Macbeth Fate Thesis Statement

A Good Paper Starts With A Good Thesis
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A good thesis is:

  • Argumentative. It makes an argument or claim. That is the biggest difference between a thesis and a topic -- a topic is something like "Slavery in Huck Finn." This is not a claim or an argument, it is only a general area. A thesis, on the other hand, makes a specific claim or argument; it tries to prove something. One way to tell a thesis from a topic: if it does not have an active verb, it is almost certainly still a topic.
     
  • Controversial. That does not mean something like "Abortionists should be shot" or "George W. Bush's election was illegitimate" -- it means that it has to be possible for an intelligent person to disagree with your thesis. If everyone agrees on first sight, your thesis is too obvious and not worth writing about.
     
  • Analytical, not evaluative. A college English paper is not the place to evaluate works of literature: theses like "Paradise Lost is an enduring expression of the human spirit" or "The Sound and the Fury is not successful in its choice of narrative techniques" are making evaluative claims. Evaluation papers are not research papers. Evaluations are the business of book reviewers.
     
  • Specific. It is not enough to deal in vague generalities (for an example of generalizations and why they are bad, read below). Some students want to write their paper on man and God, or on the black experience in the twentieth century. Both are far too nebulous to produce a good paper.  The topic is way too large to handle.
     
  • Well supported. This is the key to the rest of the paper after the introductory paragraph.

Generalizations:

"Since the beginning of time, man has wrestled with the great questions of the universe. Humans have always sought to understand their place in creation. There is no society on earth that has not attempted to reckon with the human condition."

Generalizations like this are sure to sink your writing.

For starters, how do you know what has happened since the beginning of time?  Do you know what the great questions of the universe have been since the beginning of time?  Do you know how all humans, since the beginning of time, have tried to understand their place in creation?  Do you know about all societies on earth to make the claim that they all have tried to reckon with the human condition?  And just what is the human condition?

Good Theses:

Showing that a book claims to do one thing while actually doing another -- that's English-paper gold, because such theses are almost always specific and controversial. For example:

  • "Many critics have called the novel misogynistic, but the last chapter suggests it is more feminist than usually assumed." (Be careful, though, about saying what "many critics" have "usually" said: you can't make these things up. Back it up with research into what real critics have actually said about it.)
     
  • "Although the religious tone in the poem suggests a devout belief in God, the speaker is in fact experiencing a crisis of faith."

Note that I said the speaker, not the poet: avoid making claims about real-life authors, whose opinions you may or may not be able to guess from their work. Never assume any writing is autobiographical.
 

Another thing that makes English professors jump for joy: close attention to language. Do not be content with plot summary, especially since I have already read the literature you are writing about and do not need to have the plot summarized for me.  Look instead at the exact words the author uses, and try to base your argument on them. Some good models:

  • "When the work turns to questions of sexuality, the diction becomes much more Latinate and scientific, suggesting the character is uncomfortable with more blunt descriptions of sex."
     
  • "In the last stanza, the poem suddenly switches from the third person to the first, signaling more personal involvement."
     
  • "Where we would expect verbs of being and the passive voice, the author gives us a series of powerful active verbs, and assigns agency to the inanimate objects she describes, making the rocks and trees not mere background but active characters in the story."

Try to pay attention to things like verb tense (past, present) and voice (active, passive), diction (the choice of words), words that are repeated or pointedly avoided, word order, etc.

Bad Theses:

"Fate versus free will in Macbeth."

This one isn't even a thesis -- it's still a topic. Remember, a thesis should say something specific, and it should be a full sentence (with a verb) not a sentence fragment.

"Money is important in Moll Flanders's life."

This one fails for two reasons. First, although it is a sentence and has a verb, it does not say much -- just some vague indication that a topic (money) is worth attention.  This thesis is also weak because it is not controversial -- who in his or her right mind would argue with it? Moll is obsessed with money, and it is obvious to anyone who opens the book. You have to say something that is not obvious.

"In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens presents a realistic picture of social interaction in Victorian London."

How do you know? -- what makes you think Victorian London was really like what Dickens describes? Be careful of circular reasoning: it appears in a book, so it must have been part of real life; therefore I can discuss how the book is like real life. Unless you have done research on actual social conditions in the nineteenth century, do not presume to talk about the world outside the book. All your attention should be on interpreting the text itself, without regard to things you do not (and sometimes cannot) know.

"Hamlet is an enduring testimony to the genius of William Shakespeare."

Good English papers are analytical, not evaluative -- your thesis should never be that a work is good or bad. (Again, that is the business of book reviewers.) Take it for granted that Hamlet deserves two thumbs up: there is no need for you to say it, and certainly no reason to make it the center of your argument.

"In its departure from the familiar metrical forms of its day, Whitman's Leaves of Grass is ahead of its time."

A good thesis should at least nod in the direction of historicism. Evaluating old works by modern standards does them no justice.

Work Toward Turning Bad Theses into Good Ones:

Here is a way to turn some bad theses into good ones, albeit, they are still far from perfect.

"Fate versus free will in Macbeth."

There is not much we can do with this, since there is no argument of any sort. To make it worthwhile, we need to say something specific. Here is a possibility: "Lady Macbeth works to manipulate her husband into believing in the possibility of free will, but Shakespeare puts them in a world controlled by fate."  A better thesis might be produced by trying to answer the question, "Why does Lady Macbeth want her husband to believe in the possibility of free will?  What does he believe in now?  Will believing in free will threaten his present worldview?"

"Money is important in Moll Flanders's life."

Like the previous example, this one does not say anything specific. But try this: "As her use of language shows, Moll Flanders imagines every aspect of life, including love and family life, in economic terms."  A bit better, but still boring.  It leaves me asking, "So what?  Who cares if Moll Flanders imagines everything in economic terms?"  The thesis is better than the first example, but try making it better by asking yourself the "so what?" question.

"In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens presents a realistic picture of social interaction in Victorian London."

Unless you are prepared to do research to back it up, steer clear of things that depend on facts outside the books you are reading. But you can discuss the ways the author describes his world. Something like this might work: "Dickens's attention to circumstantial detail makes the squalor of Oliver Twist seem much more convincing."  Still, this thesis does not make for a very exciting paper.  Why should we care if the squalor depicted is more convincing? More convincing than what? Who cares?  So what?  This idea needs a little more work to make a stronger argument or claim.

"Hamlet is an enduring testimony to the genius of William Shakespeare."

Nothing you can do with this, because it is not the sort of thing a college English paper should do. Toss it out and start over.

"In its departure from the familiar metrical forms of its day, Whitman's Leaves of Grass is ahead of its time."

The problem is "ahead of its time," which evaluates Whitman by standards that came after him. You can, however, evaluate him by standards that came before him: "Whitman's content appears more experimental, even radical, because his form is also revolutionary; the form and content work together to challenge conventional wisdom."  This revision is the best example of working toward making a strong thesis.  The way to make it even stronger would be to carry out the final idea a bit more.  "......to challenge conventional wisdom, which stated that......."  What was the conventional wisdom that Whitman's work challenged?

Other websites to help you formulate your thesis:

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Macbeth by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Macbeth and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Macbeth at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Power

One of the most profound and disturbing themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth involves the power that power exerts over an individual who has ascended to a post of authority. Under the influence of unchecked power, Macbeth takes actions that have serious and devastating consequences for himself and for other characters in the play. Once Macbeth has committed an act in which he uses power for negative ends, he finds it increasingly difficult to restrain himself from resorting to the perverted use of power. Ultimately, it his inability to distinguish the adaptive and maladaptive functions of power from one another that prevents him from realizing his potential greatness.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Witches in Macbeth

Macbeth introduces an element of fantasy into the normal tragedy narrative through the characters of the witches. The witches are important figures in the play, as their function is both to predict Macbeth’s fate and to signal to the reader what is to come. Far from serving as a distracting element, the witches help focus the reader on some of the darker and more sinister aspects of the play. Shakespeare’s use of this fantasy element is effective as a narrative technique.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role of Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is a character who makes an easy reading and interpretation of the play impossible. Like many female characters, Lady Macbeth was cast into a role not entirely of her own choosing; however, like her husband, she finds that once she is on the path of darkness, it is impossible for her to turn back. In fact, Lady Macbeth becomes even more bloodthirsty than her husband, and she encourages him to use his power to perpetrate violence against others. A character analysis of Lady Macbeth reveals that she is a complex character who adds depth to an otherwise straightforward play about power dynamics.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Blood Imagery in Macbeth

Violence and the bloodshed that results are important symbols in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While the blood that is shed is a tangible reminder of the outcomes of misused power, it also serves as an image that provokes Macbeth to reflect upon his deeds, even if he does not change his behavior. Macbeth becomes obsessed with the blood on his hands. Unfortunately, this reminder of his guilt does not prevent him from continuing violent acts.


This list of important quotations from Macbeth by William Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Macbeth listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Macbeth by William Shakespeare they are referring to.

“Let not light see my black and deep desires…." (I.iv.51)

“Yet I do fear thy nature. It is too full o the milk of human kindness….Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it." (I.v.16-20).

“Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe

topful of direst cruelty!" (I.v.41-43).

“…We but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague th’ inventor" (I.vii.8-10)

“O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart Cannot conceive nor name thee!" (II.iii.63-64)

“[B]lood will have blood." (III.v.121)

“I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing To those that know me." (III.v.85-86)

“Something wicked this way comes." (IV.1.45)

“The spirits that know All mortal consequences have pronounc’d me thus: ‘Fear not, Macbeth, no man that’s born of woman Shall e’er have power upon thee.’" (V.iii.6-7)

“The time approaches That will with due decision make us know What we shall say we have, and what we owe." (V.iv.17-19).

Reference: Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. In Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1360-1390.
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