Try It: Thematically Explicit and Complex Claims

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In the end, most strong claims will be both thematically explicit and complex. In fact, adding complexity to a claim is one way to make it thematically explicit. In the exercises below, you’ll get some practice identifying and then writing claims that meet both of these criteria.

Exercise 1: Show The Relationship Between Parts of a Complex Claim to make it thematically explicit<

Complex claims link several aspects of the text together. A claim is not complex if it only comments on the plot, or a particular stylistic feature. Claims which succeed in being complex and thematically explicit relate several aspects of the work to one another, and clearly demonstrate the relationship between the different parts of the claim.

Imagine that you are a member of a class that’s recently been having a discussion about the relationship of artistic representation to personal introspection in Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home. You’ve been given the following prompt:

Write a paper analyzing the ways that memoirs follow, or diverge from, fictional narrative techniques in Bechdel’s Fun Home.

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Take a look at the following claim followed by the different themes that you notice in the work as a whole that supports your claim. Then select the option that most clearly shows your reader the relationship between the different parts of each claim.

Claim 1: In order to survive the landmine that is Fun Home, all members of the Bechdel family must conveniently forget their problems and delve into their own selves, their own art.

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You notice the following formal features: narrative gaps, non-linear narrative, and tangential anecdotes.

These formal features make Bechdel’s memoir resemble a fictional narrative.

Based on these pieces of evidence for your argument, which of the following best links these observations together to allow for a complex and thematically explicit claim?

  • A. Formal features show the relationship of life to art.

  • B. Bechdel’s characters, like works of art, strategically display and withhold information to produce a particular effect.

  • C. The narrative has many gaps that make readers fill in the information on their own that shows that our perceptions of works of art are similar to our perceptions of people, who also only tell us part of the story.

  • This statement is both non-specific and does not explain how the formal features relate to a larger reading of Bechdel’s work. Though “formal features” does describe what you notice about the novel, this reading does not encourage readers to go back to the text to look closely at its evidence because the claim is too vague. Try again.

  • Correct. This statement links the formal features that you’ve noticed—the ways that certain details are withheld from the work—to make an argument about what the work is doing as a whole

  • While this statement does link the formal observations together, it takes a turn to the reader that isn’t indicated by your prior observations. This means that, while this claim might be complex and thematically explicit, it does not logically follow from the kinds of analysis set up earlier. Try again.

Exercise 2: Revise a claim to make it complex and thematically explicit<

You are taking a class on dystopian literature, and you have been reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which takes place in a future American society where all books have been banned, and a group of people called “the firemen” are responsible for burning down any house where books are being hidden. Your classmates have been particularly interested in the ways in which the protagonist, Montag, who is a fireman himself, finds himself torn between his profession and what he has believed up until the beginning of the novel, and a new fascination with books and the possibilities they hold. You have been talking about what it costs him to leave his society, even though it is repressive, and the alternatives the novel suggests are possible for him.

You have been given the following prompt:

“Using one of the dystopian works we have read this semester, make a claim about the results of the protagonist’s complicity with the status quo.”

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Claim 1: “In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Montag’s internal struggle between ignorance and knowledge is demonstrated by his indecision between conforming to social norms and venturing into the territory of banned literature.”

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Like most readers, you will probably conclude that this claim is not complex. The idea proposed in the claim merely abstracts elements of the plot – Montag’s options of conforming to social norms, versus reading banned literature – in order to make a claim about ignorance versus knowledge. It does not forecast an argument which would require further investigation of the evidence. Choose one or more of the following pieces to make the claim complex.

  • A) “When Montag chooses to keep his stolen books, and to join the exiled book-lovers, it becomes clear that his struggle has been resolved by subverting the dystopian regime.”

  • B) “This internal struggle illuminates the pressure placed on Fahrenheit’s dystopian, isolated protagonist.”

  • C) “The novel ultimately demonstrates the importance of forming a new community to resolve such a struggle.”

  • D) “Montag finds himself pulled powerfully in two directions, between his life as a fireman and husband, and his passion for literature and desire for freedom.”

  • E) “Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, and is based on a short story which Bradbury wrote in 1947, titled Bright Phoenix.

  • Sorry. This merely adds facts; it does not make your claim more complex. Try again.

  • You chose B. Correct! A claim that provides an interpretation of the text, and not just a regurgitation of its plot points, is much more likely to be complex. Well done! Here is the revised version of this claim:

    In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Montag’s internal struggle between ignorance and knowledge is demonstrated by his indecision between conforming to social norms and venturing into the territory of banned literature. This internal struggle illuminates the pressure placed on Fahrenheit’s dystopian, isolated protagonist.

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    You may have noticed that there is one other option which would make your claim more complex. Continue looking through the options to see if you can identify the other complex element, or click ‘next’ to move on.

  • You chose C. Correct! A claim that provides an interpretation of the text, and not just a regurgitation of its plot points, is much more likely to be complex. Well done! Here is the revised version of this claim:

    In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Montag’s internal struggle between ignorance and knowledge is demonstrated in his indecision between conforming to social norms and venturing into the territory of banned literature. The novel ultimately demonstrates the importance of forming a new community to resolve such a struggle.

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    You may have noticed that there is one other option which would make your claim more complex. Continue looking through the options to see if you can identify the other complex element, or click ‘next’ to move on.

  • Sorry. This merely adds facts; it does not make your claim more complex. Try again.

  • Sorry. This merely adds facts; it does not make your claim more complex. Try again.

Exercise 2: Revise a claim to make it complex and thematically explicit<

2) Now imagine that a classmate has asked you for help revising his claim for a paper about the experimental novel People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, which features idiosyncratic elements such as columns of text that face different directions on the page and blacked-out sections. After brainstorming, your classmate shows you the following paragraph:

Authors have a certain amount of power in the presentation of their work; the language and structure they choose hold an enormous effect on the reader’s perception of the story. At one point in People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia describes Saturn, the implied author of the story, breaking down the columns of narratives of characters with the strength of Samson to win the battle between Saturn and the people of El Monte. This image symbolizes how anomalous Plascencia’s novel is in breaking down the standard ways that characters are narrated in contemporary literary fiction. Plascencia fills his pages with columns that turn sideways, food pyramids about sadness, and whole spaces of black. He combines this fantastic structure with elements of fantasy and magic in the stories of his characters, one of whom is a living person made of paper. However, the reason for structuring his novel this way and the meaning for his choices of fantasy mostly go unanswered. What role does the reader possess in this type of novel?

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Based on this paragraph, select the two themes you think should appear in his claim:

  • A) Fantasy relates to the horrifying aspects of modern life.

  • B) The methods that Plascenia uses in writing his text reflect the novel’s commentary on the very acts of reading and writing fiction.

  • C) Biblical allusions in the novel produce a continuity between past and present.

  • D) Plascenia’s methods ask the reader to take a more active role in relationship to the text than fiction tends to do.

  • E) Plascenia revises existing narrative techniques.

  • F) Plascenia’s novel is concerned with the similarities between how we tell stories about ourselves and fictional narratives.

  • A. Though this theme might appear in the novel as a whole, the information contained in your classmate’s paragraph doesn’t mention anything that includes this theme. Try again.

  • B. Correct. Your classmate mentions the changes in the text’s form to discuss what these changes mean for the novel over all.

  • There are other answers for this question that you should select as well. Try again.

  • C. Your classmate does mention the Biblical figure Samson, but he doesn’t suggest that this figure is something that he’s interested in pursuing. Try again.

  • D. Correct. The final question explicitly refers to this theme.

  • There are other answers for this question that you should select as well. Try again.

  • E. Your classmate mentions the conventions of contemporary novels only in passing, so this theme is incidental to the main points he is likely to make. Try again.

  • F. The relationship of the explicitly fictional to fictionalized versions of our own lives might be a theme in the novel, but it isn’t something that seems particularly important to the ideas your classmate is considering. Try again.

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Next, select the point that combines these themes in order to make a larger point about the novel as a whole:

  • A) Plascenia’s innovative formal devices make the reader work harder than usual.

  • B) In the novel, Plascenia discourages established ways of reading fiction.

  • C) Plascenia brings together narration and formal representation in order to indicate the mutually determinative relationship of reader to text that his novel takes up.

  • This take-away is true to the text, but it doesn’t make a larger point about the novel as a whole. Try again.

  • This take-away is true to the text, but it doesn’t make a larger point about the novel as a whole. Try again.

  • Correct. This point uses the novel’s themes to say something significant about how the work operates.