Author Archives: Paul Schacht

About Paul Schacht

Paul Schacht is Professor of English at SUNY Geneseo

Questions to ask about Oliver Twist

In ENGL 458 this coming week, we’ll be working together on generating a good thesis for a first paper.

We’ll begin on Monday by looking at some draft thesis statements you’ll have produced and shared with your classmates in Google Drive.

As you draft a thesis statement, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your statement should have a “They say/I say” structure.
  • “They say” should come before “I say.”
  • You should be able to identify whether the form of your thesis is “Disagree, with reasons,” “Agree, but with a difference,” or “Agree and disagree” (aka, “Okay, but…”).
  • You should be able to explain why a reader should care about your thesis.
  • You shouldn’t try to draft your thesis statement without consulting the templates in Graff and Birkenstein.
  • Your “they say” can be a position taken in a source we’ve discussed in class, a position taken by an individual or group in the class, a hypothetical position, or a position you yourself took before changing your mind.
  • If your “they say” is a hypothetical position, it should also be a plausible one, not a “straw man” (i.e., a position that no one would likely hold in reality).

In addition, here are some questions you might ask yourself about Oliver Twist. They’re intended merely to get you thinking. Don’t approach them as questions with right or wrong answers, and whatever you do, don’t frame your thesis as an answer to one of them! Instead, frame your thesis as an “I say” to a real or possible “They say.”

  • How would you characterize the moral “stance” or “outlook” of the implied author? What adjectives best describe the moral qualities he wants you to believe are his?
  • How would you characterize the implied reader of the novel? What adjectives best describe the kind of person that the narrator seems to want you to believe you are?
  • How does the narrator attempt to appeal to/persuade that reader? Is there more than one way? If so, how do they differ?
  • What role do the implied author and reader play in the novel’s strategy or strategies of persuasion?
  • What is the implied author’s view of particular questions that bear on moral judgment, such as the relationship between individual character and circumstance?
  • Is it possible to think of the implied author himself as “entering a conversation” that his readers will recognize as important? If so, what has the implied author said (directly or by implication) about why his readers should care about Oliver’s story? What is the “They say” to which the narrative of Oliver is an “I say”?
  • Are there any conflicts or inconsistencies in the implied author’s moral stance or his “I say”?
  • How would you characterize the implied genre of the work? (Examples might be comic novel, social satire, realistic novel, allegory.) Are there any conflicts or inconsistencies in the book’s self-presentation? If so, do these affect the consistency or inconsistency of the implied author’s moral stance or outlook? Do they affect how we understand and respond to Oliver’s story?

Finally, remember that Robert L. Patten’s discussion of Oliver Twist‘s historical context (especially its publication history) is full of interesting and important information that can jump start your thinking.