I am going to do my thesis on loss of innocence in Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch. I'm having trouble finding source materials. How should I divide my chapters and which important points should...

I am going to do my thesis on loss of innocence in Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch. I'm having trouble finding source materials. How should I divide my chapters and which important points should I discuss?

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a wonderful book to do a paper on!  Of course, it is too recent a book for you to find a great deal of critical commentary, so what you are doing is really ground-breaking. I have several thoughts about how to proceed, although you as the writer must decide what you are going to focus on and how you organize your ideas. 

My first thought is that if your paper is not expected to be limited exclusively to the text, as is sometimes expected in literary analysis, there are at least a few avenues for you to pursue.  It might be good for you to read Tartt's other books, to see if a loss of innocence is a persistent theme of her oeuvre, as I suspect it is.  This would allow you to place The Goldfinch into some context.  In a similar vein, you may want to find out more about Donna Tartt to see if there are any interviews with her that inform the book, and seek out autobiographical details that might enhance your understanding of the book, as well.  Another idea is to focus on the settings of the novel, the times and places portrayed, to consider what bearing those settings have on the idea of a loss of innocence.  An example of what I mean might be a novel involving 9/11 and a loss of innocence, since 9/11 was a powerful representation of the loss of innocence of the American people, or the Roaring Twenties in The Great Gatsby, an era which clearly is connected with its themes.  Any or all of these avenues would certainly provide the basis of a chapter. 

Second, since this is an award-winning novel, it has been amply reviewed and discussed, and many of these reviews and discussions are available online.  There are some questions and answers on enotes regarding the novel, I'm sure.  I urge you to read as many of these as possible, a form of brainstorming asynchronously with fellow readers, who may provide you with some insights that had not occurred to you. A chapter based on this exploration would be a kind of review of the literature.  If any do, of course, you will document properly. 

Third, because this is a long and complex novel with many characters and a complicated plot, you are probably going to need to devote one chapter to an overview of the book.  This might very well not be written until after you have completed your analysis because you do not yet know what aspects of the novel you are going to focus on in the analysis, and the overview should include as much as possible about those aspects.  Once you know what aspects these are going to be, you can go back and write the overview. The idea is to pave the way for your reader, providing enough information for the reader to be able to already "know" the aspects of the novel you are focusing on in the analysis.  This will leave your analysis "uncluttered" with too many plot details.  I frequently use this strategy myself, and you should always be aware that nothing needs to be created in any particular order at all.  Most of the time, for example, I write my introductions last. 

Fourth, you are probably going to want to focus first on just the characters of Theo and Pippa, one at a time and then perhaps in combination.  Are they innocent?  What does that mean within the context of the text?  What shows that they are?  What events and reactions lead to their loss of innocence?  Can you point to one central event and response for either of them or is this a gradual loss?  Are they Adam and Eve?  Is a loss of innocence the same as a fall from grace?  Is a loss of innocence an inevitable part of the maturing process? These are just a few ideas for you to consider.

Fifth, are there any other characters in the novel that bear out this theme or that show the converse?  Boris, for example, might serve as a kind of foil, as might Theo's father.  Are any of these characters sufficiently developed and reflective of your theme or its opposite to deserve a separate chapter?  You will want to consider carefully if any are worthy of a separate chapter or if you might perhaps pair a few characters in one chapter to make a particular point about innocence and its loss. 

You have chosen a wonderful theme, and it is going to be a wonderful paper, I know. Once you get started, you will have many more ideas, some paths that you will follow and others you will discard. But get all of it down on paper, no matter how messy it seems. The organization will reveal itself to you as you grapple with the content.  It seems magical, but as you are gathering your resources and ideas, your mind is busy imposing a structure, whether you realize it or not.  Good luck to you! 

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is your analysis of Theo that is going to matter to your paper. Mine could be very different. They might both be perfectly good analyses, as long as we each use the text to support them.  But I always think, no matter what you are analyzing, that it is good to ask yourself questions and to try to view the character you wish to analyze from different angles.   

What is Theo's character as the book begins? How does his character change, if it does, in response to the people and events in his life?  What are his weaknesses and strengths as the book begins?  Do they change throughout the book?  Think about the attributes of character, for literary characters or even people you know. Is Theo brave or cowardly throughout the story?  Is he honest or dishonest?  Is he giving or selfish?  Is he introverted or extroverted?  How are any of these strengths or weaknesses connected to the theme of a loss of innocence? 

Another aspect that you might want to consider as you analyze is Theo's character as an American contrasted with the characters of others in the novel who are not American. Are Americans, the New World, particularly innocent?  Does Boris function as a representative of the Old World, not very innocent? What New World and New World characters could you contrast?

You might also try imagining Theo as someone you must write a profile about for a magazine.  How would you describe him?  What failures and accomplishments might you focus on? What about him could be the most interesting to your readers?  Do you want to leave your readers impressed with Theo or critical of him?  Is he a hero or a failure? 

Try, as you focus on Theo as a character, to write down all the thoughts you have about him.  This needn't be organized in any way. Just get it all down on paper.  Once all of your ideas about him are written down, you can impose a structure on it all. What are the characteristics that stand out the most?  What events in the story change him?  You could analyze chronologically, to show his growth over time. You could analyze the constant personality characteristics, those that remain the same from beginning to end, if you see any.  Or you could do both, a kind of compare and contrast.  Begin with getting those ideas down, and then it will fall into place.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I couldn't improve on the excellent advice given by Lorraine Caplan. However, I changed your topic to "Donna Tartt" and found that enotes has some information about her, including several questions and answers about The Goldfinch. I have shown three enotes reference links below. These might give you some helpful leads. I'm sorry to say that I knew nothing about this author or book before reading your question and Lorraine Caplan's reply.

farahnaz123 | Student

Can anyone explain this statement : Absurd does not liberate, it binds" 

explain it and kindly relate it with Goldfinch novel because Donna Tartt started her novel with this quotation by Albert Camus

farahnaz123 | Student

Thank u so much Loraine Caplan

Can u give me the character analysis of Theo?

and the questions which u tell me are really helpful.. Thanks a lot dear

user7630658 | Student

The Goldfinch shows many comparisons with CrimeandPunishment. It is a story of a boy who lost his mother in bomb blast and then unconsciously takes the painting out of the museum so pledges a serious offense against theft. This crime becomes the cause of other crimes as he starts drinking and then in the end murders someone due to the painting. First he commits the crime and then faces its psychological punishment. He suffers from post-traumatic, stress, disorder due to this incident and tries to commit suicide. So, this novel also shows the absurdity, of modern, life.

user7630658 | Student

She is considered as a Southern Gothic writer. Her novels usually start with a suspense which adds momentum to the plot and enhances the interest of readers. All of her three novels start with a crime scene which creates suspense about who is behind this crime? Whether he committed the crime intentionally or unintentionally? What is the effect of that crime on his and others lives? These questions create suspense and the readers become too much involved in the characters’ psyche that they do not want to stop until they finish reading the novel.

The theme of loss of innocence is a persistent subject among her novels. As her novels start with childhood and then shifts to adulthood, through a series of events, Tartt makes clear how a child loses his innocence when he comes to know the bitter realities of life or when he involves himself in some genus of misconduct.

In The, Goldfinch, Theo loses his innocence by knowing harsh and true realities of life, by indulging himself in various crimes due to the painting like stealing, drinking and by committing a murder.

The Goldfinch is centered on modern-day American life and represents the irrationality of contemporary life. Like Camus, Tartt highlights the experiences of her narrator Theodore Decker in those conditions where he is unable to find the integral tenacity of his life. So, The Goldfinch is the study of human behavior under circumstances that seem ridiculous and metaphysically worthless. They both seem to decide the life or death apprehensions. When Theo losses his innocence in his early childhood, he passes through different phases of his life and encounters many absurd events where he loses his identity as well and starts seeking the purpose of his existence and comes to realize that whatever happened in his life made him able to know who he is.