This copyrighted article is the second of a series that teaches students how to write an effective essay. The first installment, Writing the Basic Analytical Essay Part One, is available at http://cooperhillstylebook.com/archive/
Function of the Introduction
The Introduction hooks the reader’s interest in the topic or theme of the essay. The Introduction states generally what will be discussed in detail in the Body of the essay.
Structure of the Introduction
The Introduction must include the following items, although not necessarily in this order.
- Hook or attention-grabber
- Theme statement
- Paraphrase that elaborates on the topic or theme statement
- Discussion of the topic or theme statement
- If writing about literature: brief general summary of the story.
- If writing about non-literary topics (history, psychology, philosophy, etc.): brief background information that provides context for your topic.
- Thesis statement
Reviewing how to find theme
The story we will be analyzing is a re-telling of Aesop’s “The Dog and the Wolf.” (See the text in Basic Essay: Addenda at http://cooperhillstylebook.com/archive/)
We find its theme by tracing the repetition and the contradiction of the ideas in the story. (See Writing the Basic Analytical Essay:Part One at http://cooperhillstylebook.com/archive/)
- Repetition: We see 2 patterns of repetition: one for the Wolf, the other for the Dog.
Wolf: hungry, suffering, needs food and shelter, refuses to trade freedom for material advantages.
Dog: well-fed, content, has food and shelter, has no free will, is a slave to his owner.
- Contradiction: We see 2 apparent contradictions.
Wolf: is satisfied although he chooses hunger over food and shelter.
Dog: chooses security and slavery over insecurity and freedom, even though this
choice embarrasses him.
The Theme: Identifies the reason for the contradictions.
- Why is the wolf satisfied if he’s still hungry? Because he’s free. He doesn’t want to be a slave.
- Why is the dog embarrassed by choosing security? Because he has surrendered his freedom. He has become a slave.
- What’s the common factor in both contradictions? Freedom. Slavery.
So the theme is freedom, or slavery.
Reviewing how to find theme statement
To develop the theme statement ask, “What about the theme?” The answer is the theme statement.
Question: What about freedom?
Theme statement: What’s the value of freedom, the price of freedom?
Question: What about slavery?
Theme statement: The price of slavery. Preferable to freedom?
Begin with #2 in the Structure of the Introduction: Expanding the Theme Statement.
Let us set aside #1. Hook or attention-grabber for the moment, and begin with 2. Theme statement. This section is short. All it does is turn the theme statement into a sentence and provides context for the theme statement — such as the author and/or the title of the story. Below is an example:
Aesop explores the value of freedom in his famous fable, “The Dog and the Wolf.”
In his famous fable, “The Dog and the Wolf,” Aesop asks if slavery is a fair price to pay for comfort and security.
In this model essay, we will develop the first version above.
Follow up with #3 in the Structure of the Introduction: Paraphrase/Elaboration
Every experienced teacher knows that ideas can’t be simply asserted — they must be elaborated. The elaboration can begin with a bridging phrase such as: “that is,” “that is to say,” “in other words,” “essentially.” It includes definitions or synonyms of any abstract concepts (e.g., friendship, love, loyalty) — in this case, freedom and value. See below:
Essentially, he questions the price of being one’s own master.
Notice that we substituted the synonym “price” for “value” and the definition “being one’s own master” for “freedom.” These substitutions clarify the meaning of the words while they avoid being repetitive.
Next, #4 in the Structure of the Introduction: Discussion of the theme statement
This step is the heart of elaborating the theme statement. It often responds to such questions as:
- What are the implications of the theme statement?
- Is there a flaw in those implications?
- Are there inconsistencies or ambiguities in the theme statement?
“Is the risk of death a reasonable price for freedom?” is the question implicit in
this fable. And, in a parallel question, “Is a life without freedom worth living?” The
characters in the story provide contrasting answers, and their responses reveal
#5 in the Structure of the Introduction: Brief general summary of the story
This summary should be no more than one or two sentences long. Generalize. Avoid details.
These characters are the Dog who sells his freedom for food and shelter, and the Wolf who prefers the possibility of starvation to the certainty of slavery.
#6 in the Structure of the Introduction: Thesis statement
Thesis statement summarizes the subject to be discussed in the Body.
- It breaks down the theme statement into groupings called categories. The
categories must be parallel (stated in the same way with information that does
not appear in more than one category).
- These categories can be listed by name, or can be suggested instead of being
- It relates the categories to the theme and may include the author and/or title.
How to group the categories? Choose one or more of the techniques below to group your categories, or use your own grouping scheme.
Causes – What are the motivating factors behind the main event(s) in the story? Why does the contradiction or main occurrence in the story happen?
Elements – What makes up the main event, phenomenon, or contradiction in the story? what are its main parts?
Process – How does the central event (phenomenon, contradiction) in the story function and develop? What forces or influences make the story turn out the way it does? You can include the effect of the natural, social, emotional, and political environments on that process.
Sequence – What are the steps (or what is the order) in the development of
a character or central event, especially of any contradiction?
Influence – How does a main event or phenomenon affect the story’s environment or its characters?
Results –What are the consequences of the central event, choice, or phenomenon?
Notice that the thesis statement below groups the ideas by causes into two categories (physical versus spiritual values). The results (consequences) are not a category in this case. They are merely suggested here as a prediction in the final Conclusion of the essay.
The choices of these characters are clearly motivated by opposing values, physical and spiritual, each of which has its consequences.
#1 in the Structure of the Introduction: Hook or attention-grabber
Although this section appears first in the Introduction, you are wise to leave it for last because most writers are not sure of the exact ideas the Introduction will ultimately contain until it is actually written.
To write a hook, use one or more of the following:
- Startling statement
- Surprising image
- Contradiction of a standard belief or assumption (what is not so)
- Interesting or obscure fact
- Revelation (can be personal)
- Rhetorical question
- Philosophical observation
(For complete examples of hooks, see Basic Essay: Addenda at http://cooperhillstylebook.com/archive/)
Below is the competed Introduction, capped by the hook. Notice that for our hook, we chose a quotation. To have your hook flow logically into the theme statement, you may need to adjust your theme statement as we have done below.
“I know not what course others may take,” Patrick Henry is said to have exclaimed, “but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Two and a half millennia earlier, Aesop’s Wolf would have nodded in approval. In his famous fable, “The Dog and the Wolf,” Aesop explores the value of freedom. Essentially he questions the price of being one’s own master. “Is the risk of death a reasonable price for freedom?” is the question implicit in this fable. And, in a parallel question, “Is a life without freedom worth living?” The characters in the story provide contrasting answers, and their responses reveal their personalities. These characters are the Dog who sells his freedom for food and shelter, and the Wolf who prefers the possibility of starvation to the certainty of slavery. The choices of these characters are clearly motivated by opposing values, physical and spiritual, each of which has its consequences.
The third installment, The Basic Analytical Essay: Part Three, shows you how to write the Body of the essay. See http://cooperhillstylebook.com/archive/
*The Basic Essay is copyrighted © by Rosette Liberman, Ed.D. Dr. Liberman is the co-author of the classic The Cooper Hill Stylebook — a digital writing and revision text that can be ordered through www.cooperhillstylebook.com.