A principal strategy for generating a theme and eventually a thesis statement, is questioning. We recommend that you begin by jotting down a list of simple, fact-based questions that test your comprehension of the work. If you have them handy, using quizzes your teacher gave you covering the piece you are analyzing is a great way to refresh your memory and test your retention. After you have sufficient understanding of the work, you can produce a list of interpretive questions. Good interpretive questions are open-ended, not fact-based.They require deep thought and time to develop. Interpretive questions ask why or what element of a literary work is important and involve references to device and meaning (i.e. form and content).
How they help:
* May direct you to a noteworthy theme
* May assist you in discovering the tone of a work
* Allow you to determine device and thematic patterns in a literary work
* What is my reaction to the story or poem? How does it make me feel? Why?
* What does an object, event, character, or setting symbolize?
* Why is a specific word used and what does it means literally and contextually (i.e. diction – denotation and connotation)?
* What does the organization or structure of a work convey about its overall meaning(s)?
* How does the point-of-view or narrator’s voice serve to influence a work’s meaning?
* What is the significance of the work’s title and what clues does it provide about its theme?
* How does the author use certain literary devices to develop a thematic element?
Example Interpretive Questions:
* Why did Langston Hughes write the poem in the form of a question?
* Why does Hughes use an obsure "stanza" pattern? Why the spacing?
* Why is the dead canary significant?
* Why is it signifcant that the bird is found by the women not the men?
"The Story of an Hour"
* What about the story supports the idea of irony?
* Is Mrs. Mallard happy/relieved that Mr. Mallard died? Why did she not remain in a state of disbelief?
To Kill a Mockingbird
* Why does the adult Scout begin her narrative with Jem's broken arm and a brief family history?
* Why does Atticus Finch risk his reputation, his friendships, and his career to take Tom Robinson's case?
"The Open Boat"
* Why is the oiler the only character that Crane names in the story?
* What is the significance of the crew's inner monologue, questioning why the "seven mad gods" have allowed them to come within sight of land, if only to drown them?
"Before I start writing, I place a thesaurus and an MLA handbook at my fingertips. These are important tools to help me produce my best writing. Another great tool is the Glossary section of this website. The Glossary defines literary devices
and writing terms, which is especially helpful for a non-traditional student like me, who has been out of high school for many years. The clear, concise definitions in the Glossary make it easy to understand the literary elements I will be analyzing for my essay. It’s an excellent resource for your writer’s toolbox!" -Holly