Typically, when writing an essay on a novel, it is best to focus on one major theme (or two very similar themes) analyzed through the use of three different literary elements. This will give you the basic five paragraph essay that is typically required in high school essays. If your teacher has given you a minimum length and five paragraphs is not enough, this focus is also easily adapted and made longer by analyzing the theme through more than three literary elements.
Before writing a thesis statement, you will have to do some serious preliminary brainstorming first. I encourage you to answer the following questions (using notes, lists, and short hand if you want):
- What are some major themes (subject) presented in the novel?
- What is the author's point concerning these themes? What message does Faulkner wish to get across?
- What literary elements does Faulkner use to get this point (from #2) across? (Examples in fiction are things like: characterization, symbolism, point-of-view, irony, figures of speech, etc.)
Once you've given some basic answers to the above questions, narrow your topic by focusing on one major theme and the three strongest or easiest literary elements. Continue brainstorming ideas by going back to the text and gathering evidence in the form of quotes. The two things you are looking for here are:
- Quotes that display one of the three chosen literary elements AND
- simultaneously help support/prove the theme.
You can organize your paper as you gather evidence by listing quotes under the appropriate literary element heading (which would also become your three topic sentences). After you've organized all your ideas, you can easily write a two-part thesis statement by filling in the blanks:
In As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, the author uses literary elements to show [theme and purpose of theme]. This theme is made most evident through [element 1], [element 2], and [element 3].
The links below are also great resources to review before you get started.