A thesis statement is a position the author holds and that which they’re going to prove through the text. It summarizes the writing that’s going to follow and is usually found in the first paragraph of the introduction. The writer states it and then attempts to prove it in a variety of different ways. Despite their best efforts, some thesis statements are more successfully proven than others.
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Definition of Thesis
In literature, the thesis statement is a sentence or paragraph that summarizes what a piece of writing is going to be about. It is less formal in novels and poems than it is in academic and nonfiction writing, but it can still play an important role. That being said, not all literary works have a thesis statement, nor are they all constructed in the same way. Sometimes, readers have to look for the thesis statement in the same way that they might look for the main idea. It might not be clearly stated in a poem, and it will require close reading to find out the “point” of a poem.
Examples of Theses
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
In some novels, such as in Anna Karenina, the book’s first line serves as a thesis statement of sorts. It requires slightly more interpretation than academic theses but can be just as effective. The first line of the novel reads:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Here, Tolstoy is implying that there are several things that one needs to have for a family to be happy. These include health, financial security, love, and more. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy crafts a new kind of family story. He presents different families, like the Oblonskys and Karenins, who are plagued by adultery, financial troubles, and suffering from scandal.
Austen’s often ironic and witty novel begins with one of the most famous opening lines in literature. It is another good example of the writer presenting a narrative thesis statement at the beginning of a story. It reads:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Interestingly enough, the bulk of the novel seems to be trying to disprove this statement, with Mr. Darcy actively ignoring the possibility of a love match. But, as the story progresses, Austen does prove at least part of the statement to be true. This does not mean the novel failed. In fact, the juxtaposition of the opening line with the reality of life is one of the most important aspects of Pride and Prejudice.
Read Jane Austen’s poetry.
The opening line of 1984 is another interesting example of what an author can do with one line. Orwell summarizes the absurdity and terror of his world by writing:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
He juxtaposes normalcy with something abnormal. Readers are immediately made aware that this world is going to be similar to their own but is also going to have some very important differences.
Within William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, readers can often find examples of thesis-like statements. The sonnets often set out to prove something, either to the reader or to the Fair Youth or Dark Lady. In this particular sonnet, Shakespeare opens with the following lines:
My glass shall not persuade me I am old
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
He informs the Fair Youth that he’s not going to believe that time has passed and that he’s “old” until the Youth’s face tells him so. The speaker is determined that his age is tied together with the Fair Youth’s. It is only when the youth has wrinkles that he’s going to know that death is coming for him soon.
Read more William Shakespeare poems.
Why Do Writers Use Theses?
Thesis statements are an incredibly important part of writing. They are pivotal in academic and formal writing and can even play a major role in nonfiction novel writing. In poetry and fiction novels, they are sometimes harder to spot but are often present. Writers use them in order to present their arguments to the reader.
In academic writing, this is usually concerned with proving a line of inquiry, comparing two things and coming to a conclusion, or presenting new research and proving its importance. In poetry or prose, the thesis statement or main idea is supported by the character’s actions and how the plot plays out. So, the thesis statement could be anything from how disrespecting nature leads to terrible consequences to true love is only discovered when one is open and honest with oneself. These are less structured and more emotional thesis statements that are less based on fact and more on experience.
The thesis in a piece of writing is a statement that addresses what the work is going to be about and what it’s going to attempt to prove.
In academic writing, a thesis statement example is: “Grocery stores are an essential resource in all communities and are directly tied to health outcomes in low-income areas.”
Thesis statements are an incredibly important part of one’s writing. In formal writing, thesis statements are required. Without them, readers won’t know what the paper is setting out to prove or disprove.
They set the reader up with the information they need to read one’s writing in the right way. The thesis statement describes one’s intentions.
Thesis statements appear at the beginning of one’s writing and can evolve over time as the writing changes. They are often written at the end of the writing process in order to more accurately convey what the essay, nonfiction book, or other types of formal writing is attempting to accomplish.
Related Literary Terms
- Formal Diction: is used when the setting is sophisticated. This could be anything from a speech to a paper submitted to a journal.
- Rebuttal: a response to an argument that contradicts or attempts to disprove it. It is given by one’s opponent.
- Reductio ad Absurdum: used when a speaker argues for their position by attempting to point out the absurdity in the alternative argument.
- Concession: a literary device that occurs in argumentative writing in which one acknowledges another’s point.
- Deductive Reasoning: also known as top-down logic, is a rhetorical device and a way to build a successful argument.
- Watch: How to Write a Strong Thesis Statement
- Listen: How to Write an Essay – Thesis Statements
- Listen: Thesis Statements for Beginners