While gathering evidence in the form of quotations is an important part of supporting your thesis, you must also include clear, logical explanation to show how your evidence supports your argument, a process we call developing. Not only will this make your argument seem more valid to your readers, but it will also help your readers draw the connections you have painstakingly made from the text to your argument. You probably already have a good idea in your mind of why a quote supports your position, but remember that your readers will not have done all of the thinking about the work that you have. It's up to you to take those ideas out of your mind and put them on paper.
Often, while drafting a paper, we say, "I know what I'm trying to say, but I just can't put it into words." This "putting into words" of your ideas is the hardest part of writing about literature. At other times, you might feel that you are explaining something obvious, but again, remember, your readers haven't done all of the pre-writing work you have to understand the work.
One of the most important things to remember is that different people work in different ways and different orders. The relationship between evidence and explanation illustrates this idea well. You may prefer to explain your points first and then find evidence to support them. On the other hand, you might have an idea of their explanation in mind and want to find the evidence first before fleshing out their explanation.
Here is a sample of a couple of ways to develop your paragraphs:
The working thesis is this:
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee uses indirect characterization to illustrate that empathy for outsiders is more important to becoming a moral person than trusting society’s conventions.
Here are two quotes that could support that theme:
Atticus says, “’You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (32).
Atticus says, “’I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience’” (99).
These two quotes don't support the theme or thesis on their own, so it’s your job as the writer to flesh them out with explanation and connect the dots for your reader. One method for this is to write your quotes in an outline or even just in a list and fill in with words and phrases. For example:
Atticus says, “’You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (32)--Atticus teaching Scout empathy, Scout takes this advice with her throughout the whole novel, helps with Walter, Jem, Boo
Atticus says, “’I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience’” (99)--Atticus taking own advice, doesn’t follow conventions, doesn’t take the easy path, reasons for risking reputation
Note how there are only words and phrases after the quote. You will need to flesh out the explanation later, but for right now, these notes just serve as a reminder of your initial thoughts as to how the quote supports the theme.
Remember, some people prefer to begin with explanation and then fill in with quotes-they want to find the support later and build the argument based on the explanation first. If you prefer to start with your explanation, you may do something like this:
Main point: Atticus characterized as an empathetic person who doesn’t follow society’s conventions
- Atticus teaches his children to be empathetic
- Atticus gives Scout advice that helps her deal in other situations
- Atticus takes on Tom Robinson case even though it’s risky
- Atticus follows the advice he gives Scout
This mini-outline points to how Harper Lee portrays Atticus as an empathetic person and sort of ambles through a chain of reasoning. After this, you just need to plug in the evidence from the novel, like the quotes above, to support this explanation.
Here are the final paragraphs, complete with explanation:
Atticus Finch is characterized as an exemplary father figure who not only takes an active interest in his children, but teaches them true lessons of morality and empathy. Early on, he gives Scout a piece of advice that recurs throughout the story and helps her along the road to maturity. He tells her, “’You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (32).
It is this advice that Scout repeats to herself during some key moments in the novel and helps her understand Walter Cunningham and her teacher, Miss Caroline (32) as well as deal with her ever-changing relationship with her brother Jem (57). Ultimately, her father’s lesson teaches her that Boo Radley is a person, not just a phantom that lives in a creepy house. By showing the effect that Atticus’s advice has on Scout, Lee indirectly characterizes him as both a father that has a positive influence on his children, as well as a man who is taking an active role in teaching his children good morals and values.
Atticus does not just tell Scout to put herself in other’s shoes; he willingly takes his own advice. He constantly considers what others may be feeling and explains reasons for their actions. For example, after Mrs. Dubose’s death, despite the fact that she constantly rained down insults on the Finch family, Atticus tells his children, “’You know, she was a great lady…According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew’” (105). In demonstrating his ability to feel compassion for even the most racist and insulting old woman, Lee is using indirect characterization to show readers Atticus’s strong sense of morality. Lee emphasizes this again when Atticus decides to take on the Tom Robinson case, even though he knows there will be repercussions, possibly even for his children. Unlike many of the people in Maycomb, Atticus acts with compassion toward the poor blacks, the lowest level in the town’s social hierarchy.
When his children question why he took the case in the first place, he says, “’I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience’” (99).
Although it would be easier for Atticus and his children if he were to decline the case, his sense of morality and empathy for the oppressed will not allow him to go down without a fight. Atticus refuses to bend to common social rules and conventions, understanding that just because society views a person as inferior does not mean that person should not be given an equal opportunity to defend themselves.
Note that I inserted another quote into the second paragraph. Often, once you finish developing your evidence, you will figure out another point that connects and more development for that point. This is all a part of the process. It's very easy to go back in and insert quotes and evidence from the text when you need to do that.
Connecting the Dots
"For me, the hardest part about developing is figuring out the balance between explaining enough and feeling like I'm spelling everything out for my reader. Sometimes I just have to stop and remind myself that not everybody has thought through this argument like I have. Connecting those dots is the most important part of the paper and even though you may already know how your evidence ties to your thesis, it may be a bit of a leap for your reader." --Leanna