University of Wisconsin–Madison

Crafting a Thesis Statement

Professor David Zimmerman, English

Crafting a thesis is hard work. A successful thesis is typically the result of a long process of trying out different claims, selecting a few to refine and elaborate, and choosing an especially promising one to perfect. Here’s an example of this trial-and-error process as it moves from first attempt to a developed thesis:

In “Benito Cereno,” Herman Melville suggests

In “Benito Cereno,” Herman Melville argues that

In “Benito Cereno,” Herman Melville argues that black slaves are equally capable of political symbolism as whites.

In “Benito Cereno,” Herman Melville shows how whites fool themselves if they think they alone possess the capacity to enact political theater

“Benito Cereno” exposes the racism that makes blacks the passive

In “Benito Cereno,” the white

In “Benito Cereno,” Captain Delano represents white Americans who confuse authority and power

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. On first glance, it seems to

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It exposes the idiocy and blindness of white antebellum racists who imagine that black slaves are incapable of using political symbolism.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It shows how keenly aware black slaves are of the strategies white slaveholders use to terrify and oppress them. At the same time, it shows how whites refuse to see

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It shows how blind white slaveholders are to the imaginative capacities of black slaves

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It shows not only that black slaves are keenly aware of the symbolic strategies white slaveholders use to safeguard white power, but also that black slaves can exploit these strategies to secure their own emancipation and authority over their masters.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It demonstrates that black slaves are keenly aware of the symbolic strategies white slaveholders use to safeguard the slave regime. Moreover, it shows how black slaves are capable of exploiting these same strategies to secure their own emancipation and authority at the expense of their former masters.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It shows how the very strategies white slaveholders depend on to safeguard their power over their slaves

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is a powerfully subversive work. It studies how white slaveholders depend upon certain kinds of symbolic displays to safeguard their power and to make their authority over slaves seem natural. It shows not only how black slaves are keenly aware of the ways whites use these displays, but also how slaves are capable of exploiting these displays to fool their masters and to secure their own emancipation.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” shows how the blindness of racist ideology can lead to its own subversion.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” studies how the racist beliefs and stereotypes that white slaveholders rely upon to justify slavery make them incapable of recognizing slaves’ desire and capacity for revolution. The story exposes how this insensitivity not only incites, but also enables slave revolution.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” studies how white racism not only incites, but also enables slave revolution.

Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” exposes the racism, hypocrisy, and complacency of liberal abolitionists in the 1850s.