Essay One: Thematic Analysis

About theme: Theme is an aspect of a story that binds together various essential elements of narrative. It is a truth that exhibits universality and stands true for people of all cultures. Theme gives readers better understanding of the main character’s conflicts, experiences, discoveries and emotions as they are derived from them. Through themes, a writer tries to give his readers an insight into how the world works or how he or she views human life. Common themes are good vs. evil, human nature, religion, social structure, authority, coming-of-age, human rights, feminism, racism, war, education, sex, friendship, love, compassion, and death. Most novels, like The Underdogs and Giovanni’s Room, deal with multiple themes, some more obvious than others. Identifying an author’s themes gives you a starting place for your thesis. It gives you a general topic. However, a theme is general. You have to dig a little deeper to identify the author’s statement or attitude about that topic.

Directions: Your assignment is to write an analysis of one particular theme in either Mariano Azuela’s The Underdogs or James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Here are some possible themes in The Underdogs (though there are surely others): corruption, loyalty, national identity, friendship, violence, masculinity, state power vs. rights of the individual, revolution, hypocrisy, family, redemption, and futility. And here are some from Giovanni’s Room: social alienation, nationalism, nostalgia, race, sexuality, family, identity, homosexuality, masculinity, and love. Again, these are merely suggestions; if you found a different theme in the novel you’d like to write about, discuss it with me first, and I’ll likely approve it.

Here is a resource that will help you frame your paper:

Key Things to Keep in Mind:

• Include a proper thesis: Here is a terrific resource for better understanding how to write a thesis for this type of paper:

• Close reading: Before we can begin writing about a piece of literature, we must engage in the exercise of close reading. As the term suggests, “close reading” means closely examining the words on a page in order to come up with a reading or an interpretation about the greater meaning of a work.

How does one “read closely”?

The first task involves dissecting a passage or phrase by analyzing literary elements that stick out. For instance, is the tone, diction, syntax, style, imagery, figurative language, theme(s), cultural/historical/religious references, rhyme, rhythm and meter, etc. significant in the passage or stanza? Take notes on whatever seems significant by using a Word document to jot down ideas/reactions/questions, or keeping a reading journal.

After taking notes, the second task in close reading is looking for patterns or interruptions of patterns. Gather the evidence collected and think about how each one works together to create the work as a whole or how these elements contribute to or complicate larger issues such as theme, setting, characterization.

Finally, think about the purpose and the effect of these significant elements/patterns in the work as a whole. This means asking why and how: Why is an author using a particular metaphor, tone, diction, etc. and how does it affect one’s understanding of the passage? How are they all related to one another? How do they help us understand the larger work?

The steps listed above are a pre-writing exercise, designed to help you identify a potential thesis. Once you have formulated a thesis about how to read a larger work, you can use the smaller significant elements as evidence. This evidence will then need to be analyzed in order to support that thesis.

• Using evidence: Just as scientists provide data to support their results, literary critics/students must use evidence from literature (mainly in the form of direct quotes from the story) in order to convince their audience that they have a cogent argument. Evidence must be provided in every body paragraph in order to support your claims. Where will you find evidence? First, you must do a close reading of the text. It is much easier to first analyze and think about how the smaller literary elements work together to create the whole work, rather than randomly thumbing through a work to find support for your thesis. When you provide evidence, you are providing proof from the text that shows your audience that your thesis is valid. Critics most commonly provide evidence by quoting a line or a passage from a work. When you provide evidence, it is imperative not to take it out of context. For example, if a character is joking with another character that he will kill himself if he fails his chemistry test and there’s no other mention of death in the work, it would be unfair to represent this character as suicidal by eliminating the context of him joking. Accurately quoting and fairly representing events/characters/etc. adds to your credibility as a writer. If you find evidence that counters your thesis, you should still engage with it. Think about what your critics would say and come up with a response to show how that particular piece of evidence might still support your stance. Once you’re done gathering evidence, you can move on to the analysis portion in which you explain how the evidence supports your claims.

• A few other things to keep in mind: This essay should demonstrate your own critical thinking about the novel. Make sure to write a proper thesis statement, situated at or near the beginning of your paper.
This bears repeating: editing is crucial. Any papers containing multiple errors with grammar and/or mechanics are unlikely to earn passing scores. Please make every effort to ensure that your work is edited and formatted according to current MLA guidelines, including a works cited page.
Be sure to outline your essay before you begin writing; outlines must be submitted with your final drafts. Your outline can be formatted however you like. I just need to see evidence that you gave some forethought to the structure and sequence of your paper.
Here is a helpful guide for working on this type of assignment:


Secondary Source Requirement:
For this assignment, you are required to use at least two of the scholarly articles posted on Blackboard. You may use them to support your interpretive arguments in the paper, or you may use them to introduce an opposing viewpoint. You could also, of course, use one of these sources simply to develop a context for your thesis/argument. Think of these sources as term papers that others have written about your chosen story. By using them in your own paper, you’re joining a community of readers/writers who have thought critically about this particular story, as you’ll be doing in this paper. While you are encouraged to quote these sources directly, you may also choose to paraphrase their content if doing so better suits the nature of your discussion.
For help with the secondary source requirement, please refer to these websites:

Please be reminded: using these sources properly is an essential part of this assignment. You must integrate quotes properly, following all relevant MLA guidelines.