Getting an A on an English Paper

Jack Lynch,
Rutgers University – Newark

Turning Bad Theses
into Good Ones

My discussion of theses provides some general advice and some brief examples of good and bad theses. Here's a way to turn some of the bad ones into good ones. (Not perfect ones, mind you, but they're something.)
Fate versus free will in Macbeth.
There's not much we can do with this, since there's no argument of any sort. To make it worthwhile, we need to say something specific. Here's a possibility: “Lady Macbeth works to manipulate her husband into believing in the possibility of free will, but Shakespeare puts them in a world controlled by fate.”

Money is important in Moll Flanders's life.
Like the previous example, this one doesn't say anything specific. But try this: “As her use of language shows, Moll Flanders imagines every aspect of life, including love and family life, in economic terms.”

In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens presents a realistic picture of social interaction in Victorian London.
Unless you're prepared to do research to back it up, steer clear of things that depend on facts outside the books you're reading. In an English class, you can't easily discuss the real world. But you can discuss the ways the author describes that world. Something like this might work: “Dickens's attention to circumstantial detail makes the squalor of Oliver Twist seem much more convincing.”

Hamlet is an enduring testimony to the genius of William Shakespeare.
Nothing you can do with this, because it's not the sort of thing a college English paper should do. Toss it out and start over.

In its departure from the familiar metrical forms of its day, Whitman's Leaves of Grass is ahead of its time.
The problem is “ahead of its time,” which evaluates Whitman by standards that came after him. You can, however, evaluate him by standards that came before him: “Whitman's content appears more experimental, even radical, because his form is also revolutionary; the form and content work together to challenge conventional wisdom.”

from Jack Lynch's guide,
Getting an A on an English Paper

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