Definition of Claim

In literature, a claim is a statement that asserts something to be true. A claim can either be factual or a judgment. Claims can work on their own or in conjunction with other claims to form a larger argument.

The word claim comes from the Latin word clamare, which means “to cry out, shout.” Thus, the definition of claim comes from this idea of crying out a proposition, which can then be argued, verified, or disproved. There are many other contemporary definitions of claim, such as to assert ownership of, to have, or to call for. However, in literature, claims have a special function of presenting the author’s main ideas or opinions which he or she can later support with more evidence.

Common Examples of Claim

We all make claims on a nearly daily basis, if not daily. We make claims when stating our opinions or sharing facts with others. There are countless examples of claims in advertising, rhetoric, and ordinary conversations.

Claims in Advertising

  • The Best Part of Wakin’ Up is Folgers in Your Cup
  • 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident.
  • Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • Nothing outlasts the Energizer. It keeps going and going and going.

Claims in Speeches

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

—Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the beaches” speech

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

—Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream” speech

Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation’s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.

—JFK, “We choose to go to the moon” speech

Significance of Claim in Literature

It is easiest to find claim examples in poetry or in prose in which the author has a clear narratorial role. This is because the author can assert certain opinions or facts in his or her own voice. There are also some examples of claims in which a character asserts an opinion or fact of his or her own. Perhaps the most interesting claim examples, however, are the subtle ones in which an author presents an idea and supports it by creating a narrative or character which upholds the author’s worldview, thereby perhaps persuading readers that this claim is true. These types of claims can be more diffuse and difficult to pick up on.

Examples of Claim in Literature

Example #1

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

(“Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare)

In William Shakespeare’s famous “Sonnet 130,” he makes several surprising negative claims about the woman he loves. In this sonnet, Shakespeare is subverting the old conceit of comparing a lover hyperbolically to incredible things. Instead, he asserts that nothing about her is particularly noteworthy. Thus, when he makes the final claim that “I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare,” it is that much more powerful, because it’s clearly not simply a physical attraction based on lust.

Example #2

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience.

(East of Eden by John Steinbeck)

In his novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck frequently inserts his own opinions. He makes the above claim example in order to show what a true monster his character of Cathy is. Steinbeck then characterizes her in such as way as to support his claim.

Example #3

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)

The famous poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost contains the audacious claim that “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” Much has been made of this example of claim, and interpreted in many different ways. In short, Frost makes the claim that a simple choice when he was younger has affected the entire rest of his life.

Example #4

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

The title of Harper Lee’s famous novel comes from this short excerpt. This is an example of claim that one character makes to others. The character of Miss Maudie, who is an adult friend to the child protagonist Scout, shares Atticus’s belief in social justice. Here she espouses the claim that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird because they do nothing but bring beauty and joy to the world.

Test Your Knowledge of Claim

1. Which of the following statements is the best claim definition?
A. A statement that must be true.
B. A proposition asserted to be true.
C. A false opinion that cannot be upheld.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Who can make a claim?

A. Only the narrator of a piece of literature.
B. Only the characters in a work of literature.
C. The narrator, characters, and the author can all make claims.

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Consider the following excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”:

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

What is the narrator’s claim in this passage?

A. We do not need the wall.
B. Good fences make good neighbors.
C. Why do they make good neighbors?

Answer to Question #3 Show

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