How do I start to write an essay and come up with a thesis on death in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

Expert Answers
liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great topic! I recommend writing your thesis statement first. It will help you plan the rest of your essay.

To create your thesis statement, try picking one of the questions below and writing one sentence to give your own opinion as the answer.

1. By writing the story, what is Faulkner saying about death?

2. How does the story portray something interesting, unusual, or surprising about death?

3. Because the story mixes the idea of death with another big idea (such as loneliness, tradition, reputation, memory, or romance,) what new insight becomes clear as a result?

4. Does the story wrongly or inappropriately represent death? How?

For example, you might answer the questions above with these respective thesis statements:

1. Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" expresses the painful morbidity of our thoughts and actions when we are unable to accept the reality of death.

2. "A Rose for Emily" portrays the extent to which our reactions to death can be both dignified and shameful.

3. Because it explores the relationship between death and tradition, "A Rose for Emily" reveals that changing our traditions can be just as painful and difficult as accepting the death of someone we know.

4. "A Rose for Emily" fundamentally warps and misrepresents the seriousness of death, turning it into an entertaining spectacle.

As you'll notice, the four example thesis statements above all:

  • Express an opinion
  • Say something about the story and death
  • Require explanation and proof
  • Could be something that another reader disagrees with

Because they are arguable, these thesis statements are "good" in the sense that they will be easy to use as the central idea in an essay. In other words, they contain an opinion that you'll have to both explain and show evidence for. 

So, once you've settled on your thesis statement, you can write your essay around it.

Thesis statements typically appear in the introductory paragraph of an essay. Some students like to put the thesis statement as the very first sentence of the essay; some prefer to introduce the story a little bit first, and then work up to the thesis statement. Regardless of where in the introduction you want to place your thesis statement, let's figure out how to write the content of the essay.

Imagine that you've shown your thesis statement to a friend who has already read the story. Your friend will say: "Neat idea! But what do you mean, exactly? Also, show me in the story where you came up with that idea."

Write a couple of paragraphs to answer your friend's questions: say what you mean exactly, and talk about the parts of the story that make you believe your idea. This is a good time to plop in some brief quotations from the story to help explain and give support for your idea. As you write, keep imagining that you're just writing for your friend: you want to show her what you mean by your thesis statement and why you believe it.

Now imagine that your friend has read your work and says, "Okay, I see what you mean now! And I see your proof here. BUT, actually, I think you might be wrong because _____."

In other words, try to think of why someone would disagree with what you've said. Now you can write one or more paragraphs to talk about why people might disagree—and what you have to say in response to those objections. 

By this point, your essay is probably three, four, or five paragraphs long. All you have to do now is write one final paragraph (your conclusion) to say why your idea matters or say why people should care about your idea.

Read the study guide:
A Rose for Emily

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