Thesis and Introduction Worksheet

 

Katherine Milligan

Thesis Guidelines
Your thesis should...

... make an argument regarding your topic

    -"Domesticity in Tender Buttons" is a topic.
    -"Domesticity in Tender Buttons represents both a source of comfort and the threat of banality" is a thesis.

... consist of a strong statement

    -Weak value judgments like "interesting," "good," "bad," or "nice" are too vague to make for an effective thesis.
    -Your thesis should argue a point that is neither generally accepted (Shakespeare was a genius) nor self-evident (Hemingway writes simply).
    -Your thesis should not be too broad for the length of the paper. You cannot argue that "No love story of the twentieth century compares in intensity to Nabokov's Lolita" in four pages. However, a paper of that length probably could effectively assert that "The novel Lolita blurs the line between tenderness and violence."

Sample Thesis Statements

There are many similarities and differences between Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty.

Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women; Lolita is no exception.

Morality is not the issue in Lolita; artistry is.

Lolita is a novel about America.

Lolita is a novel about the corruption of America.

In Lolita, the corruption of America merely provides a convenient cover-up for Humbert Humbert's personal perversion.

Lolita is an interesting novel, although the narrator, Humbert Humbert, is evil.

Love is dead in the twentieth century novel.

Although World War II is never mentioned in Lolita, its influence on American society motivates the novel.

Introduction Guidelines
Your introduction should...

... lay the logical foundation for your paper.

    -present relevant concepts and define key terms. E.g. a paper on love and passion in Lolita should begin with an explanation of the distinction between the two terms.
    -introduce your thesis. You don't have to give all your ideas away right at the beginning -- in fact, it's often more effective to save your conclusive point till the end -- but you must, at the very least, sketch the parameters of the question. What is it you plan to argue or prove in the paper?

... hook your reader.
mandatory

    -know what you're trying to argue. Have a thesis.
    -write succinctly and specifically. Say what your argument is and what steps you're going to take to prove it.


optional

    -use a key quotation. This does not have to be from the text on which you are writing. Cite it, unpack it, explain why it is relevant, and use it to formulate your thesis. Be sure the quotation is central to your argument and avoid cliches (e.g. "Love is blind").
    n.b. a quote from another source that begins a text is called an epigraph.
    -begin with a rhetorical question. The question should not be gratuitous, but should suggest to your reader the terms or the implications of the debate.
    -use creative writing techniques. Describe a particularly pertinent scene or situation from the text, emphasizing themes, images, etc. that will support your point. Be careful with this strategy. You rarely get mediocre results: your intro will turn out to be either splendid or abysmal.
    -give the larger context on which your thesis draws (but avoid generalization).
    Acceptable: Recent media attention to the murders of Megan Kanka and Jon Benet Ramsey has heightened public awareness about child sexual abuse. Thus the controversy over the new film version of Lolita has proved timely.
    Unacceptable: Child sexual abuse has always been a moral issue in the United States.
    -define a key term. E.g. Passion is fundamentally a self-centered emotion.

Sample Introductions

There are many similarities and differences between the characters of Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty. By examining these similarities and differences, several important ideas can be seen. Both characters are obsessive and paranoid, but Quilty is more successful than Humbert.

Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women. In the novel "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, the main character is seduced by a nymphet, Dolores Haze. He has always been attracted to nymphets due to a traumatic experience with his first love, Annabel, when he was young himself. After Lolita's mother dies, he has her all to himself, and they take two trips across the country, staying in motels and sightseeing. In the end, he is deceived by Lolita, who runs away with Quilty and later gets pregnant and marries someone else. This demonstrates how love is always doomed to failure, since his possession of her was always an illusion.

In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov writes that his novel has "no moral in tow" (314). Regardless of whether we agree with Nabokov, reducing Lolita to a discussion of moral issues misses the point. Lolita is a work of fiction and must be treated as such. The first few pages of the novel establish this point beyond the shadow of a doubt by alluding to such literary predecessors as Poe, Merimee, Dante, Proust, and Keats. Without understanding these allusions, the novel itself cannot be understood.

Is Lolita a love story? Answering this question in the affirmative requires a redefinition of the term "love." After all, Humbert Humbert causes more misery than joy to the object of his affections. Lolita's suffering, both mental and physical, is apparent throughout the novel. And yet Humbert's obsession with her goes beyond mere lust or passion. He is both tender and constant in his affections. As a close examination of the end of the novel will show, Humbert Humbert is a lover as well as a rapist.