Definition of Thesis

A thesis is a statement or central idea that a writer puts forward at the beginning of an argument, and will support throughout the following text. The thesis is a premise that the author believes to be true, and will give evidence for by way of facts or situations that reinforce this central idea. Thesis statements are most often found in academic writing, and have a subtler yet analogous role in fiction.

The word “thesis” comes from Greek, in which it means “something put forth.” The definition of thesis developed from this reference to an proposition for which the author wants to argue the validity.

Common Examples of Thesis

We generally do not use formal thesis examples in ordinary life. It is possible, however, to state a main idea and back this idea up with evidence. Someone could say, for example, “We’re destined to be together,” and give reasons why this is the case. The lyrics of the popular song “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers illustrates this concept:

1, 2, 3
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet

(Ho!) So show me family
(Hey!) All the blood that I would bleed
(Ho!) I don’t know where I belong
(Hey!) I don’t know where I went wrong
(Ho!) But I can write a song

Bob Dylan’s song “The Hurricane” also puts forward a thesis statement—Rubin Carter “The Hurricane was innocent of a crime he was charged with—and supports it with evidence of the story:

Pistols shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out “My God they killed them all”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

There are also countless examples of theses in academia; everyone who attains a Ph.D. must first present a thesis paper, sometimes called a dissertation, that is the product of many years of research and investigation. Examples of thesis papers are often found in other undergraduate and graduate studies as well.

Significance of Thesis in Literature

While the thesis of a work of literature can be harder to extract from the body of the text than in academic writing, it can be just as important. Writers have a certain point of view from which they are writing, and may construct entire poems and novels to prove certain ideas true. While an academic writer can base his or her argument off of fact and data, the literary writer often uses situations and the emotions they provoke to help prove certain ideas. This process can take longer to develop than in academic thesis examples, and yet the result can often be stronger. When authors of poetry and prose appeal to emotion as well as logic (both pathos and logos), the reader is more likely to be convinced of a certain message, as well as remember the message for a longer period of time.

Examples of Thesis in Literature

Example #1

JAQUES: All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

(As You Like It by William Shakespeare)

This famous example of thesis from the character of Jaques is a beautiful metaphor for the similarities between life and the stage. It is often quoted because it seems to reflect a world-view that Shakespeare probably held; everything that happens in the world can be read as a type of performance with everyone just trying to play their part.

Example #2

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

The above excerpt from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is famous because it is an important central idea to the novel. Atticus Finch believes in empathy and understanding other people’s life stories and points of view. Therefore, he strongly believes that we must try to understand where other people are coming from. This one statement is a thesis that the rest of the book supports.

Example #3

TOM: Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

(The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams)
Thesis examples can often be found at the beginning of a work of poetry, prose, or drama, as is the case with Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. The character of Tom narrates the play, and often breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly. In this quote, which opens the play, Tom presents the idea that the drama that is about to unfold is entertaining yet tells the truth. Similar to Shakespeare, this could be understood as Tennessee William’s thesis about the power of drama.

Example #4

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.

(East of Eden by John Steinbeck)

In his novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck often makes authorial interjections. These passages seem to highlight Steinbeck’s own views on different matters, rather than any particular character’s views. The short excerpt above is one of the strongest examples of a thesis statement in all of literature; Steinbeck firmly believe in free will, and vows to fight against anything that would limit free will. He presents more than one example of thesis in his novel, and creates characters and situations that support his beliefs.

Example #5

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

(“The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams)

Poetry can have examples of thesis statements just as easily as prose or drama. William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” is famously enigmatic, while also being quite direct. He makes the straightforward argument that “so much depends” on a certain intangible object. In this case, “a red wheel / barrow.” Many readers and scholars have interpreted this short thesis statement in countless different ways. Thus, it is an interesting thesis example because Williams states it so unswervingly, yet does not support it with other evidence. Readers are left to interpret and prove this thesis example themselves.

Test Your Knowledge of Thesis

1. Which of the following statements is the best thesis definition?
A. A minor claim to support the main proposition that author has put forth.
B. A central idea which the author intends to support via evidence.
C. A piece of evidence or a fact.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. What thesis could be extracted from the following quote from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden?

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.

A. All people with physical deformities are monsters.
B. All monsters are evil.
C. Some people can be born without kindness, making them monstrous.

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. What is the thesis in William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116”?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

A. True love does not change when problems arise.
B. Love is a game for fools.
C. Only married people understand true love.

Answer to Question #3 Show

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