I’m having trouble formulating an essay introduction. The essay is one themes of alienation, marginalization, and assimilation in American Literature, and I am using examples from Maxine Hong Kingston ("Tripmaster Monkey"), Toni Morrison ("Recitatif"), David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross”), and Thomas Pynchon (“Entropy”). I have the body done but am having difficulty writing the introduction and conclusion. Thank you.
Is the source of your trouble here related to any difficulty in deciding exactly how these concepts (alienation, marginalization, assimilation) and each of these works are specifically connected? Is this a connection problem?
Or perhaps the problem comes in determining (1) what exactly each of these works has to say about these concepts and (2) how the respective commentaries/perspectives offered by these works might be linked into a single statement on American literature. (Is this an interpretative problem as well as a connective one?)
In either case, addressing these connective ideas (or finding the through-line) should go a long way to determining how to shape your thesis statement. Without reading your essay, no one can answer these questions for you. In your essay, I assume you are articulating the ways in which each work expresses, relates to or investigates one of your topic concepts.
Hopefully you will be helped by considering some extrapolatory questions then re-evaluating your approach to a thesis statement/introduction and conclusion.
- How would you characterize the commentary that each work makes on alienation, marginalization or assimilation?
- Is the work addressing any cultural "myths" related to these concepts or does the work address the actual function of social (dis)placement in America? Or both?
- Do you feel that these works all look at social (dis)placement from the same point of view? If so what is that point of view - positive, negative, complex/nuanced?
- Is there a moral component to each of these works in regards to social (dis)placement? What values are explored or forwarded in each work vis a vis alienation, marginalization or assimilation?
- Are these works largely in agreement or disagreement on these issues or do they fall into distinctly different camps? How would you characterize the dialogue or conversation that these works represent?
- Is there a single mechanism, determining factor or personal quality that these works suggest is necessary for social success in America? Is there a uniform or universally recognized hurdle to social success in America that these works each articulate or identify?
There are, naturally, many ways to link works of literature on a thematic level. Your challenge is going to come in finding the best way to make such a link that will (1) engage the reader, (2) accurately introduce the interpretive arguments you make regarding each work and (3) carefully avoid any over-generalizations while also managing not to contradict your existing interpretations.
The process shouldn't be as difficult as this may sound, as I'm sure you know. The hard part is in thinking broadly and conceptually about books that you are also thinking about on a detailed, textual level. That, of course, is the twin pursuit of literary studies.
It's generally best to leave the introduction and conclusion for last, as you have done, since they tend to be easy to write once you have written the body of your essay.
For the introduction, you will want to talk about the subject of your paper in a way that builds up to your thesis statement. You can start by giving some historical context to your topic or by defining some key terms. You don't really want to broach the main arguments of your paper until the body, but if there is any background you can give about the topic before jumping in it is best to give it in the introduction. However, you will want to avoid generalizing statements like "American literature has always been defined by themes of alienation" and use more specific language that pertains to the arguments in your paper. Depending on the length of the paper, introductions can be as short or as long as you want, but make sure everything you say in the introduction flows nicely into a thesis statement, the final sentence.
The conclusion should also be relatively easy. Restate a few of your paper's major arguments, highlighting the connections between them (the connections should already be present in your paper, but the conclusion makes them more explicit). Try not to overstep yourself in the conclusion by mentioning any new information, but the conclusion can sometimes be a good place to relate your argument to some larger theme or meaning, as long as it flows naturally from what has been said before.