Chapter 2: Evidence
Constructing Your Two-Storey Opening, Part 1
Now that you have created a blueprint with all the information you have gathered, it’s time to develop an opening focus and claim, also known as a thesis statement. This opening will function as an analytical lens through which you will examine the details of the text. Your opening line needs to do more than simply restate what is in the text. Your opening line is your first opportunity to impose your interpretation upon the text. You want your readers to understand right away that this is your reading of the text. You are not summarizing, rather you are persuading your readers to see what they can learn about a text by reading it your way. So your opening needs to contain some sort of controversial claim.
It is helpful to think of the opening as a building with two storeys. The first storey identifies what the text you are reading is doing while the second storey identifies why that text is doing what it is doing.
The first-storey of your opening should make an observation that is factual and undeniable. By that we mean an observation that is easily proven with evidence from the text. This level or “storey” makes a statement that is not controversial and with which no reasonable person who reads the original text would disagree. A person reading such a thesis thinks immediately: “Yes, this is true.”
In his novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad uses the imagery of dark and light.
Joseph Conrad was an established novelist and he used many literary techniques in Heart of Darkness. There likely are other types of imagery throughout the novel. There are probably similes and metaphors. He may have even used onomatopoeia. But that does not matter, because the focus here is his use of dark and light imagery. Your opening should begin with a focus that establishes this reading as yours. You do not want to write a vague claim then grab for anything that fits. Focusing on a key textual element or concept based on evidence from the text establishes an approach that, while it may seem obvious to you, may not be the approach everyone would take.
This opening observation about Conrad’s work is rather obvious. You need not have read the novel to infer that Conrad uses dark and light imagery—it’s in the title: Heart of Darkness. But this level of focus is vital: you do not want say anything that is not unique to the text or your analysis of it.
The second-storey asks a question to interpret, give a point of view on, or add controversy to the facts of the first storey. “Adding controversy” means taking a position on the facts—a position with which a reasonable person could disagree. A person reading the second storey of your opening should think: “That’s an interesting point of view, now prove it to me!” By controversial, we do not mean that this observation has to be absurd or idiosyncratic. Rather, we mean that it takes one position out of a number of possible positions.
In the novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad uses the imagery of dark and light to represent the contrast between civilization and savagery.
The “second storey” part of this thesis statement is well-known, but it is not undeniably true. It is plausible, but it is also debatable—it must be proven by analyzing evidence from the text. Another reader could disagree with this “second story” and use their own evidence to controvert it. That’s fine. In fact this should be your goal. Debate and discussion is exactly where you want to be as a scholar and an interpretive reader. You should feel like there is something at stake here. You should feel a little uneasy. You should feel like you need to prove the validity and worth of your reading. If you are saying something that is undeniably true, then you are not moving past simply pointing at what is there. If you are saying something that requires further analysis and evidence, then you are contributing to the ongoing scholarly conversation. So, if you have found that controversial, debatable, and (most important when it comes to constructing your analytical essay) defensible claim about a text, well, CONGRATULATIONS: you are extending and expanding the scholarly conversation. You are a scholar.
You can now use your opening focus and claim to reconsider and restructure your essay blueprint. A detailed description and analysis of your evidence should follow your opening and support your focus. Let’s return to our analysis of Bollier’s “The Plot to Privatize Common Knowledge.” In Video 2.2: Creating the Two-Storey Opening, we will review the information we have collected, the observations we have made, and the connections we have formed and use them to create a two-storey opening that will establish and guide our meaningful analysis of the text.