I am writing a synthesis essay on Night by Elie Wiesel and The Cage by Ruth Minster Sender. I am having trouble piecing together a solid hook and getting rid of the word "we." My thesis statement is, "Although dire situations often drive people to do horrible things in order to survive, there are still examples in which people retain their humanity and help one another, even if it means potential danger to themselves."


My evidence is that Elie succumbs to the survival instincts that he, along with the rest of humanity, bears. Elie feels guilt because his overwhelming instinct to survive makes him reluctant to give the remainder of his soup to his father. He likens himself other prisoners who he believes have lost their humanity under these horrible circumstances. However, it is very important to keep in mind that Elie does give his father the soup, even if it “was with a heavy heart.” We also witness Jews afflicting pain and suffering on fellow Jews all in a means to survive.


Could you help me with finding three topics to discuss for the rest of the essay?


First paragraph:

From reading to writing, we are taught that in every story there are good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists. However, in regards to the Holocaust, things are not so black and white. A glimpse of this moral deception can be portrayed through two autobiographies, Night by Elie Wiesel as well as The Cage by Ruth Minster Sender. Both start off presenting a somewhat vague idea as to who the bad guys are, and (possess) (obtaining) overarching moods of conflicting pain and implementing suffering on the innocent. As the stories progress, animalistic instincts take over the majority of people, forcing the Jews to be equally as cruel as the Nazis. A threatening environment such as the Holocaust can turn a regular, everyday person into what can only be described as an animal. A selfish viewpoint can overtake one’s perspective when death is a looming probability, leading to many choosing one's own triumph and survival over that of others. When good people are put in bad situations, bad things are the inevitable outcome. Nevertheless, in contrast to this, when some people are surrounded with such brutality they will respond with unexpected empathy, flourishing in the most unlikely of places. These people are rare but not impossible. Although dire situations often drive people to do horrible things in order to survive, there are still examples in which people retain their humanity and help one another, even if it means potential danger to themselves.

I am hoping to discuss both sides of the argument. I will start the second and third paragraph discussing how the Jews were forced to do terrible things in order to survive and end with two supporting paragraphs focusing on how despite survival instincts being strong the characters still managed to retain their humanity and goodness toward each other. Besides using the soup evidence, I am unsure how to start off these paragraphs strongly and adequately. Please give me feedback, ideas, and any and all changes you see that need to be made.

Expert Answers

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In writing an argumentative essay, it is important to have a strong thesis that connects directly with the evidence provided in the text or texts. When basing the essay on two works, try to find specific points that are addressed in both of them. Those shared elements will provide the relevant evidence from which to develop your thesis. Another way of saying this is to identify the important components first, and then write a thesis that fits the evidence. This approach is preferable to drafting a thesis statement that is very broad or abstract and which might turn out not to have adequate support from the texts.

The draft thesis that you have included in the question is very pertinent to both Night and The Cage. It is also a general statement about how people behave in extreme situations, so it could apply equally well to a wide variety of other literary works. A thesis that works well for these two works will include some general characteristics, but it will also be grounded in specific points that the authors make about their particular situation. Because both authors are writing not just about the Holocaust but specifically about their experiences in Auschwitz, be sure to connect to some concrete observations they are making. Survival, for all the prisoners, was always grounded in their daily reality but also connected to the larger moral and ethical dilemmas about which you are writing.

Two of their immediate, concrete concerns were food and clothing. You have included the example of Elie’s guilt over sharing food with, or withholding it from, his father. Using an comparable example about food in The Cage would strength the point you are making. Similarly, the question of clothing and nudity related to dignity arises in The Cage, in regard to the dehumanizing effect of being stripped. Did subsequent interactions with other people, related to her physical self, help her regain her sense of humanity? You might look for comparable examples about bodily attitudes in Night.

In your post, you mention that you wish to support two different sides of your main argument. This can be done effectively, but as a matter of procedure, you will probably find it useful to work through one side of the argument first, then develop the counter arguments. Going back and forth during the course of your writing may cause you to lose track of the nuances of each side. A practical method for drafting your essay could be to create two lists in two parallel columns. In one column, write out every item you think belongs on one side of the argument, and in the second column, write the countering proposition. It will probably go faster if you do this for each work separately, adding similar information for the second work below the first entry. When complete, your dual-column list will facilitate your review of all the points you want to make; as needed, you can then reorganize them, group them into larger points, or eliminate those that seem minor or too difficult to develop in the space available.

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