Building a Thesis Statement
The heart of any essay is its thesis statement; the heart of any thesis statement is the subject-verb-object core of the main clause. Take the following steps to build your thesis statement from the heart outward.
1. Build the core. Choose a noun (or short noun phrase) that describes the main subject of your essay. Make sure it covers the whole of your subject, but no more. Then choose a verb that describes both precisely and comprehensively what your subject does in your essay. Then choose a noun that is the main recipient of the action. Put the three together in that order. Your objective is to put as much information as possible in the core. For instance, here’s the core of a thesis sentence in an essay about Oedipus Rex. “Oedipus Rex explains fate.”
2. Add to it. Add clauses or phrases to your core to make it a full, descriptive, and interesting sentence. You can add material before or after the core to concede something, to explain a cause and effect relationship, or to explain a consequence. For instance, here’s the Oedipus Rex thesis with material added before and after: “At first glance, Sophocles’ most famous play appears to make its hero the victim of circumstance; nevertheless, Oedipus Rex explains fate as a function of character, not fortune.”
3. Sharpen it. Look for vague, weak, or otherwise unsatisfactory words, phrases, and clauses in your thesis and make them more specific through either substitution or modification. For instance, here’s the Oedipus Rex thesis sharpened: “Although Sophocles’ most famous play subjects its hero to deception, bad luck, and the crimes of his parents, Oedipus Rex nevertheless reveals fate to be primarily a function of character, not fortune.”
4. Make your categories with key words. Look at the key works in the sharpened version: “hero,” “deception,” bad luck,” “crimes,” “fate,” “character,” and “fortune.” The key words in italics are all potential sections for the body of the essay, especially if you design your thesis to analyze your subject according to defined categories. Not every thesis will list the main sections of your essay perfectly neatly, but almost every thesis will suggest useful divisions in your essay.
5. Create a title by writing a noun phrase that contains a clear description of your subject and indicates something about your approach and thesis. “Sophocles’ Idea of Fate” isn’t bad, but “Sophocles’ Idea of Fate in Oedipus Rex” is better, and “Doomed by Character: Sophocles’ Idea of Fate in Oedipus Rex” is even better than that.
The tragedy of Oedipus Rex lies in the king's admirable search for truth and openness that meets with obstruction from those who would hide this truth--and from his own figurative blindness to the truth.
Since the thesis statement provides what is often called a blueprint (it provides the structure the writer will use to build the essay), it is important to include in this thesis the main points to be developed. With the thesis statement given above, then, the student can discuss the ways in which truth is obstructed by Tiresias and by Jocasta and not readily perceived by Oedipus.
The first to withhold the truth from Oedipus is Teiresias, who is reluctant to reveal the causes of the devastation and death in the city because he does not wish to bring misery upon Oedipus. Further in the play, Teiresias refuses to “reveal the troubling things inside me, which I can call your grief as well.” That is, the prophet Teiresias resists being the one to reveal the horrible truth to Oedipus for fear of incurring his wrath, although in his rage he later tells Oedipus, "I say that you are the murderer whom you seek"(l. 347). But just as he suspects, Teiresias is not believed and he does incur the wrath of the king. When Teiresias finally tells Oedipus the complete truth about the past, he prophesies what will occur to Oedipus (see ll.439-448).
Jocasta, too, withholds the truth from Oedipus. She is characterized as manipulating knowledge, at first shielding her husband from the truth that she foresees. She manipulates the authority of the oracles to suit the arguments of the moment. In one instance, she tells Oedipus that Laius's son could not have killed him because the boy's ankles were pierced and he was "left...to die on a lonely mountainside" (l. 678).
Finally, Oedipus, who has argued with Teiresias, begins to realize his own blindness to the truth. He recalls meeting a man where the roads toward Delphi and Daulia break from the Theban Way. Slowly, then, Oedipus puts together the memory that condemns him as he also recalls a drunken man telling him once that he was not his father's son. He also recalls a prophet predicting that he was a man who would marry his own mother "and shed his father's blood" (946). So, as he reconstructs the events of the past, Oedipus declares,
I think I myself may be accurst
By my own ignorant edict. (l.700-701)
Nevertheless, Oedipus insists on hearing the truth, again and again, in the face of reluctant tellers who are frightened for their lives, for his life, and for the future of Thebes.