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Creating a Thesis Statement for A Tale of Two Cities

written by: Shelia Odak • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/4/2012

Charles Dickens’ "A Tale of Two Cities" is rich with opportunities to write an interesting and effective thesis statement. We'll not only talk about ideas for creating a good thesis, but also spur ideas from this classic novel.

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    What Makes a Good Thesis?

    First off, let’s identify exactly what a teacher expects in a thesis statement. A thesis statement is normally composed of one or two sentences and appears at the end of your introductory paragraph. A thesis gives the main idea of your essay. In order to be effective, the thesis can’t be a simple statement of fact. It needs to be arguable. In other words, there will be people who agree and some who disagree with your statement. It is your job to develop points in your essay that will convince people your position is valid. Your thesis will be supported and demonstrated through the ideas and details found in your paper’s body paragraphs.

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    Finding Your Topic

    Before you can create a thesis statement, you need to have a topic. Sometimes, your teacher will assign you something specific on which to write. Often, however, you will be able to set your own topic. If you are able to choose your own topic, you can look for something that truly interests you. Start with what you found intriguing about A Tale of Two Cities. For example, did you enjoy Dickens’ use of doubles (from the two cities of the title to Charles Darnay and Sidney Carton)? Were you fascinated by the themes of rebirth and resurrection that appear in the novel (remember that the title of Book 1 is “Recalled to Life")? Maybe your favorite part was the book’s comic elements, such as Jerry Cruncher.

    Another way to find a good topic for your paper, and your thesis, is to think about the things you did not like about the book. For example, some people find the character of Madame Defarge to be hard to take because she seems to have no feelings other than a robotic drive for vengeance. Others find the character of Lucie Manette to be annoyingly two dimensional in her absolute goodness.

    Once you have started to narrow down your interests, turn those interests into specific questions. You can use this same method if you were assigned a topic on which to write. For example, what is Dickens trying to achieve through his use of “doubles" in the novel? Which character(s) is most affected by the idea of rebirth and resurrection? Why use comedic elements in a novel about a serious subject? Do Madame Defarge and Lucie Manette illustrate the two sides of humanity and the human soul?

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    Developing Your Thesis

    When you have come up with a topic question, you can develop your thesis by figuring out how you would answer that question. Formulate your answer into a sentence or two, and then you have a working thesis. At this point, it is a working thesis because it is still in the preliminary stage. Remember that most initial ideas will need further editing and development. Here is an example of a working thesis statement for one of the topics discussed above: In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the character of Sydney Carton is “resurrected," changing from a bitter, selfish man to a noble, selfless hero due to the influence of love and the realization of the importance of self sacrifice. Right now, this idea is a little wordy, but it suffices as a working thesis that can be honed as the essay progresses.

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    Things to Remember

    Check to see that your thesis is debatable, that it is not too broad (it needs to be focused to be effective), and that it offers ample opportunities for proof through the citation of examples from the text. Also, don’t be afraid to tinker with your thesis as you work on your essay. As your initial idea becomes more developed, you will find that your thesis can change a little or even a lot. What is important is that the argument you make in your completed essay matches your final thesis statement.

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