.
The time and commitment involved in the process of writing a thesis may or may not exceed the credit hours officially accorded, but the rewards are great. This is a serious undertaking and assumes that the thesis candidate is a responsible adult, able to make deadlines and keep to them without external prodding, and ready to become a literary scholar with a mind of her own.
What do I do for my thesis?
“Donna con tavolette cerate e stilo (cosiddetta “Saffo”)/Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”)” fresco ca. 50 CE
The thesis usually spans the student’s senior year and has two phases. In the Fall, the student registers for a 6-unit pre-thesis tutorial, during which time s/he will be reading extensively, compiling an annotated bibliography, and drafting a segment of the thesis. Upon fulfilling these requirements, he or she receives an interim “J” grade. In the Spring, the student completes drafting the thesis, and after receiving feedback from the readers, first revises it for submission and then presents his or her work to the community at large.
Fall Semester: Preparatory Work
If they have not done so in the the Spring of the junior year, thesis candidates should consult with faculty prior to Registration Day to determine who would be an appropriate advisor. The thesis will eventually be read and evaluated by three faculty members: the advisor my suggest second and third readers, or may leave the decision to the student.
Developing an argument takes time, but candidates should begin with a clear set of interests in mind, and ideally with background reading underway. Students may choose to focus on a particular author or literary text, or to connect several authors and texts through attention to a shared thematic or formal pattern.
Regular Supervision and Deadlines
It is essential that the student meet regularly with the advisor in the Fall, generally once a week. If several students are working on theses, a faculty member may be designated to supervise joint pre-thesis discussions; in such cases, meetings with the supervising faculty member will usually alternate with one-on-one meetings with the primary advisor.
Pre-thesis discussion includes advice on compiling an annotated bibliography, research suggestions, and help in developing a prospectus summarizing the argument and organization of the thesis by chapters. It is also an occasion to share insights derived from independent reading. By Thanksgiving, a student should have completed the prospectus and be working on writing a part of the thesis.
“Beloved” by Joe Morse, 2015
Spring Semester: 12-Unit Thesis
During the spring semester, the thesis candidate signs up for the 12-unit Thesis and devotes substantial energy to expanding, completing, and revising the work. The student should continue to meet on a regular basis with the advisor, and should also be sharing draft chapters with the second and third readers as soon as possible. The thesis process involves extensive revision as well as writing, and students need to anticipate that as the semester proceeds their readers will have an increasing number of competing demands on their time from other classes: chapters may not be returned with comments and recommendations for revision until some time after being submitted, and thesis writers need to plan accordingly. A complete first draft should be submitted by the end of spring break or the beginning of April, depending on the academic calendar and the advisor’s schedule. This ensures adequate time for commentary and extensive final revision before the official Institute deadline for undergraduate theses (usually at the end of the penultimate week of classes, and listed on the official Academic Calendar).
The thesis should be submitted in triplicate to its three faculty readers, who evaluate the completed project. The final grade will be applied retroactively to both the pre-thesis and thesis classes, totaling 18 unit hours. The student gives a brief (10-15 minute) public presentation based on the thesis, followed by a question-and-answer session of equal length.
A clean copy of the thesis will be deposited in the MIT archives: guidelines on appropriate archival paper, title page format, and binders are available at: http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/thesis-specs/
These guidelines focus on doctoral dissertations, but include the necessary information for undergraduate essays as well. The student and faculty readers will sign the title page of this official copy.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Mad Tea Party” by Sir John Tenniel, 1865
- Writing a Thesis
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Literary Criticism: thesis examples
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- thesis examples
SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS
These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.
The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.
In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.
Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).
The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.
The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.
The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.
“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.
Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.
A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.
The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc.
In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have today.
This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those characteristics.
Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families.
In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.
SAMPLE PATTERNS FOR THESES ON LITERARY WORKS
1. In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective).
Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.
2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element of 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 (character’s name) in (literary work) through what he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her.
Example: Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…
5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen) (element of work).
Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger, the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.
6. (Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story).
Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language.
Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of figurative language.
Perimeter College, Georgia State University, http://depts.gpc.edu/~gpcltc/handouts/communications/literarythesis.pdf
Zora Neale Hurston
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Developing a Thesis
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This handout covers major topics relating to writing about fiction. This covers prewriting, close reading, thesis development, drafting, and common pitfalls to avoid.
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.
Once you have some general points to focus on, write your possible ideas and answer the questions that they suggest.
For example: Question: How does Conrad develop the idea that all classes of society are corrupt? Answer: He uses images of beasts and cannibalism whether he's describing socialites, policemen or secret agents.
To write your thesis statement, all you have to do is turn the question and answer around. You've already given the answer, now just put it in a sentence (or a couple of sentences) so that the thesis of your paper is clear.
For example: 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.
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.
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- How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 14, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .
Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.
You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:
- Start with a question
- Write your initial answer
- Develop your answer
- Refine your thesis statement
Table of contents
What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.
A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.
The best thesis statements are:
- Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
- Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
- Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.
The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .
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You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.
You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?
For example, you might ask:
After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .
Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.
In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.
The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.
In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.
The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.
A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:
- Why you hold this position
- What they’ll learn from your essay
- The key points of your argument or narrative
The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.
These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.
Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:
- In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
- In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :
- Ask a question about your topic .
- Write your initial answer.
- Develop your answer by including reasons.
- Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.
The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .
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Step 1 – Search for relevant literature Step 2 – Evaluate and select sources Step 3 – Identify themes, debates, and gaps Step 4 – Outline your literature review’s structure Step 5 – Write your literature review Free lecture slides Frequently asked questions Introduction Quick Run-through Step 1 & 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
A debatable thesis statement Like any argument paper you have ever written for a first-year composition course, you must have a specific, detailed thesis statement that reveals your perspective, and, like any good argument, your perspective must be one which is debatable.
A thesis is not required for all Literature majors, but is highly recommended for those considering graduate-level study in the humanities. The thesis is also appropriate for self-directed majors who wish to pursue a more specific topic in more depth than is possible through classwork alone.
These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions. The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.
This handout covers major topics relating to writing about fiction. This covers prewriting, close reading, thesis development, drafting, and common pitfalls to avoid. Once you've read the story or novel closely, look back over your notes for patterns of questions or ideas that interest you.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay. It usually comes near the end of your introduction. Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across.