Try It: Thematically Explicit Claims

Nutshell<

When readers turn to literary arguments, they are often impressed by claims that are thematically explicit. That is, claims that contain specific words that relate to concepts that are central to your argument as a whole and which can be demonstrated using close reading. In this section, you’ll get some practice deciding whether or not a claim is thematically explicit, and then writing your own thematically explicit literary claims.

Exercise 1: Which claim is thematically explicit?

Click on the claim that is thematically explicit.

Prompt: Write a paper that analyzes the use of religious and national symbolism in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

  • In spite of the fact that Dracula’s opponents use specifically Christian symbols and rituals to combat him, Dracula himself possesses significant features that link him to the Christian deity. He can only be destroyed by relics of God, he is omnipresent, he takes control of nature, and he acts as master to his servant, Renfield.

  • In spite of the fact that Dracula’s opponents use specifically Christian symbols and rituals to combat him, Dracula himself possesses significant features that link him to the Christian deity: omnipresence, control over the elements of nature, and the ability to command disciples or followers—such as the character Renfield, who refers to Dracula as “Master.” An analysis of Dracula’s godlike qualities reveals that he is more similar to his opponents than they would like to believe.

  • This claim simply lists the various points that you will make in her paper, rather than connecting these points to themes of the novel that paper will take up. Try again.

  • Correct. This claim is more thematically explicit than Claim A because it does not simply list specific qualities that Dracula possesses, but rather frames those qualities in terms of broader themes that the paper will take up. It connects these specific observations to an overall theme in the novel: Dracula and the humans who combat him are more similar than a superficial reading of the text would lead a reader to believe, revealing the moral ambiguity of the humans’ quest to destroy the vampire.

Exercise 1: Which claim is thematically explicit?

Click on the claim that is thematically explicit.

Prompt: Topdog/Underdog takes place in only one room. How does claustrophobia work here? Where is it at play other than in the setting itself?

  • The confinement of space in Suzan-Lori Parks’ play, Topdog/Underdog, which takes place in one room, is duplicated constantly throughout the play and produces an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. This sense of confinement and claustrophobia reflects how both Lincoln and Booth are limited by the poverty in which they’ve grown up, and preventing them from forming any sort of identity outside the parts society expects them to play.

  • Suzan-Lori Parks’ play, Topdog/Underdog, takes place in one room for the entirety of the play. This confinement of space is duplicated constantly throughout the play and produces an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. This claustrophobic feeling is shown not only in the physical setting, but also the job prospects and relationships of the characters Lincoln and Booth; what is unclear, however, is whether this is ultimately confining or liberatory to these characters .

  • Correct. This claim is thematically explicit because it specifically shows how the theme of claustrophobia works in the play, which then becomes central to your argument. It is clear from this claim that you will go on to use the theme of claustrophobia to discuss the fates of the characters Lincoln and Booth.

  • This student implies a claim about confinement, but doesn’t actually state it. Though this student indicates that their claim relates to one of the themes of the play, they don’t say how it does so, and therefore this claim is not thematically explicit. Try again.

Exercise 2: Rank the claims from most to least thematically explicit<

  • In People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, the character Saturn’s passage on page 186 demonstrates the struggles throughout the novel of Little Merced’s battle to preserve her father’s dignity, Smiley’s desire to be noticed and remembered, and Baby Nostradamus’ discipline in allowing the story to play out as it must.
  • In People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, the character Saturn’s passage on page 186 demonstrates the characters’ struggles throughout the novel to demonstrate ambition, which is an important theme in the novel.
  • In People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, the character Saturn’s passage on page 186 uses details of individual characters’ ambitions to demonstrate that the condition of being human is largely about trying to control one’s own story.
Most Thematically Explicit<
Reasonably Thematically Explicit<
Least Thematically Explicit<

Exercise 3: Find the thematically explicit content

In the claims below, click on the one section that is the most thematically explicit.

Claim A

Prompt: Write a paper that analyzes the use of religious and national symbolism in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

  • In spite of the fact that Dracula’s opponents use specifically Christian symbols and rituals to combat him,
  • Dracula himself possesses significant features that link him to the Christian deity: omnipresence, control over the elements of nature, and the ability to command disciples or followers—such as the character Renfield, who refers to Dracula as “Master.”
  • An analysis of Dracula’s godlike qualities reveals that he is more similar to his opponents than they would like to believe.
  • While this section gestures at the larger novel’s themes, for the most part it restates the essay prompt and is not thematically explicit. Try Again.

  • This contains details about the text, and does not refer to overall themes. Try again.

  • Correct. This sentence refers to an overall theme—Dracula’s similarity to God—and explains why they are significant in regards to the novel as a whole.

Exercise 3: Find the thematically explicit content

In the claims below, click on the one section that is the most thematically explicit.

Claim B

Prompt: Topdog/Underdog takes place in only one room. How does claustrophobia work here? Where is it at play other than in the setting itself?

  • The confinement of space in Suzan-Lori Parks’ play, Topdog/Underdog, which takes place in one room,
  • is duplicated constantly throughout the play and produces an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia.
  • This sense of confinement and claustrophobia reflects how both Lincoln and Booth are limited by the poverty in which they’ve grown up, which prevents them from forming any sort of identity outside the parts society expects them to play.
  • This section restates the claim, setting the stage for an explanation of the significance of these themes for the play as a whole. Try Again.

  • Here, you begin to get into the thematically complex aspects of the analysis, but this is not the most thematically explicit section. Try again.

  • Correct. This final clause explains what the theme of claustrophobia has to do with the play as a whole.

Exercise 4: Revise a claim to make it thematically explicit<

In this exercise, you will work on revising a claim to make it more complex. Imagine that you were given the following prompt:

Prompt: People of Paper is a novel about, among other things, what it means to write a novel. In your paper, analyze the ways that People of Paper relates the process of writing a novel to larger themes about power and control.

You start with the following claim. After brainstorming, you realize that you want to revise your claim to include the following aspects that will make it more thematically explicit. Drag the phrases into the claim in the order you think they should appear to make the claim more thematically complex.


Try to relate this theme to the content already in the claim.

Try Again.


Try to relate this theme to the content already in the claim.

Try Again.


Try to relate this theme to the content already in the claim.

Try Again.

that this war fought by Latino/as to reclaim their own stories and memories is not just against Saturn but against the oppressive force of colonization that he represents.
it becomes clear through word choice, sentence structure, and Saturn’s gradual loss of control over the narrative
the lingering effects of European colonization of Latin America, which completely alters the understanding of the war against Saturn;

In this passage on page 186, Plascencia discusses the after-effects of colonization; it becomes clear through formal devices that this war is about something bigger than Saturn and Plascencia.

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A discussion of the ways that the passage makes its point: word choice, sentence structure, and character development<
The relationship of works of art to personal and cultural narratives<

The novel’s references to the history of European colonialism in Latin America.<