Handbook for Historians

  • Choosing a Paper Topic

What is a Thesis Statement?

How to develop a thesis statement.

  • What Sources Can I use?
  • Gathering sources
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  • Paraphrasing and Quoting Sources
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  • Sample Papers
  • Research Paper Checklist

The thesis statement summarizes the central argument of your paper. It is placed at the top of the outline page, and appears again in the opening paragraph. A clearly stated thesis performs three functions:

  • it provides a focus for your research, helping to prevent time wasting digressions
  • it furnishes an organizational theme for the paper, which then becomes easier to write
  • it gives the reader precise knowledge of what the paper will argue, thereby making it easier to read

You cannot formulate a thesis statement until you know a great deal about your subject.  It is often wise to begin your research in pursuit of the answer to a question about your topic  - but this question is not a thesis statement. A helpful web site that can advise you on how to formulate a thesis is:  http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/thesis-statements/

Guidelines for formulating the thesis statement are as follows:

  • The thesis must focus on a single contention. You cannot list multiple reasons for the “truth” of your contention because the paper must follow a unified line of reasoning; a multifaceted thesis statement prevents this.
  • The thesis must be precisely phrased and coherent . Generalizations and a failure to define terms results in vagueness and lack of direction in argumentation.
  • The thesis must be a declarative statement. The object of your research was to answer a question; when you found the answer, you embodied it in your thesis statement. Hence a thesis can never be a question.

Here are some examples of thesis statements that strive to incorporate these recommendations...

POOR : Miguel Hidalgo’s uprising in 1810 led to a long war for independence in Mexico.    WHY: The above-stated thesis is a statement of fact that provides no clue about what you plan to do with that fact in your paper. Since there is no argument here, this is not a thesis. Improved : Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 uprising mobilized poor and native Mexicans whose violence frightened elites and prolonged the war for independence. WHY: The above-stated thesis very specifically explains why the uprising resulted in a long war for independence. What’s more, it is debatable, since there may be other explanations for the war’s length. 

POOR : The creation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza created great tension between the Israelis and  Palestinians for numerous reasons. WHY : The above-stated thesis is poor because it is too general and it deals with the obvious – that there is tension between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. It needs to explain what the “numerous reasons” are; focus on one of them; and drop the reference to the obvious. Remember: a thesis statement makes a specific argument and here only a vague reference to multiple reasons for tension is provided. Improved : The creation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was both an expression of Zionist expansionism and a means to isolate Palestinian population centers. WHY : The above-stated thesis is much better because it explains what the “numerous reasons” are and focuses on one of them. Now an argument has been created because a concrete explanation has been stated. Also,  this statement removes the obvious fact that tension exists between the two ethnic groups.

POOR : Louis XIV was a strong king who broke the power of the French nobility. WHY : The above-stated thesis contains a vague judgment about Louis XIV; that he was “strong.” In addition, it fails to specify exactly how he broke the nobles’ power. Improved : The Intendant System was the most effective method used by Louis XIV to break the power of the French nobility. WHY : The above-stated thesis eliminates the vague word “strong” and specifies the mechanism Louis XIV used to break the nobles’ power. Moreover, since this  was not the only policy Louis XIV used in his efforts to control the nobles, you have shown that your paper will defend a debatable position.

POOR : Gandhi was a man of peace who led the Indian resistance movement to British rule. WHY : The above-stated thesis does not clarify what about Gandhi made him a man of peace, nor does it specify anything he did to undermine British rule. Improved : Gandhi employed passive non-resistance during his Great Salt March and that enabled him to organize the Indian masses to resist British rule. WHY : The above-stated thesis specifies what has caused Gandhi to be remembered as a man of peace (his promotion of passive non-resistance to oppression) and it names one of the protests he organized against British rule. In addition, since it suggests that the technique of passive non-resistance is what made the Indian  populace rally behind him, it is debatable; there were other reasons why the poor in particular were ready to protest the British monopoly on salt.

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California History-Social Science Project | Resources & professional learning for K-12 history-social science

California History-Social Science Project

Thesis statement, thesis and argument: answers the inquiry question with a thesis statement that is historically defensible and supported by available evidence.

Every history paper has a big idea that serves as an umbrella for all the evidence included in the essay. That umbrella is the argument, or the position the paper aims to prove within the essay.   The thesis is the sentence that sums up the historical argument.   The Common Core State Standards list the claim, or thesis, as a key element of writing in the history classroom.  Beginning, in 9th grade, students should start to develop counterclaims.

Through their writing, students are expected to introduce their thesis, and use it to organize their evidence in the essay.  The historical thinking concept should be incorporated into the thesis statement and reflected in the analysis throughout the paper. As a student’s writing develops, their thesis statements will reflect a greater knowledge of the subject at hand, a complexity of the topic under study, and the relationship between their ideas to other relevant issues or trends.

Modeling Thesis Development

When introducing students to writing thesis statements, it is important that they understand that thesis statements are drawn from an analysis of evidence. After conducting an inquiry based on primary and secondary sources, model how to move from the inquiry question, through a summary of evidence derived from relevant sources, to a draft of a thesis statement. Then create opportunities for the student to receive feedback to further refine and develop the thesis.

4 Steps for Developing a Thesis Statement:

  • Rewrite the question in your own words and determine the criteria for analysis (categories).  Remember to consider the historical thinking concept and how this will guide the argument.
  • Review the related evidence. Select relevant and historically significant evidence that addresses the question.
  • Sort evidence according to the criteria of analysis (categories), and organize the categories to best develop the argument in the paper.
  • State your thesis clearly and concisely.

Example from a 10th-grade Classroom

Inquiry Question:  Who started the Russian Revolution?

(Argumentative/Cause & Consequence)  

Summary of Relevant Evidence from Primary and Secondary Documents:

  • Women initiated a communal strike in the capital protesting the war and food shortages.
  • The army supported the Russian people’s street protests against the Czar.
  • Soldiers at the front turned against the authority of the state. 

Student Writing:  First Draft


Student Writing:  Final Thesis


Module 9: The New Deal (1932-1941)

Historical arguments and thesis statements, learning objectives.

  • Evaluate historical claims and thesis statements

The Research Writing Process

In an earlier historical hack, we talked about the research writing process, as shown below:

  • Understand the assignment
  • Select a research topic/develop a research question
  • Conduct research: find and evaluate sources
  • Create your claim (make an argument)
  • Synthesize evidence
  • Put it together

These are guidelines to help you get started, but the process is iterative, so you may cycle through these steps several times while working towards your finished product. In this hack, we want to focus on the final three steps—once you’ve done your research and have a few ideas about what to say, how do you put it together to create your finished product?

Crafting Historical Arguments

In open-ended historical research assignments, you are almost always expected to create an argument (revisit the assignment prompt or ask your instructor if you’re unsure about this). Historical arguments are not like the arguments that you and your roommate might have about the best show on T.V. or an argument you’d have with the referee at a sporting event; historical arguments require you to pick a stance on an issue and defend it with supporting evidence.

Your objective is not to create an informal persuasive essay convincing others of your viewpoint based on your personal opinions, but an argumentative one, where you defend your stance on an issue by backing it with historical evidence. Argumentative writing is done for a formal, academic purpose— you have a compelling viewpoint on a topic, and you’ve conducted research. Now you are communicating that research and using evidence to back your claim. When you write an argumentative piece, you write as if you are the authority on the topic, a subject-matter expert.

The Differences Between Persuasive and Argumentative Writing

Check out the table below for a quick breakdown of the differences between persuasive and argumentative writing.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell a topic from an argument. If someone sees you reading an article and asks, “What’s that article about?” You might say, “It’s about photography during the Great Depression.” That’s a topic, not an argument. How do we know? You can’t disagree with “photography during the Great Depression.” An argument is something you could disagree with, like “Photography during the Great Depression was essential in bringing the realities of poverty into the public eye.”

Argumentative Statements

Understand the assignment.

Don’t forget the first step in approaching a research paper or assignment—to carefully understand what you are asked to do. Some assignments are more obviously arguments than others. They may ask you to pick an obvious side, like “Was the New Deal effective or ineffective?” Or “How do you think the government should address reparations for slavery? Or “Was the American Revolution really a revolution?”

Understanding Argumentative Statements

Other times the “argument” part is less obvious. The prompt may be more generic or broad. Let’s take a look at this option for a capstone assignment in this class:

Pick a reformer or activist involved with a social movement between 1877 and 1900. Evaluate and analyze the ideas, agenda, strategies, and effectiveness of the work done by your chosen reformer or activist. You can pick one aspect of the person’s involvement or significance to the movement to focus on in your research. You should make a claim in your final report that answers one of the questions below:

  • What was the influence of your person on American life during their time period?
  • What is their influence and legacy today?
  • What changes came about as a direct result of their activism? 
  • What obstacles stood in the way of this person from having a more significant impact on society?
  • What activism methods used by your reformer were most effective, and why?
  • How did their activism compare or contrast with other reform movements from the same time period?
  • How are things different today because of their activism? In what ways are things the same?
  • Why should people be aware of the work done by your chosen reformer?
  • Can you draw any connections to a modern-day reform movement— what reform movement might they support today, and why?

With this prompt, you are tasked with creating an argument about the reformer or activist you chose. It is not simply a narrative or biography where you report about their lives, but you want to pick one of the listed questions to create an argument—something that shows your ability to take a stance (that could be debated by others) and support your view with evidence.

Activity #1

Give it a try—without even doing some research- what argumentative statement could you make about a 19th-century activist?

Let’s take a look at a more detailed example. For example, say that your chosen activist was  Bayard Rustin , a Black activist who was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. What’s an argument you could make about Rustin?

Here is one option. “While you’ve heard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” during the 1963 March on Washington, you may not have heard of Bayard Rustin, whose involvement in planning the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was essential in propelling Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the deputy director of the March, Rustin’s background in nonviolence and vision for the March led leaders to prioritize the civil rights movement and gave public backing to the federal law prohibiting racial discrimination.”

As you’ll learn in just a moment, this argument is what becomes the thesis statement.

Begin With a Thesis

The central claim you make in your argument is called the thesis statement . A thesis consists of a specific topic and an angle on the topic. All of the other ideas in the text support and develop the thesis.

Where in the Essay Should the Thesis Be Placed?

The thesis statement is often found in the introduction, sometimes after an initial “hook” or interesting story; sometimes, however, the thesis is not explicitly stated until the end of an essay, and sometimes it is not stated at all. In those instances, there is an implied thesis statement. You can generally extract the thesis statement by looking for a few key sentences and ideas.

Most readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that it has to be placed there every time. Some writers place it at the very end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. For history essays, most professors will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction.

Characteristics of a Thesis Statement

Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay, but thesis statements typically share the following characteristics:

  • Presents the main idea
  • Most often is one sentence
  • It tells the reader what to expect
  • Is a summary of the essay topic
  • Usually worded to have an argumentative edge
  • Written in the third person

Crafting strong argumentative writing is a skill that teaches you how to engage in research, communicate the findings of that research, and express a point of view using supporting evidence.

Link to learning

For a few more examples of how to create arguments and thesis statements, visit this helpful writing guide .

What Makes a Good Claim?

Let’s take a closer look at this process by reviewing a worked example. For this example, we will use a topic you’ve studied recently—the FDR presidency and New Deal. Let’s imagine you’ve been assigned the following prompt:

  • Did New Deal spending and programs succeed in restoring American capitalism during the Great Depression, and should the government have spent more money to help the New Deal succeed, or did the New Deal spend unprecedented amounts of money on relief and recovery efforts but ultimately fail to stimulate a full economic recovery?

You’ve already examined the prompt, selected a research topic, and conducted research, and now you are ready to make your claim. First, what claim do you want to make?

Identify the Claim

Let’s look at a sample introductory paragraph that responds to this prompt. Look for the central claim made in the argument.

Example ESSAY #1

Since the stock market crash and the onset of the depression, British economists John Maynard Keynes, Roy Harrod, and others had urged western governments to stop tinkering with monetary solutions and adopt an aggressive program of government spending, especially in the areas of public works and housing, to stimulate the economy during the depression. Keynes stressed these ideas when he met with President Roosevelt, who soon complained to labor secretary Frances Perkins: “He [Keynes] left a whole rigamarole of figures. He must be a mathematician rather than a political economist.” Roosevelt’s comments about Keynes opened a window on one fundamental reason why the president’s New Deal, despite unprecedented federal spending, never achieved full economic recovery between 1933 and 1940. Although surrounded by critical advisers such as Federal Reserve chairman Marriner Eccles, who understood Keynes and his central message about the importance of government spending, Roosevelt did not grasp these ideas intellectually. He remained at heart a fiscal conservative, little different from Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt condoned government spending when necessary to “prime the pump” for recovery and combat hunger and poverty, but not as a deliberate economic recovery tool.

Let’s look at yet another example. This also responds to this same prompt which you can find again below for reference:

Example ESSAY #2

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, America was in the midst of financial collapse. Banking holidays closed banks in 28 states, and investors traded their dollars for gold to have tangible wealth. The president reassured Americans” “This great Nation will endure as it has endured and will revive and will prosper.” He listed three goals to shore up capitalism through his New Deal: banking regulation, laws to curb speculation, and the establishment of a sound currency basis. Roosevelt shored up the financial sector through regulation to restore the public trust that mismanaged banks, and financial speculators had destroyed. His New Deal gave the federal government regulatory responsibility to smooth economic downturns. Over the next eight years, the New Deal’s economic practices and spending helped create recovery and restore capitalism.

Finding the Thesis Statement

You’ve found the central claims from each of these two sample essays. Quite often, the claim is the thesis statement. But sometimes, the thesis statement elaborates on the claim more by including the angle you’ll take about your claim. In the sample essay above, the thesis statement is written in reverse order, with the primary claim coming at the end, but if you read the sentences before that, you can see what the essay’s focus will be as well.”

  • “Roosevelt shored up the financial sector through regulation to restore the public trust that mismanaged banks, and financial speculators had destroyed. His New Deal gave the federal government regulatory responsibility to smooth economic downturns. Over the next eight years, the New Deal’s economic practices and spending helped create recovery and restore capitalism”.”

Now we know that the rest of the essay will focus on how the New Deal’s economic practices and spending habits helped the recovery and also show 1) ways that Roosevelt shored up the financial sector and 2) gave the federal government regulatory responsibility.

Pick a reformer or activist involved with a social movement between 1877 and 1900. Pick two questions below and write a thesis statement explaining the main claim and angle you would take in an essay about the topic.

  • What changes came about as a direct result of their activism?

Thesis statement #1:

Thesis statement #2:

thesis statement : a statement of the topic of the piece of writing and the angle the writer has on that topic

  • Historical Hack: Crafting Historical Arguments. Authored by : Kaitlyn Connell for Lumen Learning. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Analyzing Documents Using the HAPPY Analysis. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-ushistory2/chapter/analyzing-documents-using-the-happy-analysis/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Secondary source. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_source . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • What is an argument?. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp1coreq/chapter/introduction-to-what-is-an-argument/ . Project : English Composition I Corequisite. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Did the New Deal End the Great Depression?. Provided by : OpenStax. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:WWZKMA1o@2/12-16-%F0%9F%92%AC-Did-the-New-Deal-End-the-Great-Depression . Project : Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]

Writing a Thesis and Making an Argument

Almost every assignment you complete for a history course will ask you to make an argument. Your instructors will often call this your "thesis"– your position on a subject.

What is an Argument?

An argument takes a stand on an issue. It seeks to persuade an audience of a point of view in much the same way that a lawyer argues a case in a court of law. It is NOT a description or a summary.

  • This is an argument: "This paper argues that the movie JFK is inaccurate in its portrayal of President Kennedy."
  • This is not an argument: "In this paper, I will describe the portrayal of President Kennedy that is shown in the movie JFK."

What is a Thesis?

A thesis statement is a sentence in which you state an argument about a topic and then describe, briefly, how you will prove your argument.

  • This is an argument, but not yet a thesis: "The movie ‘JFK’ inaccurately portrays President Kennedy."
  • This is a thesis: "The movie ‘JFK’ inaccurately portrays President Kennedy because of the way it ignores Kennedy’s youth, his relationship with his father, and the findings of the Warren Commission."

A thesis makes a specific statement to the reader about what you will be trying to argue. Your thesis can be a few sentences long, but should not be longer than a paragraph. Do not begin to state evidence or use examples in your thesis paragraph.

A Thesis Helps You and Your Reader

Your blueprint for writing:

  • Helps you determine your focus and clarify your ideas.
  • Provides a "hook" on which you can "hang" your topic sentences.
  • Can (and should) be revised as you further refine your evidence and arguments. New evidence often requires you to change your thesis.
  • Gives your paper a unified structure and point.

Your reader’s blueprint for reading:

  • Serves as a "map" to follow through your paper.
  • Keeps the reader focused on your argument.
  • Signals to the reader your main points.
  • Engages the reader in your argument.

Tips for Writing a Good Thesis

  • Find a Focus: Choose a thesis that explores an aspect of your topic that is important to you, or that allows you to say something new about your topic. For example, if your paper topic asks you to analyze women’s domestic labor during the early nineteenth century, you might decide to focus on the products they made from scratch at home.
  • Look for Pattern: After determining a general focus, go back and look more closely at your evidence. As you re-examine your evidence and identify patterns, you will develop your argument and some conclusions. For example, you might find that as industrialization increased, women made fewer textiles at home, but retained their butter and soap making tasks.

Strategies for Developing a Thesis Statement

Idea 1. If your paper assignment asks you to answer a specific question, turn the question into an assertion and give reasons for your opinion.

Assignment: How did domestic labor change between 1820 and 1860? Why were the changes in their work important for the growth of the United States?

Beginning thesis: Between 1820 and 1860 women's domestic labor changed as women stopped producing home-made fabric, although they continued to sew their families' clothes, as well as to produce butter and soap. With the cash women earned from the sale of their butter and soap they purchased ready-made cloth, which in turn, helped increase industrial production in the United States before the Civil War.

Idea 2. Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main Idea: Women's labor in their homes during the first half of the nineteenth century contributed to the growth of the national economy.

Idea 3. Spend time "mulling over" your topic. Make a list of the ideas you want to include in the essay, then think about how to group them under several different headings. Often, you will see an organizational plan emerge from the sorting process.

Idea 4. Use a formula to develop a working thesis statement (which you will need to revise later). Here are a few examples:

  • Although most readers of ______ have argued that ______, closer examination shows that ______.
  • ______ uses ______ and ______ to prove that ______.
  • Phenomenon X is a result of the combination of ______, ______, and ______.

These formulas share two characteristics all thesis statements should have: they state an argument and they reveal how you will make that argument. They are not specific enough, however, and require more work.

As you work on your essay, your ideas will change and so will your thesis. Here are examples of weak and strong thesis statements.

  • Unspecific thesis: "Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong leader as First Lady."  This thesis lacks an argument. Why was Eleanor Roosevelt a strong leader?
  • Specific thesis: "Eleanor Roosevelt recreated the role of the First Lady by her active political leadership in the Democratic Party, by lobbying for national legislation, and by fostering women’s leadership in the Democratic Party."  The second thesis has an argument: Eleanor Roosevelt "recreated" the position of First Lady, and a three-part structure with which to demonstrate just how she remade the job.
  • Unspecific thesis: "At the end of the nineteenth century French women lawyers experienced difficulty when they attempted to enter the legal profession."  No historian could argue with this general statement and uninteresting thesis.
  • Specific thesis: "At the end of the nineteenth century French women lawyers experienced misogynist attacks from male lawyers when they attempted to enter the legal profession because male lawyers wanted to keep women out of judgeships."  This thesis statement asserts that French male lawyers attacked French women lawyers because they feared women as judges, an intriguing and controversial point.

Making an Argument – Every Thesis Deserves Its Day in Court

You are the best (and only!) advocate for your thesis. Your thesis is defenseless without you to prove that its argument holds up under scrutiny. The jury (i.e., your reader) will expect you, as a good lawyer, to provide evidence to prove your thesis. To prove thesis statements on historical topics, what evidence can an able young lawyer use?

  • Primary sources: letters, diaries, government documents, an organization’s meeting minutes, newspapers.
  • Secondary sources: articles and books from your class that explain and interpret the historical event or person you are writing about, lecture notes, films or documentaries.

How can you use this evidence?

  • Make sure the examples you select from your available evidence address your thesis.
  • Use evidence that your reader will believe is credible. This means sifting and sorting your sources, looking for the clearest and fairest. Be sure to identify the biases and shortcomings of each piece of evidence for your reader.
  • Use evidence to avoid generalizations. If you assert that all women have been oppressed, what evidence can you use to support this? Using evidence works to check over-general statements.
  • Use evidence to address an opposing point of view. How do your sources give examples that refute another historian’s interpretation?

Remember -- if in doubt, talk to your instructor.

Thanks to the web page of the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Writing Center for information used on this page. See writing.wisc.edu/handbook for further information.

HIST H270 What is History?

  • Finding Books
  • Finding Articles
  • Primary Source Databases
  • Other Primary Sources at IU
  • Develop a Research Question
  • Primary Sources
  • Cite Sources
  • Scholarly vs Popular
  • Thesis Statements

What Is a Thesis?

A  thesis  is the main point or argument of an information source. (Many, but not all, writing assignments, require a thesis.)

A strong thesis is:  

• Arguable:  Can be supported by evidence and analysis, and can be disagreed with.

•  Unique:  Says something new and interesting.

•  Concise and clear:  Explained as simply as possible, but not at the expense of clarity.

•  Unified:  All parts are clearly connected. •  Focused and specific:  Can be adequately and convincingly argued within the the paper, scope is not overly broad.

•  Significant:  Has importance to readers, answers the question "so what?"

Crafting a Thesis

Research is usually vital to developing a strong thesis. Exploring sources can help you develop and refine your central point.

1. Conduct Background Research.

A strong thesis is specific and unique, so you first need knowledge of the general research topic. Background research will help you narrow your research focus and contextualize your argument in relation to other research. 

2. Narrow the Research Topic. 

Ask questions as you review sources:

  • What aspect(s) of the topic interest you most?
  • What questions or concerns does the topic raise for you?   Example of a general research topic:  Climate change and carbon emissions Example of more narrow topic:  U.S. government policies on carbon emissions

3. Formulate and explore a relevant research question.  

Before committing yourself to a single viewpoint, formulate a specific question to explore.  Consider different perspectives on the issue, and find sources that represent these varying views. Reflect on strengths and weaknesses in the sources' arguments. Consider sources that challenge these viewpoints.

Example:  What role does and should the U.S. government play in regulating carbon emissions?

4. Develop a working thesis. 

  • A working thesis has a clear focus but is not yet be fully formed. It is a good foundation for further developing a more refined argument.   Example:  The U.S. government has the responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions through public policy and regulation.  This thesis has a clear focus but leaves some major questions unanswered. For example, why is regulation of carbon emissions important? Why should the government be held accountable for such regulation?

5. Continue research on the more focused topic.

Is the topic:

  • broad enough to yield sufficient sources and supporting evidence?
  • narrow enough for in-depth and focused research?
  • original enough to offer a new and meaningful perspective that will interest readers? 

6. Fine-tune the thesis.

Your thesis will probably evolve as you gather sources and ideas. If your research focus changes, you may need to re-evaluate your search strategy and to conduct additional research. This is usually a good sign of the careful thought you are putting into your work!

Example:   Because climate change, which is exacerbated by high carbon emissions, adversely affects almost all citizens, the U.S. government has the responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions through public policy and regulation. 

More Resources

  • How to Write a Thesis Statement IU Writing Tutorial Services
  • Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements Purdue OWL
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Thesis Statements

Every paper must argue an idea and every paper must clearly state that idea in a thesis statement.

A thesis statement is different from a topic statement.  A topic statement merely states what the paper is about.  A thesis statement states the argument of that paper.

Be sure that you can easily identify your thesis and that the key points of your argument relate directly back to your thesis.

Topic statements:

This paper will discuss Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

The purpose of this paper is to delve into the mindset behind Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

This paper will explore how Harry Truman came to the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

Thesis statements:

Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima was motivated by racism.

The US confrontation with the Soviets was the key factor in Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

This paper will demonstrate that in his decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, Truman was unduly influenced by hawks in his cabinet.

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Writing a History Paper

  • Reading Your Assignment
  • Picking a Topic

Developing a Thesis Statement

  • Subject Guide
  • Planning Your Research
  • Executing Your Research Plan
  • Evaluating Your Research
  • Writing Your Paper
  • Additional Resources
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  • History Homepage This link opens in a new window

Usually papers have a thesis, an assertion about your topic. You will present evidence in your paper to convince the reader of your point of view. Some ways to help you develop your thesis are by:

  • stating the purpose of the paper
  • asking a question and then using the answer to form your thesis statement
  • summarizing the main idea of your paper
  • listing the ideas you plan to include, then see if they form a group or theme
  • using the ponts of controversy, ambiguity, or "issues" to develop a thesis statement

If you're having trouble with your thesis statement, ask your professor for help or visit the Student Academic  Success Center: Communication Support . Your thesis may become refined, revised, or changed as your research progresses. Perhaps these sites may be helpful:

  • Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences ( CMU Student Academic Success Center : Communication Support)
  • Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements  (Purdue OWL - Online Writing Lab)
  • Developing a Thesis Statement  (Writing Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Thesis Statements  (The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill)
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How to Research and Write a Compelling History Thesis

student works on history thesis in university library

Just as history is more than a collection of facts about past events, an effective history thesis goes beyond simply sharing recorded information. Writing a compelling history thesis requires making an argument about a historical fact and, then, researching and providing a well-crafted defense for that position.

With so many sources available—some of which may provide conflicting findings—how should a student research and write a history thesis? How can a student create a thesis that’s both compelling and supports a position that academic editors describe as “concise, contentious, and coherent”?

Key steps in how to write a history thesis include evaluating source materials, developing a strong thesis statement, and building historical knowledge.

The Importance of Research for Writing a History Thesis

Compelling theses provide context about historical events. This context, according to the reference website ThoughtCo., refers to the social, religious, economic, and political conditions during an occurrence that “enable us to interpret and analyze works or events of the past, or even the future, rather than merely judge them by contemporary standards”.

The context supports the main point of a thesis, called the thesis statement, by providing an interpretive and analytical framework of the facts, instead of simply stating them. Research uncovers the evidence necessary to make the case for that thesis statement.

To gather evidence that contributes to a deeper understanding of a given historical topic, students should reference both primary and secondary sources of research.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are firsthand accounts of events in history, according to Professor David Ulbrich, director of Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program. These sources provide information not only about what happened and how it happened but also why it happened.

Primary sources can include letters, diaries, photos, and videos as well as material objects such as “spent artillery shells, architectural features, cemetery headstones, chemical analysis of substances, shards of bowls or bottles, farming implements, or earth or environmental features or factors,” Ulbrich says. “The author of the thesis can tell how people lived, for example, by the ways they arranged their material lives.”

Primary research sources are the building blocks to help us better understand and appreciate history. It is critical to find as many primary sources from as many perspectives as possible. Researching these firsthand accounts can provide evidence that helps answer those “what”, “how”, and “why” questions about the past, Ulbrich says.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are materials—such as books, articles, essays, and documentaries—gathered and interpreted by other researchers. These sources often provide updates and evaluation of the thesis topic or viewpoints that support the theories presented in the thesis.

Primary and secondary sources are complementary types of research that form a convincing foundation for a thesis’ main points.

How to Write a History Thesis

What are the steps to write a history thesis? The process of developing a thesis that provides a thorough analysis of a historical event—and presents academically defensible arguments related to that analysis—includes the following:

1. Gather and Analyze Sources

When collecting sources to use in a thesis, students should analyze them to ensure they demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the materials. A student should evaluate the attributes of sources such as their origin and point-of-view.

An array of primary and secondary sources can help provide a thorough understanding of a historical event, although some of those sources may include conflicting views and details. In those cases, the American Historical Association says, it’s up to the thesis author to determine which source reflects the appropriate point-of-view.

2. Develop a Thesis Statement

To create a thesis statement, a student should establish a specific idea or theory that makes the main point about a historical event. Scribbr, an editing website, recommends starting with a working thesis, asking the question the thesis intends to answer, and, then, writing the answer.

The final version of a thesis statement might be argumentative, for example, taking a side in a debate. Or it might be expository, explaining a historical situation. In addition to being concise and coherent, a thesis statement should be contentious, meaning it requires evidence to support it.

3. Create an Outline

Developing a thesis requires an outline of the content that will support the thesis statement. Students should keep in mind the following key steps in creating their outline:

  • Note major points.
  • Categorize ideas supported by the theories.
  • Arrange points according to the importance and a timeline of events addressed by the thesis.
  • Create effective headings and subheadings.
  • Format the outline.

4. Organize Information

Thesis authors should ensure their content follows a logical order. This may entail coding resource materials to help match them to the appropriate theories while organizing the information. A thesis typically contains the following elements.

  • Abstract —Overview of the thesis.
  • Introduction —Summary of the thesis’ main points.
  • Literature review —Explanation of the gap in previous research addressed by this thesis.
  • Methods —Outline how the author reviewed the research and why materials were selected.
  • Results —Description of the research findings.
  • Discussion —Analysis of the research.
  • Conclusion —Statements about what the student learned.

5. Write the Thesis

Online writing guide Paperpile recommends that students start with the literature review when writing the thesis. Developing this section first will help the author gain a more complete understanding of the thesis’ source materials. Writing the abstract last can give the student a thorough picture of the work the abstract should describe.

The discussion portion of the thesis typically is the longest since it’s here that the writer will explain the limitations of the work, offer explanations of any unexpected results, and cite remaining questions about the topic.

In writing the thesis, the author should keep in mind that the document will require multiple changes and drafts—perhaps even new insights. A student should gather feedback from a professor and colleagues to ensure their thesis is clear and effective before finalizing the draft.      

6. Prepare to Defend the Thesis

A committee will evaluate the student’s defense of the thesis’ theories. Students should prepare to defend their thesis by considering answers to questions posed by the committee. Additionally, students should develop a plan for addressing questions to which they may not have a ready answer, understanding the evaluation likely will consider how the author handles that challenge.

Developing Skills to Write a Compelling History Thesis

When looking for direction on how to write a history thesis, Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program can provide the needed skills and knowledge. The program’s tracks and several courses—taken as core classes or as electives in multiple concentrations—can provide a strong foundation for thesis work.

Master of Arts in History Tracks

In the Norwich online Master of Arts in History program, respected scholars help students improve their historical insight, research, writing, analytical, and presentation skills. They teach the following program tracks.

  • Public History —Focuses on the preservation and interpretation of historic documents and artifacts for purposes of public observation.
  • American History —Emphasizes the exploration and interpretation of key events associated with U.S. history.
  • World History —Prepares students to develop an in-depth understanding of world history from various eras.
  • Legal and Constitutional History —Provides a thorough study of the foundational legal and constitutional elements in the U.S. and Europe.

Master of Arts in History Courses

Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program enables students to customize studies based on career goals and personal interests through the following courses:

  • Introduction to History and Historiography —Covers the core concepts of history-based study and research methodology, highlighting how these concepts are essential to developing an effective history thesis.
  • Directed Readings in History —Highlights different ways to use sources that chronicle American history to assist in researching and writing a thorough and complete history thesis.
  • Race, Gender, and U.S. Constitution —Explores key U.S. Supreme Court decisions relating to national race and gender relations and rights, providing a deeper context to develop compelling history theses.
  • Archival Studies —Breaks down the importance of systematically overseeing archival materials, highlighting how to build historical context to better educate and engage with the public.

Start Your Path Toward Writing a Compelling History Thesis

For over two centuries, Norwich University has played a vital role in history as America’s first private military college and the birthplace of the ROTC. As such, the university is uniquely positioned to lead students through a comprehensive analysis of the major developments, events, and figures of the past.

Explore Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program. Start your path toward writing a compelling history thesis and taking your talents further.

Recommended Readings

Achieving Your Educational Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most from a Master’s Degree      What Can I Do With a History Degree? Defining Different Career Tracks      What Is Digital History? A Guide to Digital History Resources, Museums, and Job Description

Writing History: An Introductory Guide to How History Is Produced , American Historical Association     How to Write a Thesis Statement , Scribbr     The Importance of Historic Context in Analysis and Interpretation , ThoughtCo.     7 Reasons Why Research Is Important , Owlcation     Primary and Secondary Sources , Scribbr     Secondary Sources in Research , ThoughtCo.     Analysis of Sources , History Skills     Research Paper Outline , Scribbr     How to Structure a Thesis , Paperpile     Writing Your Final Draft , History Skills     How to Prepare an Excellent Thesis Defense , Paperpile

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thesis Statements

What this handout is about.

This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.


Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement:

  • tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
  • is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. (Check out our handout on understanding assignments for more information.)

How do I create a thesis?

A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.

Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, see our handout on brainstorming .

How do I know if my thesis is strong?

If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following :

  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. If the prompt isn’t phrased as a question, try to rephrase it. For example, “Discuss the effect of X on Y” can be rephrased as “What is the effect of X on Y?”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to  be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

Suppose you are taking a course on contemporary communication, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: “Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.” Looking back at your notes, you might start with this working thesis:

Social media impacts public awareness in both positive and negative ways.

You can use the questions above to help you revise this general statement into a stronger thesis.

  • Do I answer the question? You can analyze this if you rephrase “discuss the impact” as “what is the impact?” This way, you can see that you’ve answered the question only very generally with the vague “positive and negative ways.”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not likely. Only people who maintain that social media has a solely positive or solely negative impact could disagree.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? No. What are the positive effects? What are the negative effects?
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? No. Why are they positive? How are they positive? What are their causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are their causes?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? No. Why should anyone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?

After thinking about your answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the one impact you feel strongly about and have strong evidence for:

Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.

This version is a much stronger thesis! It answers the question, takes a specific position that others can challenge, and it gives a sense of why it matters.

Let’s try another. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.

You begin to analyze your thesis:

  • Do I answer the question? No. The prompt asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your working thesis is a statement of general appreciation for the entire novel.

Think about aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
  • Do I answer the question? Yes!
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well-known and accepted.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? It’s getting there–you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation. However, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? Not yet. Compare scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions and anything else that seems interesting.
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?”

After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:

Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.

This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 2018. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing , 8th ed. New York: Pearson.

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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  • What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

Published on September 14, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on November 21, 2023.

A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master’s program or a capstone to a bachelor’s degree.

Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation , it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete. It relies on your ability to conduct research from start to finish: choosing a relevant topic , crafting a proposal , designing your research , collecting data , developing a robust analysis, drawing strong conclusions , and writing concisely .

Thesis template

You can also download our full thesis template in the format of your choice below. Our template includes a ready-made table of contents , as well as guidance for what each chapter should include. It’s easy to make it your own, and can help you get started.

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Table of contents

Thesis vs. thesis statement, how to structure a thesis, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your thesis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about theses.

You may have heard the word thesis as a standalone term or as a component of academic writing called a thesis statement . Keep in mind that these are two very different things.

  • A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay , and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay .
  • A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to complete. It is generally a degree requirement for Master’s programs, and is also sometimes required to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts colleges.
  • In the US, a dissertation is generally written as a final step toward obtaining a PhD.
  • In other countries (particularly the UK), a dissertation is generally written at the bachelor’s or master’s level.

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The final structure of your thesis depends on a variety of components, such as:

  • Your discipline
  • Your theoretical approach

Humanities theses are often structured more like a longer-form essay . Just like in an essay, you build an argument to support a central thesis.

In both hard and social sciences, theses typically include an introduction , literature review , methodology section ,  results section , discussion section , and conclusion section . These are each presented in their own dedicated section or chapter. In some cases, you might want to add an appendix .

Thesis examples

We’ve compiled a short list of thesis examples to help you get started.

  • Example thesis #1:   “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807” by Suchait Kahlon.
  • Example thesis #2: “’A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man’: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947″ by Julian Saint Reiman.

The very first page of your thesis contains all necessary identifying information, including:

  • Your full title
  • Your full name
  • Your department
  • Your institution and degree program
  • Your submission date.

Sometimes the title page also includes your student ID, the name of your supervisor, or the university’s logo. Check out your university’s guidelines if you’re not sure.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional. Its main point is to allow you to thank everyone who helped you in your thesis journey, such as supervisors, friends, or family. You can also choose to write a preface , but it’s typically one or the other, not both.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Style consistency

See an example

thesis statement us history definition

An abstract is a short summary of your thesis. Usually a maximum of 300 words long, it’s should include brief descriptions of your research objectives , methods, results, and conclusions. Though it may seem short, it introduces your work to your audience, serving as a first impression of your thesis.

Read more about abstracts

A table of contents lists all of your sections, plus their corresponding page numbers and subheadings if you have them. This helps your reader seamlessly navigate your document.

Your table of contents should include all the major parts of your thesis. In particular, don’t forget the the appendices. If you used heading styles, it’s easy to generate an automatic table Microsoft Word.

Read more about tables of contents

While not mandatory, if you used a lot of tables and/or figures, it’s nice to include a list of them to help guide your reader. It’s also easy to generate one of these in Word: just use the “Insert Caption” feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

If you have used a lot of industry- or field-specific abbreviations in your thesis, you should include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations . This way, your readers can easily look up any meanings they aren’t familiar with.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

Relatedly, if you find yourself using a lot of very specialized or field-specific terms that may not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary . Alphabetize the terms you want to include with a brief definition.

Read more about glossaries

An introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis, as well as expectations for your reader. This should:

  • Ground your research topic , sharing any background information your reader may need
  • Define the scope of your work
  • Introduce any existing research on your topic, situating your work within a broader problem or debate
  • State your research question(s)
  • Outline (briefly) how the remainder of your work will proceed

In other words, your introduction should clearly and concisely show your reader the “what, why, and how” of your research.

Read more about introductions

A literature review helps you gain a robust understanding of any extant academic work on your topic, encompassing:

  • Selecting relevant sources
  • Determining the credibility of your sources
  • Critically evaluating each of your sources
  • Drawing connections between sources, including any themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing work. Rather, your literature review should ultimately lead to a clear justification for your own research, perhaps via:

  • Addressing a gap in the literature
  • Building on existing knowledge to draw new conclusions
  • Exploring a new theoretical or methodological approach
  • Introducing a new solution to an unresolved problem
  • Definitively advocating for one side of a theoretical debate

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework, but these are not the same thing. A theoretical framework defines and analyzes the concepts and theories that your research hinges on.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter shows your reader how you conducted your research. It should be written clearly and methodically, easily allowing your reader to critically assess the credibility of your argument. Furthermore, your methods section should convince your reader that your method was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

  • Your overall approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative )
  • Your research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment
  • Any tools or materials you used (e.g., computer software)
  • The data analysis methods you chose (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
  • A strong, but not defensive justification of your methods

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. These two sections work in tandem, but shouldn’t repeat each other. While your results section can include hypotheses or themes, don’t include any speculation or new arguments here.

Your results section should:

  • State each (relevant) result with any (relevant) descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
  • Explain how each result relates to the research question
  • Determine whether the hypothesis was supported

Additional data (like raw numbers or interview transcripts ) can be included as an appendix . You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results.

Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is where you can interpret your results in detail. Did they meet your expectations? How well do they fit within the framework that you built? You can refer back to any relevant source material to situate your results within your field, but leave most of that analysis in your literature review.

For any unexpected results, offer explanations or alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your thesis conclusion should concisely answer your main research question. It should leave your reader with an ultra-clear understanding of your central argument, and emphasize what your research specifically has contributed to your field.

Why does your research matter? What recommendations for future research do you have? Lastly, wrap up your work with any concluding remarks.

Read more about conclusions

In order to avoid plagiarism , don’t forget to include a full reference list at the end of your thesis, citing the sources that you used. Choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your thesis, taking note of the formatting requirements of each style.

Which style you choose is often set by your department or your field, but common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

In order to stay clear and concise, your thesis should include the most essential information needed to answer your research question. However, chances are you have many contributing documents, like interview transcripts or survey questions . These can be added as appendices , to save space in the main body.

Read more about appendices

Once you’re done writing, the next part of your editing process begins. Leave plenty of time for proofreading and editing prior to submission. Nothing looks worse than grammar mistakes or sloppy spelling errors!

Consider using a professional thesis editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect.

Once you’ve submitted your final product, it’s common practice to have a thesis defense, an oral component of your finished work. This is scheduled by your advisor or committee, and usually entails a presentation and Q&A session.

After your defense , your committee will meet to determine if you deserve any departmental honors or accolades. However, keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality. If there are any serious issues with your work, these should be resolved with your advisor way before a defense.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

Research bias

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The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .

If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.

Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:

  • Plan to attend graduate school soon
  • Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
  • Are considering a career in research
  • Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience

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They’re all beautiful, exquisitely dressed and vapid, the foreigners who’ve traipsed across the Moroccan desert for a weekend of debauchery in “ The Forgiven .”

Regardless of their marital status, sexual orientation, or country of origin, these people are awful without exception. There’s not a redeeming one in the bunch, not one you’d want to spend time with—well, maybe Christopher Abbott , because he’s the hardest to pin down, and so his terrible traits aren’t quite so pronounced. He also looks quite dashing in a dinner jacket. It’s that kind of party—at least until they start doing lines of coke on the coffee table.

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh wants us to feel scorn as he satirizes the racism and classism of wealthy Westerners exploiting the Middle East as an exotic destination. They don’t view the locals as human beings, as a deadly accident will reveal, and they don’t have much time for the Moroccans’ feelings or traditions. They’re merely dipping a toe in this world and ignoring the damage they’ve left in their wake. And McDonagh, in adapting Lawrence Osborne ’s 2012 novel, uses their blunt dialogue as a cudgel as if their actions alone weren’t sufficient. There may not be much to these people, but they’re constantly declaring their emptiness in the most articulate ways.

“I like it here,” says Abbott as New York financial analyst Tom Day. “It feels like a country where a useless man could be happy.” Or as a celebrated Moroccan novelist played by Imane El Mechrafi puts it: “People disappear here. They just vanish.”

But in Ralph Fiennes ’ character, McDonagh presents the possibility for evolution and even redemption. By then, though, it may be too late.

Fiennes’ David and Jessica Chastain ’s Jo are a miserably married couple who’ve traveled from London to visit an old friend of theirs: Richard (a sneering Matt Smith ), who’s renovating a sprawling villa four hours outside Tangier with his American partner, a day-drunk named Dally ( Caleb Landry Jones ). We can tell quickly that their marriage is fraying from their bored expressions and the way they low-key bicker when David polishes off a bottle of white wine at the hotel. There’s no spark in this fight: It just feels like habit. (This is a very different husband-and-wife dynamic from the one Fiennes and Chastain shared in “ Coriolanus .”) So when they find themselves lost and confused during the long, nighttime drive to Richard’s remote estate—and accidentally run over an impoverished teenager selling fossils on the side of the road, killing him instantly—the trauma is certain to worsen that rift.

But first, David and Jo have a soiree to attend where they have to pretend that everything is fine. Other guests include Abbey Lee as an Aussie party girl who jumps in the pool in her sequined dress; Marie-Josee Croze as a sanctimonious French photographer who makes broad generalizations about Americans; and Alex Jennings as a British lord who arrives late with a posse of pretty, much-younger women in tow.

They are careless people, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald—until the boy’s father shows up from his village to make David care, at least. Ismael Kanater plays Abdellah in a performance that seems bravely quiet and stoic at first, almost stereotypical, but eventually he reveals a simmering sorrow and rage. Abdellah insists that David return with him to his home to help bury the boy, named Driss, as is their custom. David’s immediate reaction reveals his bigotry: “They might be f**king Isis for all I know.” But eventually he relents, with the intention of only being gone overnight and paying this family off—reluctantly—for their trouble.

From here, McDonagh (brother of Martin McDonagh , the writer of “ In Bruges ” and “ Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ”) alternates between David’s journey toward forgiveness and the drunken antics back at the villa. As the guests trade bitchy bon mots between sips of their cocktails—and Jo enjoys a fun, sexy flirtation with Tom while her husband’s away—David learns from his exposure to this family and begins to accept the error of his ways.

One situation is just as superficial as the other, though. There’s precious little to any of these characters, and so the possibility that they might change at all because of this traumatic series of events feels unearned. Chastain is cool and glamorous as Jo, who had the foresight to bring multiple pairs of designer sunglasses for this weekend jaunt to the middle of nowhere. And having worked with the likes of Aaron Sorkin , Chastain clearly knows her way around this kind of muscular dialogue. But beyond her impeccable appearance and the fact that she used to be a children’s book author, we know nothing about her. There are no stakes when it becomes clear that Jo’s entire life is about to be thrown into flux; it’s more of a passing curiosity, like her dalliance with Tom.

McDonagh’s film is well-crafted throughout but ultimately has nothing fresh or insightful to say about the ugliness of white privilege. It’s like attending a weekend bacchanal and forgetting what happened once Monday morning rolls around, or perhaps not wanting to remember.

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Christy Lemire

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Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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The Forgiven movie poster

The Forgiven (2022)

117 minutes

Ralph Fiennes as David Henninger

Jessica Chastain as Jo Henninger

Matt Smith as Richard Galloway

Caleb Landry Jones as Dally Margolis

Abbey Lee as Cody

Christopher Abbott as Tom Day

Marie-Josée Croze as Isabelle

Alex Jennings as Lord Swanthorne

Saïd Taghmaoui as Anouar

David McSavage as William Joyce

John Michael McDonagh

Writer (novel)

  • Lawrence Osborne


Larry Smith

Elizabeth Eves

  • Lorne Balfe

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Review: it’s no privilege to watch ralph fiennes and jessica chastain bicker in ‘the forgiven’.

Jessica Chastain in "The Forgiven."

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Halfway through “The Forgiven” — a fussy dark comedy nestled in a sedated yet grim spiritual journey — David (Ralph Fiennes) visits the village of the Morroccan kid he murdered with his car a few days earlier. While David sulks in his victim’s humble home, his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain) parties at a lavish desert villa just a few miles away, surrounded by the bitchy elite. This is a movie that wants to skewer the rich in two ways: through David’s facing his distasteful actions and his hedonistic friends revealing their worst selves. Neither tones ever cohere.

Adapted from Lawrence Osborne’s same-titled novel, in the early going, writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s sleepy satire, “The Forgiven” reminds one of Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy.” The curmudgeon David, an alcoholic doctor recently sued by a patient for a botched diagnosis, and his younger wife Jo, a children’s book writer, bicker their way through a road trip to the luxe villa of their wealthy friend Richard (Matt Smith) and his loud, spoiled boyfriend Dally (Caleb Landry Jones).

Searching for Richard’s isolated home, the couple drive aimlessly through the Sahara. As David speeds around a dusty curve, a local boy named Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) jumps into the road and is killed by David’s car. When they arrive at Richard’s place, Jo is shaken; David is detached, nearly angered by the inconvenience. Though Richard pays off the local police, the boy’s father appears the next day. In order to atone, he requests that David accompany the boy’s body to be buried in their village while Jo remains behind. Faced with few options, David ignores the dangers — in his disgusting words: “They could be ISIS” — and relents.

Through this tragedy McDonagh aims to elucidate the callousness of colonialism: It’s telling that Richard’s other guests — a jaded French photographer (Marie-Josée Croze), a British Lord (Alex Jennings) and a philandering American financial analyst (Christopher Abbott) who eyes Jo — reside in countries with imperialist pasts. The local servants overhear their tasteless conversations concerning the bestiality of Moroccans; they witness these debased white folks consume their cultural food and artifacts as they toss around nasty barbs (thankfully the servants do get small bits of revenge). For those who enjoy viciousness, the scenes may offer a biting, cathartic release. To others, the runway for such diatribes will be short.

Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith in "The Forgiven."

David and Jo’s verbally combative relationship adds to the barbed tone, but Fiennes and Chastain feel as though they’re acting in different movies. He’s a stiff-upper-lip Brit and she’s aping Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert.” The two styles create a kind of friction, which work in tandem, but struggle to catch fire in scenes where they’re apart, particularly for recent Oscar winner Chastain.

She’s stuck at the party, which plays as background to David’s repentant sojourn through an alluring yet decaying desert landscape. His gruff exterior begins to fade as he learns more about Driss through his grieving father (a visceral Ismael Kanater). The family subsidizes their income by digging for fossils in the desert and selling them to the West. There’s a blood diamond aspect to this economic system that favors the poverty stricken populace risking their lives to sell off their natural treasures to conniving Westerners. And a sober David begins to see his own role.

While “The Forgiven” isn’t concerned with making David a better person — rather to get him to fully grasp his guilt — McDonagh’s methods can’t distinguish the film from the long list of stories about white folks learning lessons at the expense of brown people. There may have been higher ideals in mind, but “The Forgiven” fails to gracefully reach them.

'The Forgiven'

Rating : R, for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and brief violence Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes Playing: In general release July 1

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Ralph fiennes and jessica chastain in ‘the forgiven’: film review | tiff 2021.

John Michael McDonagh’s drama revolves around a traveler who has accidentally killed a boy in Morocco.

By John DeFore

John DeFore

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The Forgiven

Based on a 2012 Lawrence Osborne novel that might well have been set (with only small changes) many decades earlier, John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven watches rich Westerners treat Morocco like their playground, scarcely noticing the poverty and disapproval surrounding their opulent parties. Imperialist-grade entitlement goes only so far in the modern world, though, and when one partyer accidentally kills a local teen, some kind of accommodation is going to have to be made.

Scripted, directed and acted with intelligence and panache, it’s a very grown-up film but never a bore, a morally alert drama that leaves the scolding to us. Less mysterious and tightly wound than McDonagh’s excellent Calvary , it resonates with that 2014 drama in surprising ways.

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Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations) Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Saïd Taghmaoui, Christopher Abbott, Ismael Kanater, Caleb Landry Jones, Mourad Zaoui Director-screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh

David and Jo Henninger ( Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain ) arrive in Tangier dressed as if only a spot of trouble with immigration officials made them too late to co-star in The Sheltering Sky . He’s a well-born Brit who scowls at the mere tourists who loiter in hotel lobbies and gorge at buffets; she’s an American who has tolerated his alcoholism and snobbery for too long to claim any moral superiority. If he weren’t bad enough, David wears driving gloves as he drunkenly pilots their car toward the Sahara.

They’re headed to a remote castle owned by Jo’s old friend Richard ( Matt Smith ), who with boyfriend Dally ( Caleb Landry Jones , louche and unpredictable) has invited an assortment of decadent aristocrats and finance types for a few days of pretending to be Noel Coward characters. But the Henningers get lost and grow frustrated, and David’s paying too little attention at the wheel to swerve when young Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) steps into the road.

Dinner is well underway when the couple quietly drive up with a dead boy in their back seat. What can the foreigners get away with? Will locals try to use this tragedy to extort them, or might David be, who knows, beheaded by ISIS? While bystanders puzzle over how best to proceed, David is too busy acting like he understands this country’s nuances to pretend he feels bad about ending someone’s life. Eventually, the boy’s father arrives — not to demand payment, but to insist that David accompany him on the long voyage back to his village, to witness the burial of his only son.

What can David’s wife and friends do but continue to drink and gossip until he returns — or doesn’t? Jo starts up a dangerous flirtation with a handsome stranger ( Christopher Abbott ) whose air of superiority far exceeds hers, despite the fact that, as a financial analyst, he’s probably the worst person at this gathering of unlikable people. Richard oversees his Xanadu of booze and bikinis as if there were nothing unseemly about hedonism and overconsumption in a region where pious Muslims spend every minute of sunlight digging up fossils to sell tourists. The head of his domestic staff (Mourad Zaoui, in a wry, understated performance), inured to such behavior, tries to minimize conflict with locals.

On the trip into the desert, English speaker Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui), helps David keep from further offending Driss’ father, Abdellah (Casablanca-born actor Ismael Kanater), who refuses to address the Englishman directly. Complicated moral exchanges are underway long before David even begins to accept the weight of what he has done, and Anouar, like many translators before him, voluntarily compensates not only for David’s linguistic deficiencies but also for his lack of empathy and tact. As they drive, McDonagh and cinematographer Larry Smith show enough of the landscape to provide a sense of place without trying to dazzle us with travel-mag vistas.

Moving back and forth between settings, the film contrasts the fatuous political chitchat of the Westerners with the little that David witnesses of a country he was snobbily passing judgments on just days before. Inevitably, he is humbled. But it happens in an almost subversive way, seeming to satisfy some Anglo-flattering narrative conventions while actually subjecting the film’s characters to other kinds of logic. Is David “forgiven” by the end? What could he possibly do to earn that?

Full credits

Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations) Production companies: House of Un-American Activities, Brookstreet Pictures Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Saïd Taghmaoui, Christopher Abbott, Ismael Kanater, Caleb Landry Jones, Mourad Zaoui, Aissam Taamart, Omar Ghazaoui Director-screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh Producers: John Michael McDonagh, Elizabeth Eves, Trevor Matthews, Nick Gordon Executive producers: Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Jack Heller, Scott Veltri, Kimberly Fox, Donald Povieng, Ollie Madden, Daniel Battsek, Lawrence Osborne Director of photography: Larry Smith Production designer: Willem Smit Costume designer: Keith Madden Editors: Elizabeth Eves, Chris Gill Composer: Lorne Balfe Casting directors: Jina Jay, Salah Benchegra

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‘The Forgiven’ Review: Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain Face Their Demons in the Desert

'Interesting in a good way, or interesting in a bad way?' the characters ask in John Michael McDonagh's thorny moral parable, inviting you to decide.

By Peter Debruge

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The Forgiven

Have you ever noticed how, in Western culture, when referring to someone’s death, writers feel obliged to insert the word “tragic” somewhere in the sentence? Is there any other kind, a reader might rightly ask. Sometimes they mean “unexpected,” a kind of shorthand intended to show that the life in question was cut short before its time. But just as often, the phrase “tragic death” is simply redundant, a trite cliché intended to signify that the speaker isn’t some callous bastard.

Writer-director John Michael McDonagh recognizes that not all deaths are tragic. Some are merciful, others accidental; while many are unfortunate, on some occasions, people meet an end that could be described as “poetic” — or at the least, deserved. McDonagh (like younger brother Martin) is a brute-force moralist. Both siblings write scripts in which the term “reckoning” often applies, which is to say, movies and plays where atonement is meted out in a blunt and bloody fashion, often with darkly comic undertones. John Michael’s first three features — “The Guard,” “Calvary” and “War on Everyone” — certainly qualify, and his fourth, “ The Forgiven ,” isn’t merely concerned with such themes; it’s consumed by them.

Undeniably wicked yet deliciously prickly in its portrayal of adult affairs, “The Forgiven” takes place in Morocco, where life is cheap, but some things — like decency, respect and a clean conscience — can’t be bought. The film stars Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain as David and Jo, a posh European couple on holiday in the Sahara, who kill a boy by accident and see the situation not as a tragedy but more of an inconvenience.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Jo has brought along a copy of André Gide’s “The Immoralist” to read. David and Jo are too blasé about the trip to perceive themselves as literary figures — although that’s exactly what they are: complicated protagonists of Lawrence Osborne’s biting 2012 novel. McDonagh saw something in the book, and while his adaptation is a fairly faithful rendering of the incidents and individuals contained therein, he tweaks it here and there to suit his own worldview, especially in the way he directs the film’s last few minutes.

“The Forgiven” observes — and judges — how ostensibly “civilized” outsiders conduct themselves in a place where laws don’t touch them because they can buy their way out of any situation, an oasis rendered exotic by such authors as Evelyn Waugh and Paul Bowles (whose more impure motives are here cast into the light: “to bugger little Arab boys,” according to McDonagh’s typically brusque and deliberately offensive dialogue). A travel writer-cum-social critic, Osborne seems to have been inspired by the (mis)conduct he observed when living in Morocco, cataloging the excesses as a kind of damning evidence: If something terrible should happen to these perceived infidels, they will have deserved it, for escaping to the desert for their debauchery, then shipping in oranges from Spain, butter from Paris and drinking water from another corner of the country.

David and Jo have been invited to a party at an old friend’s ksour in Azna. Their host is a snob (Matt Smith) whose partner (Caleb Landry Jones) throws decadent, tone-deaf parties, the sheer excess of which is an insult to the locals, who could live for years on the resources wasted for one night’s revelry. David’s a “functioning alcoholic” who tanks up on liquor before making the drive, then hits a young fossil seller en route, killing him instantly. It was after dark, and the boy stepped into David’s path. He refuses to acknowledge responsibility, insisting that the boy was to blame. Jo has misgivings, but invents her own excuses. Maybe the kid was a carjacker — and owing to a revolver revealed early on, the film allows that maybe he was.

Still, there’s no denying: David has blood on his hands — quite literally, as McDonagh makes a point of showing his stained driving gloves — and as the movie proceeds, the will gradually gain perspective on the situation. He will, in fact, have to face the boy’s father, convey his contrition as convincingly as possible and make the journey all the way to Tafal’aalt to attend the funeral. These things are the custom, we are told. So is payment, and David brings 1,000 euros along as blood money. He intends to pay not a centime more.

Is that all a life is worth? And what of David’s? There’s a good chance, he realizes, that he won’t return from the burial trek. He fears he might be killed on the way by ISIS (the characters barely attempt to disguise their contempt for the locals), or executed by the dead boy’s vengeful father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), stoic but not as shallow a stereotype as he first appears. While David’s away, Jo seems genuinely concerned but also liberated. The role might not appear to have much to offer Chastain , but it becomes the richest in many ways, as she acts out, quite recklessly, pursuing an affair with a bisexual American (Christopher Abbott) because she can.

McDonagh has the nerve to make these characters deeply off-putting, if not downright unlikable, to his audience. These are upper-class, over-educated, under-compassionate gargoyles, the lot of them — self-anointed elitists who would not recoil at allegations of “privilege” (white or otherwise) and who might, in fact, be all too happy to reiterate their superiority over others if so accused.

But McDonagh loves his monsters, and in casting someone as adept at conveying the nuances of the character’s transformation as Fiennes, he shows that he understands the core tragedy of “The Forgiven.” It’s not the boy’s death we mourn. “The kid is a nobody,” David sneers. It’s the fact that this seemingly irredeemable character, David, could come around to finding his own humanity, and that the epiphany still might not be enough to save him. “It had never occurred to him why he had not been forgiven, because he had forgiven himself,” Osborne writes in the book’s final chapter. Earlier, Jo also admits, “I don’t need to be forgiven anymore.” McDonagh’s characters are more complex than the initial caricatures make them out to be — perhaps, in the end, even pitiful — leaving audiences to decide how they feel about their ultimate fates.

Reviewed at Sepulveda Screening Room, Los Angeles, Sept. 7, 2021. (In Toronto Film Festival – Gala Presentations.) Running time: 117 MIN.

  • Production: (U.K.) A Focus Features release of a Brookstreet Pictures, Head Gear, Film 4 presentation of a House of Un-American Activities, Brookstreet Pictures production. (World sales: MadRiver Pictures, Beverly Hills.) Producers: Elizabeth Eves, John Michael McDonagh, Trevor Matthews, Nick Gordon. Executive producers: Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Jack Heller, Scott Veltri, Kimberly Fox, Donald Povieng, Ollie Madden, Daniel Battsek, Lawrence Osborne.
  • Crew: Director, writer: John Michael McDonagh. Camera: Larry Smith. Editors: Elizabeth Eves, Chris Gill. Music: Lorne Balfe.
  • With: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Saïd Taghmaoui, Christopher Abbott, Ismael Kanater, Caleb Landry Jones, Mourad Zaoui, Abbey Lee, Alex Jennings, Marie-Josée Croze.

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Screen Rant

The forgiven review: literary drama abandons its most compelling trait.

The Forgiven becomes too caught up in the bigger picture, and the intriguing puzzle pieces don't shine quite as much when all put together.

The Forgiven   is a thematically ambitious film, something that plays in its favor while watching and becomes a point of criticism in retrospect. It positions its characters as sitting on a number of axes of difference — gender, sexuality, nationality, class, religion, age — that can at any point step in and determine how they relate to one another. Power imbalances are problematized, prejudices are aired, and the world is presented as a place defined by jagged edges that refuse to be sanded down. This makes for a compelling backdrop to a tense crime drama narrative that is fueled by gaps of knowledge the movie seems in no hurry to fill. As long as those gaps remain, they give space for small details to echo with meaning, but the impulse to resolve the story by its end diminishes its opportunity for impact. Given some time to think on it later, viewers might have trouble pinning down what it actually had to say about all those thorny subjects it seemed to be about.

Writer-director John Michael McDonagh's  The Forgiven  opens with two story strands that collide to leave the mess that ends up defining the film. In the first, wealthy couple David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain) travel through Morocco on their way to a weekend-long party hosted by friends Richard (Matt Smith) and Dally (Caleb Landry Jones). They bicker and drink, and end up having to drive through a barely marked desert road at night. In the second, two young Moroccan men, disillusioned with their lives digging for fossils to sell, determine to take more drastic action against the rich foreigners they know are convening at the noted gay couple's estate. In talking his friend into whatever they've planned, one of them flashes a revolver. David and Jo, lost, impaired, and arguing, hit one of the teens with their car when he runs into the road. They arrive at their destination, party in full swing, with his unidentified corpse in the backseat.

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The immediate aftermath then reintroduces a bifurcated structure. Richard's attempt to resolve what David claims was an accident through his local police connections is interrupted when the boy's father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), unexpectedly arrives to claim the body. His son's name was Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), and honor demands that David accompany him to their village for a proper burial. David, when informed by Richard that he has no preferable alternative, agrees to go despite reservations that they might have more than spiritual and financial restitution in mind. The movie follows both David's journey and Jo's time at the party, particularly her exchanges with Tom (Christopher Abbott), a fellow American who presents a sharp contrast to her cynical British husband. The David strand is alternately tense and touching, a grieving process tinted by the audience's uncertainty over everyone's true intentions, with the threat of physical violence always just on the horizon. Jo's, meanwhile, is a  La dolce vita- esque portrait of the aimless upper class at play, complicated by their relationships to the Moroccan servants that seethe beneath their smiles.

The Forgiven  is a movie that thrives on detail, and unfortunately, not everything interesting about it can be unpacked here. There are small creative choices that, on their own, speak volumes, such as Richard's nickname Dickie, which (in the context of Smith's charming performance) brings to mind  The Talented Mr. Ripley 's patron saint of the idle rich Dickie Greenleaf. Small performance moments accomplish the same, ranging from Chastain's Jo briefly lashing out after a perceived slight from the staff bringing her breakfast to the way Fiennes' David downs a certain beer at a pivotal point in his journey. The way McDonagh's script withholds the truth of what happened that night on the road, while signaling to the audience that it's doing so, encourages viewers to notice these details, and the time spent interpreting them is stimulating.

By the end, however,  The Forgiven  becomes too caught up in the bigger picture, and the intriguing puzzle pieces don't shine quite as much when all put together. Jo's storyline may strike viewers as lacking in impact, and while this is part of the point of the foreigners' oasis, attempting to give her a growth arc anyway feels somewhat perfunctory. David's, meanwhile, seems too transformative, overly simplistic in a way that betrays the nuances in every other part of his journey. A good point of comparison here might be Maggie Gyllenhaal's  The Lost Daughter , which also feels particularly literary in its allusiveness and ambiguity, but is far more successful at carrying that through to the end. It's the wish of this critic that  The Forgiven had ended with the aforementioned beer, but as it is, the movie's coda does the rest of it a disservice.

Next:  Apples Review: Greek Drama Is A Quietly Effective Meditation On Memory

The Forgiven releases in theaters on Friday, July 1. The film is 117 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and brief violence.

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The Forgiven review: A familiar journey worth making

Alex Welch

Under the control of a less capable filmmaker, The Forgiven could have very easily been a boring film. It’s a testament to writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s talent that it’s not. As a matter of fact, while there are moments when The Forgiven edges toward tediousness, McDonagh’s ear for conversation and his impeccably written scenes keep the film moving at an involving pace for almost the entirety of its 117-minute runtime. That may come as a surprise, considering The Forgiven ’s subject matter.

An accident in the desert

An honorable journey, a weightless apology.

Set in Morocco, the film follows a group of rich elites as they come together to party in a desert compound over the course of one weekend. Their event becomes complicated, however, when David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife, Jo ( Jessica Chastain ), accidentally run over a young Moroccan boy when he steps in front of their car while they are on their way to the film’s central party. When the dead boy’s father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), arrives to collect his son’s body, he demands that David make a journey into the Moroccan desert to bury his son with him. David, reluctantly, agrees.

From that point on, The Forgiven begins to follow two separate storylines: David’s journey into the desert, and the party that his friends and wife enjoy while he’s away. By focusing on both perspectives, McDonagh is able to effectively juxtapose the carefree, gratuitous celebration thrown by the film’s rich elites with the difficult emotional and physical realities of what life can be like for Morocco’s impoverished citizens. McDonagh uses that juxtaposition to turn The Forgiven into a quasi-social satire, but while the filmmaker’s observations are often precise and revealing in equal measure, they don’t amount to much in the end.

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The good news is that, even if The Forgiven ’s conversations ultimately end up going nowhere, they’re still deliciously fun to watch unfold. One of the film’s opening scenes sees Chastain’s Jo passive-aggressively call Fiennes’ David a “highly-functioning alcoholic” only for him to respond by saying, “I’ve always thought the ‘highly-functioning’ part should cancel out the ‘alcoholic’ part,” and that moment is an effective encapsulation of what every conversation in The Forgiven is like. The film’s characters constantly throw thinly-veiled barbs at each other, ironically acknowledging their faults without ever ceding an inch of ground.

McDonagh has always been good at writing dialogue, and he brings that skill in full force to The Forgiven . The film’s cast, which is made up of some of the best performers working today, doesn’t let the opportunity to sink their teeth into McDonagh’s words pass them by. Caleb Landry Jones and Christopher Abbott, for instance, winkingly chomp down on their lines and emphasize the absurdity of their characters’ actions more than any of their co-stars. It’s Matt Smith who ultimately proves to have the best ear for McDonagh’s dialogue.

As Richard Galloway, the gay man who hosts the party that throws Jo and David’s lives into disarray, Smith is delightfully, hilariously droll and nonchalant. His Richard is the most self-aware and unapologetic of the film’s elites, which is just another way of saying that he understands the distastefulness of his and his friends’ behavior but still delights greatly in taking part in their antics. A host with a love for provocation, Richard spends most of the film lovingly and slyly pointing out his friends’ hypocrisies to their faces, and Smith delivers every line with the same casual smirk and relaxed posture.

It’s Fiennes’ David who ultimately has to struggle with the most dramatic weight in The Forgiven though. Unlike Smith’s Richard, who happily stays in one lane throughout the film, David is forced to undergo an emotional and physical journey over the course of The Forgiven ’s story. At the start of the film, he is essentially the walking embodiment of white British privilege, but the more time that he spends with Abdellah, the father of the poor boy he killed as a result of his own arrogant recklessness, the more that David begins to feel the weight of his own existence.

Through his conversations with Abdellah’s right-hand man, Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui), David grows to understand the severity of what he’s done. As a result, the character’s self-involved, sardonic demeanor is eventually replaced by an overwhelmingly grim sense of shame, and Fiennes, to his credit, plays David’s transformation beautifully. Fiennes has, of course, long been one of Hollywood’s most capable performers, but his assured, subtle work in The Forgiven serves as a potent reminder of that fact.

Unfortunately, David’s transformation from an uncaring rich elite to a man sympathetic to those he previously considered beneath him is one that we have seen a thousand times before. While the film does go out of its way to embrace the perspective of its Moroccan characters, it’s David’s journey that ultimately emerges as the heart and soul of The Forgiven — a fact that just makes his transformation feel that much more tired. The dull familiarity of his journey, in turn, robs the film of much of its dramatic weight.

Given how hard-edged and slickly sharp so much of The Forgiven is, it’s hard not to feel when you’re watching it that McDonagh is going to upend David’s journey with some kind of subversive twist. But that moment never comes. Instead, McDonagh brings the film’s story to a conclusion that doesn’t feel nearly as powerful or poetic as it should. It’s an ending that feels as though it’s meant to evoke the same misplaced brutality that McDonagh created at the end of his stunning 2014 drama, Cavalry , but it nonetheless fails to match the weight of that film’s ending.

That’s disappointing, considering how precise and observant everything is leading up to The Forgiven ’s lackluster conclusion. The film’s failure to bring anything new to a well-worn subject, therefore, makes it feel more like a collection of deservedly acidic observations than a searing or provocative morality tale. For some, that’s a sin that may be forgivable. But like a sincere apology that you’ve heard a thousand times before, The Forgiven tells a story that is, unfortunately, less than the sum of its well-made parts.

The Forgiven hits theaters on Friday, July 1.

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Alex Welch

Cha Cha Real Smooth is one of the most open-hearted films you’re likely to see this year. To those who were lucky enough to see Shithouse, the first film from writer/director/star Cooper Raiff, that won’t come as much of a surprise. Raiff’s feature debut boasted the same vulnerable, proudly unashamed-to-cry attitude that’s present throughout all of Cha Cha Real Smooth. But while a lot of attention has been given to how willing Raiff is to wear his heart on his sleeve, it’d be a disservice to both Cha Cha Real Smooth and its predecessor to refer to them simply as “nice” films.

In Shithouse, Raiff deftly navigated one college freshman’s feelings of loneliness and uncertainty as he struggled to adjust to a life away from home. In Cha Cha Real Smooth, Raiff has fast-forwarded the clock, turning his attention to a young man (played, once again, by himself) who is in the midst of trying to carve out a new life for himself after college. Both films grapple with the kind of confusing emotions that bubble to the surface whenever one chapter of a person’s life ends, and while Raiff brings a heightened level of sensitivity to his characters' personal issues, he doesn’t shy away from the messiness of their inner lives.

In the busy world of Lost Illusions, corruption reigns supreme. Cities are cesspools of crime and debauchery. Fake news circulates like a virus, destroying lives and chipping away at the fragile democratic state. The high cost of living makes everyone scramble for their daily bread, sacrificing whatever ideals they have left just to survive. Nothing is for free, and everything, and everyone, has a price.

No, this isn't a movie about the state of things in 2022, but rather an adaptation of Honoré de Balzac's 19th-century novel that is just as relevant today as it was back then. That's due, of course, to Balzac's genius, but also to director Xavier Giannoli, who has made one of the year's best movies by infusing an urgency to what could have been a dreary, stuffy affair. This film moves, and unlike most bloated costume pics, it's interested in chronicling the gradual rot of the men and women beneath the heavy period makeup and fancy clothing. A hero's rise and fall

In 2019, Adam Sandler proved he still has what it takes to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile and charismatic performers with his performance in the Safdie Brothers’ adrenaline-fueled Uncut Gems. Not since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love had Sandler played a character so different from his usual goofball archetype, and he earned some well-deserved acclaim for his turn as the film's self-destructive lead. But Uncut Gems did more than just reaffirm Sandler’s status as a more versatile leading man than his filmography would have you believe.

The film also offered the promise of being the first entry in a new chapter in Sandler’s career, one featuring more variety and legitimately dramatic stories from the Happy Gilmore star than viewers had seen in previous years. While it remains to be seen if that’s the direction Sandler’s career will ultimately take in the coming years, Hustle certainly seems to suggest that it might be.

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The Forgiven

2021, Drama, 1h 57m

What to know

Critics Consensus

The Forgiven often strays from an incisive critique of reckless privilege into a shallow display of bad behavior, although Ralph Fiennes' rakish performance packs plenty of sardonic bite. Read critic reviews

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The forgiven videos, the forgiven   photos.

Speeding through the Moroccan desert to attend an old friend's lavish weekend party, wealthy Londoners David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) are involved in a tragic accident with a local teenage boy. Arriving late at the grand villa with the debauched party raging, the couple attempts to cover up the incident with the collusion of the local police. But when the boy's father arrives seeking justice, the stage is set for a tension-filled culture clash in which David and Jo must come to terms with their fateful act and its shattering consequences.

Rating: R (Drug Use|Brief Violence|Language Throughout|Some Sexual Content)

Genre: Drama

Original Language: English (United Kingdom)

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Producer: John Michael McDonagh , Elizabeth Eves , Trevor Matthews , Nick Gordon

Writer: John Michael McDonagh

Release Date (Theaters): Jul 1, 2022  limited

Box Office (Gross USA): $339.9K

Runtime: 1h 57m

Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Production Co: Kasbah Films, Metrol Technology, House of Un-American Activities, Head Gear Films, Lipsync, Brookstreet Pictures, Assemble Media

Cast & Crew

Ralph Fiennes

David Henninger

Jessica Chastain

Jo Henninger

Richard Galloway

Ismael Kanater

Abdellah Taheri

Caleb Landry Jones

Dally Margolis

Said Taghmaoui

Christopher Abbott

Marie-Josée Croze

Alex Jennings

Lord Swanthorne

Mourad Zaoui

Anas El Baz

David McSavage

William Joyce

Captain Benihadd

Omar Ghazaoui

Imane Elmechrafi

Leila Tarki

Abdellah Chakiri

Aissam Taamart

Trevor Matthews

Nick Gordon

Norman Merry

Executive Producer

Peter Hampden

Compton Ross

Jack Heller

Scott Veltri

Kimberly Fox

Donald Povieng

Ollie Madden

Daniel Battsek

Film Editor

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Jessica Chastain And Ralph Fiennes in The Forgiven

‘The Forgiven’ Is That Ever Elusive, Provocative Mid-Budget Adult Drama

Vince Mancini

In a more just world, the opening of The Forgiven this weekend would be bigger news. The film comes from John Michael McDonagh ( The Guard , War On Everyone , Calvary ) — not to be confused with his younger brother, Martin, who did In Bruges but also Three Billboards — and stars an A-list cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Christopher Abbott, and Matt Smith. You’d have a hard time squeezing more awards and acclaim into its pedigree, but it’s not a Minion or a Thor, so you probably haven’t heard about it.

That’s a shame because The Forgiven is the rare adult drama that doesn’t feel like a museum piece. It lives and breathes, it teases and provokes, the kind of movie that seems designed to be discussed and fought over — in a world where adults might still do such things. John Michael McDonagh has always had an acid pen and a facility for quippy dialogue, but adapting here from Lawrence Osborne’s 2012 novel, it feels like McDonagh also has a solid narrative framework undergirding all that cleverness. And this is a filmmaker who perhaps could’ve benefited from more girding in movies past.

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain play David and Jo Henninger, two rich assholes on their way to a Moroccan estate for a party thrown by two other rich assholes, Richard and Dally (Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones). David and Jo bicker their way through the storybook landscape, immune to its rugged beauty — she the hectoring wife, he the checked-out husband. At one point she calls him a “functioning alcoholic,” to which he responds “I’ve always wondered, shouldn’t the ‘functioning’ part cancel out the second part?”

It’s a comment I imagine McDonagh had in his notebook for some time. Their sniping seems to reach a fever pitch on a darkened desert road when David plows over a Moroccan teenager trying to get them to stop and buy some fossils.

Rich jerks mowing down impoverished locals in the roadway has been a handy inciting event in class fiction for some time now (not to mention reality ), from Bonfire Of The Vanitie s to White Tiger , but if The Forgiven ‘s skeleton feels familiar, the meat of it is unique unto itself. There’s the picturesque setting, this louche party in an outpost of privilege, the blasé Orientalism of all the guests, the resentful local household staff. If we were writing a highfalutin thesis, we could say The Forgiven is about “colonialism and the moral rot of the privileged classes.” But as with Succession, I suspect the draw is more the exotic settings, the absurd situations, the cleverly wicked characters, and the lack of moralizing. Who doesn’t enjoy venal characters behaving badly? I have to imagine The Forgiven is doing a lot of things Death On The Nile wanted to, without the corny genre trappings.

David, who is either the worst kind of rich old white guy or the most brutally honest kind, who alienates his peers by speaking plainly about the things they tend to cloister behind euphemisms and platitudes, eventually gets drawn into the family, legal, and cultural drama that naturally results from killing a boy in a foreign country — and a cultural minority boy in a foreign country at that. The Forgiven is a comedy of manners about a manslaughter.

Meanwhile, his wife Jo tries to enjoy the party, having a sort of holiday from her marriage as a way to rediscover her individuality while carrying on a flirtation with a finance guy dilettante played by Christopher Abbott. They have nice chemistry, and McDonagh excels at banter, always riding that line between clevered-up realism and A List Of Funny Things I Had In My Notebook That I Shoehorned Into A Script. Jessica Chastain is so much more fun when she’s not trapped in Aaron Sorkin competence porn mode. Much more fun to hear her coo “what’s the point of a prostitute who doesn’t do anal?”

These people are wicked partly because they’re emblematic of societal ills, sure, but mostly because they’re just bored . The Forgiven feels a little like Bret Easton Ellis meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. Credit to McDonagh for noticing the parallels.

The whole movie is a bit like that — while it certainly has a moral center, it’s refreshingly un-didactic, willing to let its characters be ethically complex without stapling them to a facile allegory. They’re shitty because we’re all shitty in our own special ways. The dead boy is from a tribe of Berber nomads, who eke out a living pulling fossils from the desert and selling them to westerners. “We don’t know why you want them, all we know is you’re willing to pay money for them,” explains one of their emissaries, played by the once again solid Saïd Taghmaoui.

The potential allusions here are obvious, from fossil fuels to anyone making a precarious living from a diminishing resource. The skill of McDonagh (or maybe Osborne’s novel, which I haven’t read) is to invite the audience to make those allusions rather than forcing one read onto us. Discussing such things used to be the fun part of collectively experiencing art, before it became a sort of scavenger hunt for previously introduced characters.

The Forgiven is about — and this won’t shock you if you’ve seen Calvary — guilt. How much guilt we owe personally for the criminal society we didn’t ask to be born into but nonetheless benefited from, and which forms of penance are constructive and which are just masturbatory rationalization. Few actors are better at this dance, between genuine introspection and the angry rejection of it, than Ralph Fiennes. This dance itself is something of a McDonagh specialty (both brothers, really) and if there was a lifetime achievement Oscar for best acting in McDonagh brothers’ films, Fiennes’ work here and in In Bruges would make him a lock. Aside from being excellent at shouting the word “cunt,” he’s authentically aristocratic (his birth name is Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes ) but also seems to genuinely enjoy necking the occasional pint of cheap lager (Wes Anderson has also exploited this characteristic, in less Anglocentric ways).

Both McDonagh and Osborne feel like they’re working through some things with this story. Fiennes has the perfect face to express them; sometimes wordlessly, other times vulgarly. Mostly, The Forgiven is the kind of naughty, knotty crowd-pleaser that used to dominate the cultural conversation, but now seems like a tribute act. Too bad. I think lots of people enjoy this kind of entertainment, when given half a chance.

‘The Forgiven’ is available only in theaters July 1st. Vince Mancini is on Twitter . You can access his archive of reviews here .

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‘The Forgiven’ Review: Jessica Chastain and Ralph Fiennes Scorch in a Debaucherous Class Satire

Ryan lattanzio, deputy managing editor.

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Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions releases the film in theaters on Friday, July 1.

If the vision of Jessica Chastain in a sleek LBD sniffing coke and then vigorously bedding Christopher Abbott during a bacchanal in Morocco stokes your flames, then John Michael McDonagh ‘s “ The Forgiven ” is the movie for you. “I wish I wasn’t so worried,” she says before jubilantly downing another line of white powder. She wishes  she were more worried about her husband, played by Ralph Fiennes, a selfish doctor who, during their now-derailed vacation stay at an old-time friend’s deliciously depraved party in the desert, has run over a Muslim child and failed to cover it up. She wishes she cared that he’s now been carted off to the boy’s Berber village in middle-of-nowhere North Africa to do penance by the kid’s father, and where he could possibly be hung and quartered. Will she miss him at all?

Working from a novel by Lawrence Osborne, “Calvary” and “The Guard” director McDonagh treats his ensemble — and it’s an impressively cast one, including Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones as the oddly well-matched dandy hosts — like insects under a magnifying glass. With wide lenses and a detached, chilly reserve courtesy of DP Larry Smith, the English-Irish director and screenwriter seems wholly amused by tearing asunder a Dionysian display of the rich and bored, gathered for a debaucherous jamboree in the neocolonized North of Africa.

The cold front foaming between icy-chic, lissome children’s author Jo (Chastain) and her boorish, ruddy husband of 12 years David (Ralph Fiennes), an alcoholic doctor in a pressed linen suit, is immediate upon the film’s opening frames amid a stylish credits sequence that unfolds backward in blood-red lettering across the screen. After a boat’s journey to Morocco — “L’Afrique!” he exclaims as they hit the shore — the bored, disdaining vibes between the pair recall the bad vacations of Michelangelo Antonioni and Roberto Rossellini from the outset. As he reaches for another bottle of wine, David calls Jo “shrill,” and she calls him “a high-functioning alcoholic.” Their marriage is over, just not over.

They’re in Morocco to see Richard (Smith) and Dally (Landry Jones), a hedonistic twosome who’ve arranged a lavish fete at their renovated ksar (once a fortified village now turned into a palatial party pad) in the High Atlas Mountains, and it’s a party scaled for the end of the world. But on their way to the celebrations, deep in the snaking crevices of the mountains, with David careening and fully lubricated at high speed, a terrible accident ensues: They hit and kill a young boy who steps out into their streaking path.

The film is, from there, careful to parse out the particulars of just what went down at impact, with McDonagh teasing the encounter in pointed flashbacks throughout the otherwise forward-moving film. Harried and disheveled, Jo and David make it to the ksar anyway, and promptly start imbibing among Richard and Dally’s clown car of mixed company — a financial-analyst lothario Tom Daly (Abbott), a jittery Australian model (Abbey Lee), and a très French New York Times Style section photographer (Marie-Josée Croze) among them. It’s a motley crew that McDonagh will set out to skewer, with varying degrees of attentiveness, for the next two hours.

The Forgiven

Questioned by local police, David is predictably oblivious to his stake in the crime that occurred. “It was as if he didn’t understand the speed of a car,” he says of the dead boy (whom we later learn, through repeated attempts by the ksar staff to give the poor kid a name, is called Driss). At the imperious gates of the ksar soon arrives Driss’ father Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), who requests David’s presence at his village to honor the boy’s life and atone for the killing. “What the fuck? They could be ISIS!” snaps Jo. Nevertheless, David is worn down into submission, and shuttled off in a crummy Jeep to meet whatever his fate might be.

His absence for the remaining festivities allows Jo to unzip into hair-down sensuous freedom, and Chastain is gamely having the time of her life in this role. She strikes up a rapport with Tom in witty exchanges that crackle with old-timey (if occasionally overwritten) charm. “We should get out of the sun before we start to bleed,” he says. “I don’t bleed easily,” she replies. And later, “I think men need sluts,” she says. “I think women need to be sluts,” he says, before the two end up making out on a sunchair in the presence of the other guests, wasted and indifferent to her adultery.

The vibratory chemistry between Chastain and Abbott is the film’s greatest appeal, whether on a coke bender or dirty dancing in a kind of psychosexual sandwich moment between the posh party hosts. “There you are!” Jo says into the mirror, electrified after a night of rigorous, cheating sex — a line you can see coming from the sky as Chastain marvels at her own unwound reflection. Jo’s freefall into realizing her marriage is a sham feels undercooked relative to the movie’s broader treatise on the disintegration of Western mores when taken out of their element, but Chastain makes such a fashionable descent thrilling to watch. Her performance brings to mind a more unhinged spin on Jeanne Moreau in Antonioni’s “La Notte,” another woman unpeeling herself from a lousy husband during a bleak sojourn that never stood a chance at healing a marriage.

But amid the film’s hedonistic party sequences and jittery coked-out banter — hell is a room full of French, American, and British people on uppers — a far meaner moral streak cuts through McDonagh’s lengthy, sprawling movie. Back at Driss’ village — one outfitted with no amenities of a post-historic century — David faces the tribunal of the boy’s family. There’s also the matter of Driss’ accomplice in what turned out to be an attempted robbery gone wrong. As punishment for participating in Driss’ death, the father makes the boy promise to do whatever he asks, which we know will eventually not bode well for the defiantly unremorseful David down the line.

A more reined-in version of his character from “A Bigger Splash,” Fiennes plays the sort of moneyed, arrogant arsehole he so excels at, making David hardly sympathetic but never less than compelling. No one else could have played this role. David slowly forms a fraught bond with one of his escorts, Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui), in a touching near-finale moment that almost approximates something like redemption for the guilty David. But the cast’s standouts turn out to be Smith and Landry Jones, who hover along the edges of the film in outré regalia that wouldn’t find them out of place as loony side characters in a Shakespeare romp.

Shot on location in Morocco, “The Forgiven” smacks of the kind of project wrought from the constraints of the pandemic — an arid, isolated desert setting; an intimate cast and crew — but McDonagh was already in production on the film before Covid hit. The film nevertheless acquires an eerie end-times vibe, a raucous Boschian, fuck-it-allness juxtaposed against a grimmer, slimmer tale of the West and the East colliding, and the West facing up to its sins of the past. The sun-bleached vistas of the ksar make for a jutting contrast to the hand-to-mouth existence of the locals, who by Muslim edict seem to accept their bleak reality while the greedy white visitors clamor for decadent fulfillment. While this nasty film seems headed toward a conclusion where the rich win and the status quo is maintained, that’s abruptly shattered by a violent climax that assures that no one on either side of the divide is left without a bloodstain.

“The Forgiven” world premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. 

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On the surface, The Forgiven has many of the hallmarks of a morality tale, a movie about compromised, fallen people and the lessons they have to learn.

But this sumptuous drama starring Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain is a much spikier story, one where lines and affinities are not so clear. Are there obvious villains or are those characters, in some way, victims of their debaucherous, privileged circumstances?

What about the actual victims? Are they the righteously aggrieved or do their actions push them towards being aggressors? The Forgiven luxuriates in the grey zone, a provocative and incisive film that asks more questions than it provides answers.

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in The Forgiven. Picture: Madman Entertainment

Adapted from a novel by writer Lawrence Osborne, The Forgiven is directed by John Michael McDonagh, the Irish filmmaker who swam in similarly murky waters with his previous works, The Guard and Calvary , both starring Brendan Gleeson.

For The Forgiven , McDonagh is telling a story further afield, in the arid deserts of Morocco.

British toff David Henninger (Fiennes) and his American wife Jo (Chastain) are approaching Tangiers by boat when he, adorned with a Panama hat, looks up from his newspaper and says “L’Afrique”. His expression of that one word is dripping with superiority, a colonialist attitude that would come to hang over the whole film.

Because even though The Forgiven takes place in the present day, you have to constantly remind yourself of its contemporary setting through updated car models on screen or the occasional glimpse of a smartphone.

This story of expats in an “exotic” locale is laden with the colonialist vibe of so many European misadventures in North Africa, and that’s part of its point.

That even in 2022, imperialism is still pervasive. It’s manifested in the alarming gaps between the haves-and-have-nots and that divide is marked, more often than not, by your cultural heritage and skin colour.

The Forgiven is a thorny story that’s more than a morality tale. Picture: Madman Entertainment

The Forgiven emphasises that disparity by exploring it through the prism of an accident and what its fallout reveals about the characters but also the worlds they merely co-exist in.

David and Jo have to drive hours to a bacchanalian weekend party thrown by their friends, Richard (Matt Smith) and Dally (Caleb Landry-Jones), at a sprawling desert compound, complete with servants and reprobate guests.

Arguing, speeding and drunk, David hits a young boy and kills him. David and Jo bundle the body into the car and drive him to the party. Not wanting to disrupt the atmosphere, Richard orders the body to be put away until the police can arrive in the morning.

Richard, with his immense wealth, is clearly connected to the local authorities who promptly declare the death an accident.

But when the father of the dead child, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), show up to claim the body, complications arise. Abdellah wants David to accompany him back for the boy’s burial and while David is reluctant, fearing extra-legal justice and blackmail, he eventually acquiesces.

The Forgiven stars Jessica Chastain. Picture: Madman Entertainment

David is not yet contrite about the event and The Forgiven charts his physical and emotional journey as he’s confronted with his deed and a family’s grief.

The stark contrast of Abdellah’s lack of privilege versus the gratuitous indulgence of the party comes up in small moments. It’s not even in the grand sweeping speeches or epiphanies but when, for example, the fireworks go off at the same time as when Abdellah is loading his dead son into the car.

There is tragedy and injustice in the absurd. That’s when The Forgiven is at its most effective.

Such as when a French agitator, who has spent the weekend spouting righteous anger about American exceptionalism and crimes in Afghanistan, is revealed to be a writer from the lifestyle section of The New York Times . She is perpetuating the same myths – and, ultimately, lavishing in a free getaway where she’s waited on by brown people.

The Forgiven may be blistering but it’s still nuanced enough to be intellectually thorny.

Rating : 3.5/5

The Forgiven is in cinemas now

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The Forgiven: release date, reviews, trailer and everything we know about the Jessica Chastain movie

The drama is going to be some alternative summer programming.

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in The Forgiven

It’s not going to be all superheroes and action blockbusters at the movies this summer. There are going to be more adult-centric dramas coming to the big screen, including The Forgiven . This new drama starring Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes and more, could be just the kind of counter-programming you’re looking for if Thor or Minions aren’t your cup of tea.

Here is everything you need to know about The Forgiven .

When is The Forgiven release date?

The Forgiven is releasing in the US on July 1, followed by a UK release on September 2. At both times, the movie is going to play exclusively in movie theaters.

According to IMDb , the July 1 date for The Forgiven in the US is a limited release for the movie, though it is not clear how many cities and theaters are going to be covered in that "limited" release. After that it’ll likely roll out to additional markets over the course of a few weeks. For info on when and where The Forgiven is playing, you can always check resources like Fandango closer to the release date.

The Forgiven reviews — what the critics are saying

The Forgiven previously had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, where critics got to give their first reactions to it. But, as the movie is arriving in more theaters, What to Watch is weighing in as well.

Our review for The Forgiven points out solid performances, particularly from Ralph Fiennes, and the necessary lavish look for this morality tale, but ultimately feels like writer/director John Michael McDonagh misses the mark, especially compared to his previous work.

However, others view the movie differently. Rotten Tomatoes currently (as of June 30) scores The Forgiven at a 70% "Fresh." Another review aggregator, Metacritic , currently has the movie at a score of 65, which puts it in the "good" tier for the site.

Here’s some of what the critics had to say about The Forgiven :

John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter : "It’s a very grown-up film but never a bore, a morally alert drama that leaves the scolding to us."

Steve Pond, The Wrap : "Dark and unsettling, The Forgiven doesn’t ask us to like its characters, but it forces us to watch as privilege begins to shatter and people for whom everything feels inconsequential have to deal with consequences."

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian : "We’re left with pieces, interesting on their own and sometimes together, but not quite enough to complete the puzzle."

What is The Forgiven plot?

Here is the official synopsis for The Forgiven :

"Speeding through the Moroccan desert to attend an old friend’s lavish weekend party, wealthy Londoners David and Jo Henninger are involved in a tragic accident with a local teenage boy. Arriving late at the grand villa with the debauched party raging, the couple attempts to cover up the incident with the collusion of the local police. But when the boy’s father arrives seeking justice, the stage is set for a tension-filled culture clash in which David and Jo must come to terms with their fateful act and its shattering consequences."

The movie is based on the Lawrence Osborne novel of the same name. 

What is The Forgiven rated?

The Forgiven is rated R in the US for "language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and brief violence." A UK rating is pending.

What is The Forgiven runtime?

The Forgiven is one hour and 57 minutes long.

Who is in The Forgiven cast?

The Forgiven has a number of big names set to star in it, but it is headlined by Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain as David and Jo Henninger.

The Forgiven is the first movie to come out starring Chastain since she won Best Actress at the 2022 Oscars for her performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye . It is also one of many movies that Chastain is starring in this year, including the previously released The 355 and the upcoming Armageddon Time .

Ralph Fiennes is coming off a busy 2021 of his own on the big screen, as the actor starred in three movies, including The Dig , No Time to Die and The King’s Man . Fiennes is best known for his roles in movies like Schindler’s List , The Constant Gardener , The Grand Budapest Hotel and as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise.

Other members of the cast include Matt Smith ( Morbius , The Crown ), Ismael Kanater ( 24 ), Caleb Landry Jones ( Finch , Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ), Abbey Lee ( Mad Max: Fury Road ), Mourad Zaoui ( The Blacklist ), Marie-Josée Croze ( Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan ), Alex Jennings ( This Is Going to Hurt , Operation Mincemeat ), Saïd Taghmaoui ( Wonder Woman ) and Christopher Abbott ( Possessor , The World to Come ).

The Forgiven trailer

The trailer for The Forgiven looks to deliver a tense morality play with plenty for the highly talented cast to toy with. Give the trailer a watch directly below.

Some clips of The Forgiven have also been released to give you a sense of what's in store:

Who is The Forgiven director?

John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed The Forgiven . McDonagh has found his niche in the indie scene with a number of well reviewed titles to date, including The Guard , Calvary and War on Everyone . Fun fact, he is the older brother of fellow filmmaker Martin McDonagh ( In Bruges , Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ). 

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca , Moulin Rouge! , Silence of the Lambs , Children of Men , One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars . On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd .

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Culture | Film

The Forgiven movie review: this dark comedy is determined to wipe the smile off your face

You can see what drew Ralph Fiennes to film-maker John Michael McDonagh. To judge by their work (specifically The Constant Gardener and Calvary), the pair share a fascination with passivity and self-destruction. Both themes are present with bells on in this Morocco -set comedy that’s determined to wipe the smile off your face. As a portrait of a hell on earth, The Forgiven makes every bit of the globe seem sulphurous.

Sozzled, erudite, non-PC British plastic surgeon, David Henninger (Fiennes; superb), is married to beautiful, if directionless, American, Jo (Oscar winner, Jessica Chastain ; hardly stretched, but very watchable). The couple’s wealthy friends, Richard and Dally (Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones; fab), have a mansion in the desert that’s perfect for debauched parties. On their way in the car to one of these events, David and Jo are involved in an unfortunate incident; they kill an Arab teenager called Driss (Omar Ghazaoui).

A few hours later, David’s cracking deliberately offensive jokes with Richard and Dally’s guests. He’s a coy bad boy, both electrified and disgusted by the attention his misbehaviour attracts (he’s terrified of becoming a vain old fool; he’s even more terrified of seeming old hat). His groan of dismay, when he’s criticised for making an “outdated” Oprah reference, is one for the ages.

Anyway, he thinks he can get away with murder. But he’s wrong. Driss’s nomad father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), arrives and demands that David make amends, by attending Driss’ funeral. Somewhat implausibly, David agrees. He leaves with Abdellah and Abdellah’s mate, Anouar (the sublime Said Taghmaoui). Meanwhile, Jo stays behind and proceeds to wear shoes and dresses so OTT they deserve their own memes.

nyt movie review the forgiven

All this time the gags just keep on coming. Swipes are taken at Prince Andrew and Johnny Depp. The Guardian newspaper and films about refugees get mocked. And even serious pronouncements launch quips. Hamid (Mourad Zaoui) the calm and resourceful Moroccan who manages Tom and Dally’s estate, delivers a typically profound aphorism. Instead of agreeing with him, an admiring local says, “You should have a Twitter account!”

The images are often as jolting as the jokes. At one point, Dally strikes Buster Keaton-ish poses for a series of photos. The latter break the fourth wall (we consume them as separate artefacts) and are properly good. The woman taking the photos is a progressive French journalist, Isabelle (Marie-Josee Croze) and she’s staying at the house along with a young, “edgy” Arab female director, Leila (Imane El Mechrafi), who’s on the lookout for funding.

We’re given a sense of how these creatives will frame the time they’ve spent with Richard and Dally. It’s easy to despise rich hosts and donors, but isn’t it hypocritical to eat their food and/or take their money? With the help of talented British cinematographer Larry Smith (the whole film looks stunning), McDonagh keeps changing the lens through which we view privilege.

Things take a turn for the earnest in the last act; Anouar becomes a frustratingly diffuse character and old-fashioned words like “decent” and “honourable” get bandied about. Ah well. At least the film’s take on alcohol never gets wishy-washy. Stiff drinks are a killer. Life can be hard to enjoy while sober. McDonagh dances on the edge of that paradox right to the end.

117mins, cert 18

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Dark, comic morality tale has language, drugs, adult themes.

The Forgiven movie poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Seeking atonement for a loved one. Redeeming yours

David and Jo Henninger, along with their expat fri

Income inequality between rich expats and under-re

Character brandishes gun, discusses using it out o

Full male nudity shown from the rear. Innuendo bet

Language used includes "f--k," "f---ing," "f----rs

Rich expats live a luxurious lifestyle full of exp

Character inhales from a bag. Possibly drug use. C

Parents need to know that The Forgiven is an excellent dramatic dark comedy about the aftermath of an accident in the Moroccan desert, and includes strong language, drug use, and adult themes. The story revolves around wealthy expat David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes), who hits and kills a young Moroccan boy when…

Positive Messages

Seeking atonement for a loved one. Redeeming yourself. However, a lot of the movie concerns rich, arrogant characters who do not want to engage with those less fortunate or the outside world.

Positive Role Models

David and Jo Henninger, along with their expat friends are educated and intelligent, but also moneyed and entitled. Driss turns to crime as a means to seeking revenge.

Diverse Representations

Income inequality between rich expats and under-resourced, lower-income locals is highlighted and integral to the plot. Multiple languages spoken. Some expats display local knowledge, but also use non-inclusive language to judge and dismiss local culture. Multiple nationalities and religions across cast, although the main cast are mostly White and Western. Some female characters in lead and supporting roles. A gay male couple are among the main cast. One character discusses their cultural appropriation. Reference to swastikas in an anecdote.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Character brandishes gun, discusses using it out of necessity. Car crash and on-screen death. No blood or gore. One bloody injury. Dark-humored references to hanging, castration, rape, and dismemberment. Brief discussion of pedophilia. Anecdote about causing the death of small animals. Character's throat slit in movie footage. Brief but bloody injury. Character slapped in face. Brief slapping and choking as part of foreplay. Gunplay and shooting.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Full male nudity shown from the rear. Innuendo between characters. References to prostitution. Brief but graphic discussion of sexual acts. Kissing. Characters bathe and swim in bikinis. Rough kissing and petting. Oral sex implied but not shown.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Language used includes "f--k," "f---ing," "f----rs," "bloody," "pissed," "s--t," and "c--t." Sexist terms used including, "shrill," "harpy," and "bitch." The term "Limey" is used to describe a British person and "Yank" to discuss a U.S. citizen. Homophobic term "f--gots" is used to describe a gay couple. Racist term "darkies" is also used. "Christ" as an exclamation.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Rich expats live a luxurious lifestyle full of expensive parties and fine dining. Characters discuss bribery as a way of avoiding dealing with authorities, worry about losing their material possessions.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character inhales from a bag. Possibly drug use. Characters drink socially and smoke cigarettes. References to one character being an alcoholic. One character over-indulges and wakes up with no memory of where they are, which is played for comic effect. Characters snort unidentified white powder at a party.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Forgiven is an excellent dramatic dark comedy about the aftermath of an accident in the Moroccan desert, and includes strong language, drug use, and adult themes. The story revolves around wealthy expat David Henninger ( Ralph Fiennes ), who hits and kills a young Moroccan boy when driving to an exclusive weekend getaway with his wife, Jo ( Jessica Chastain ). The Henningers and their expat friends, live cut off and wealthy existences, enjoying lavish lifestyles. They come across as selfish and unsympathetic. David also shows racist behavior, being dismissive and rude about the locals. Violence is mild but there are more serious examples of it referenced, including sexual assault and murder. Language is strong and features throughout with several instances of "f--k" and its variants, along with a couple of uses of "c--t." There is also some racist and misogynist language including terms such as "darkies" and "bitch." Characters drink, smoke, and are shown taking unspecified drugs as part of their hedonistic lifestyle. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (2)
  • Kids say (1)

Based on 2 parent reviews

The Forgiven - or are they?

Adult themed not great for young family viewing but a good take on what consequences your actions will have when you do the wrong thing. movie drags a lot, what's the story, is it any good.

A meandering, two-hour tale of privileged expats in the Moroccan desert may not be to everyone's taste. But thankfully The Forgiven 's unflinching look at the lives of superficial rich people has some hidden depths. The movie's excellent cast is led by Fiennes, whose miserable alcoholic Richard struggles to make up his mind about how he wants to face the aftermath of accidentally killing a young Moroccan boy who intended to rob him. His peers seem largely indifferent to his plight, with their dialogue more idle chit-chat than thoughts and advice on how he should deal with the boy's grieving family.

Screenwriter and director John Michael McDonagh adapted the movie from a novel by Lawrence Osborne. But McDonagh makes these characters his own, bringing them in line with the other self-centered bigots and rogues who feature in some of his other movies such as The Guard and Calvary . Like those films, The Forgiven also has the right amount of grim humor to make its players bearable -- and there's something like redemption at the end, albeit in the form of a twisted sting in the tale.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the different characters in The Forgiven . Did you like them? Why, or why not? Did you have any sympathy with them?

Discuss the strong language used. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the movie?

Talk about the characters' racist attitudes and discussions about colonialism . How did this show the biases of different perspectives?

How were drinking, smoking, and drug use portrayed? Were there consequences? Did it glamorize it?

Talk about the lavish lifestyles of the expat characters. Did they appear to enjoy it or feel trapped by it?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : July 1, 2022
  • On DVD or streaming : July 15, 2022
  • Cast : Ralph Fiennes , Jessica Chastain , Matt Smith
  • Director : John Michael McDonagh
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors
  • Studio : Roadside Attractions
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : Book Characters
  • Run time : 117 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and brief violence
  • Last updated : September 16, 2022

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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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The Forgiven — Ralph Fiennes aside, this film is unforgivable

Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith in The Forgiven

★★☆☆☆ The compelling shadow story swirling around The Forgiven is of two famous brothers. The younger has rightfully claimed the territory of a sensitive and striving artist while the elder, who came to prominence later, has marked out his creative space with showy and increasingly hollow provocations.

They are Martin and John Michael McDonagh, the British-Irish film-making duo who have nurtured separate identities and projects yet somehow seem to progress in tandem.

While Martin, the awards darling, glamour boy (he is in a relationship with Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and playwright, has delivered movies of increasing depth and moral complexity including his Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri , the scrappy, defiant John Michael has made Tarantino-inspired crime comedies The Guard , Calvary and War on Everyone

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Muppets and elves jostle with orphans, serial killers and Santa in our list of the greatest yuletide movies ever to grace the big screen

25. Black Christmas (1974)

This slasher classic – the source of that standby horror line: “The call is coming from inside the house!” – shows one victim being stabbed with a glass ornament as carol singers drown out her dying cries. The director, Bob Clark, also made the sweetly folksy A Christmas Story (1983), which represents the flipside of the same chocolate coin.

24. Remember the Night (1939)

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Remember the Night

Preston Sturges scripted this road-trip lark, which stars Barbara Stanwyck as a shoplifter saved from the prospect of spending Christmas in the clink by a sympathetic district attorney (Fred MacMurray), who puts up her bail then takes her in.

23. Le pupille (2022)

Alice Rohrwacher’s wistful 39-minute wartime comedy about the arrival of a tremendous pudding at an Italian orphans’ boarding school is a proper pick-me-up. It features bored angels, a pretty, moustachioed nun and a spry score by Cleaning Women, whose instruments are fashioned from household items.

22. Female Trouble (1974)

John Waters’ riotous sleaze-fest kicks off with an unruly teen, Dawn Davenport (Divine), going postal after failing to receive the cha-cha heels she wanted from her parents. Stomping on the presents and bringing the tree crashing down on her mother, she screams: “Fuck you both, you awful people! … I hate Christmas!”

21. A Christmas Tale (2008)

Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve in A Christmas Tale

The Vuillard clan trade insults and wield grudges during a seasonal get-together that is glorious for us, if not for them. The hostilities between a cancer-stricken mother (Catherine Deneuve) and her resentful, alcoholic son (Mathieu Amalric) are a nasty delight: “Still don’t love me?” “I never did.”

20. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck again, this time as a Manhattan food writer who poses in print as a folksy Connecticut mother, then scrambles to make the facade a reality when her editor (Sydney Greenstreet) asks her to host a Christmas dinner for a heroic marine (Dennis Morgan). Subversive screwball complications ensue.

19. Gasman (1998)

There are tears before bedtime in Lynne Ramsay’s heart-crushing short about two children in 1970s Glasgow coming face to face with their secret step-siblings at a rowdy festive shindig. Santa and Slade figure prominently in one of the most vividly dismal Christmases ever put on film.

18. Christmas Holiday (1944)

Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in Christmas Holiday

Stuck in New Orleans and dumped by his fiancee on Christmas Eve, a luckless lieutenant (Dean Harens) meets a torch singer (Deanna Durbin) with her own tale of romantic woe: her sweetheart (an unforgettably creepy Gene Kelly) is in prison for murder. Or so she thinks.

17. Christmas Evil/You Better Watch Out (1980)

Starting from the same premise as I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, this horror-tinged stocking-filler imagines what happened when the child in that song grew up. Employed by the Jolly Dream toy factory, Harry (played by the musician Fiona Apple’s dad, Brandon Maggart ) dresses as Santa, keeps a naughty list, donates gifts to the local hospital – and slaughters his co-workers at midnight mass. Dance choreography is by Meryl Streep’s brother and there is a sleigh-ride ending to make Rudolph swoon.

16. Kings and Desperate Men (1981)

Alexis Kanner, the writer-director-star of this ticking-clock thriller about terrorists hijacking a Canadian radio talkshow on Christmas Eve, sued the makers of Die Hard, calling it a “wholesale cinematic Xeroxing” of his film. He lost, and with good reason: the movies, both superb, have nothing in common bar hostages, explosives and Christmas.

15. Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard, wearing a black vest and looking through a broken glass window

Bruce Willis exudes strong post-prandial Christmas dad vibes as John McClane, who dearly wants to take it easy, but gets caught up in thwarting a terrorist group (led by a lip-smacking Alan Rickman) that has hijacked the Los Angeles office block where his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is partying. Her name? Holly, of course.

14. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Ernst Lubitsch’s epistolary romcom concerns two bickering Budapest giftshop colleagues, played by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, who conduct a blissful correspondence, oblivious to each other’s real identity. It was revamped in 1998, with half the charm, as You’ve Got Mail.

13. Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian Christmas nightmare begins with sleigh bells jingling as a child asks her mother how Santa can get in without a chimney. Cue a Swat team bursting through the ceiling to snatch her father, leaving her mother clutching a docket for him as she stands whimpering in the newly demolished front room. Could there be a more meaningful seasonal message than: “Keep the receipt”?

12. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Children on a merry-go-round in Fanny and Alexander

In writing this early-1900s family saga, rich and dense as a booze-soaked fruit cake, Ingmar Bergman was inspired equally by ETA Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and Dickens, and it was coloured by his relief that a long-running tax evasion case against him had finally collapsed. “I found myself liberated suddenly,” he wrote. Exuberant Christmas celebrations are soon offset by ghosts and grief.

11. The Silent Partner (1978)

As a vicious bank-robber dressed as Santa, Christopher Plummer shows his claws. Viewers are likely to be put off The Sound of Music, fish tanks (as featured in the nastiest scene) and possibly Christmas itself for life. That is a small price to pay for relishing one of the cleverest thrillers since Hitchcock’s heyday. It was scripted by Curtis Hanson, who returned to Christmastime crime in LA Confidential.

10. The Dead (1987)

Taking place on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January, in 1904 (the day after Twelfth Night), John Huston’s majestic swansong, adapted from James Joyce’s perfect short story, is not set during Christmas itself. But the atmosphere of last-gasp revelry, not to mention the snow “falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling”, as Joyce puts it, more than justifies its place on any tally of Christmassy cinematic wonders.

9. Elf (2003)

Amy Sedaris, James Caan and Will Ferrell in Elf

Many Christmas films incorporate a hefty dose of the tragic. Not Elf. This effervescent comedy stars Will Ferrell at his most ebullient as Buddy, the human raised as an elf, who leaves Santa’s grotto for the big city to track down his unsuspecting dad (a never-more-gruff James Caan). You would need to be a cotton-headed ninny muggins to resist.

8. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra’s conflicted fable, in which George Bailey (James Stewart), a suicidal good-egg, is shown how bad the world would have been without him, was never meant to be a festive treat. Its original release date, in January, was brought forward because another film on the movie company RKO’s schedule wasn’t ready. The Telegraph predicted Capra’s movie would be “gone like a Christmas tree smothered with sweets and crackers”. Instead, it put down roots after falling out of copyright in 1974, enabling TV channels to show it for free.

7. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Geena Davis The Long Kiss Goodnight, pointing a gun as she carries a child on her hip

Shane Black has a penchant for setting his films at Christmas (see also: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon). The most thrilling action movie of the 1990s, scripted by Black, boasts impeccable seasonal credentials: ice-skating, a festive parade and an ingenious climactic stunt involving fairy lights. As the assassin turned housewife, Geena Davis loses her rag brilliantly when her cutie-pie daughter takes a tumble on the ice. “Life is pain,” she snaps. “Get used to it.” Nothing spells Christmas like a parent at the end of her tether.

6. Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

The Christmas episode eclipses and permeates everything else in this year-in-the-life yarn about a Missouri family. As she contemplates her dreaded imminent relocation to New York, Judy Garland sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, possibly the most equivocal festive song of all time (“We’ll have to muddle through somehow …”), before her kid sister, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), starts wailing inconsolably and decapitating the snow-people in the garden.

5. Carol (2015)

There are fraught festivities for Carol (Cate Blanchett) in early-1950s New York as she separates from her husband, fights for custody of their daughter and falls for Therese (Rooney Mara), who serves her at a department store toy counter in an adorable floppy Santa hat. Todd Haynes’s film of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt is a swoon-worthy slow-burner. Were any lovers more perfectly named for a festive romance than Christmas Carol and Christmas Therese?

4. Gremlins (1984)

A still from the movie Gremlins

In Joe Dante’s delirious horror-comedy, written by Chris Columbus (who later directed Home Alone), the very act of gift-giving becomes the catalyst for carnage: the present itself, an exotic fluffy pet, spawns legions of marauding offspring. As if the film’s ambivalence toward the festive season were not clear enough, the rampaging beasties even savage Santa, who gets trussed up in fairy lights, while Phoebe Cates reminisces unforgettably about a traumatic childhood Christmas.

3. The Apartment (1960)

“’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring. Nothin’. No action. Dullsville.” Billy Wilder’s bittersweet comedy skates skilfully on the edge of desolation as it brings together an office clerk (Jack Lemmon) who lets his sleazy superiors borrow his Upper West Side apartment for their assignations and the elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine) who is suicidal after being jilted by his boss. Snatching hope from the jaws of despair, it’s a genuine miracle on West 67th St.

2. Tangerine (2015)

“Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” With an opening line like that, nobody could mistake this lively comedy about transgender sex workers for It’s a Wonderful Life. Look closely, though, and you will find the festive spirit thriving in Sean Baker’s whirlwind of attitude, colour and resourcefulness, which was shot on three iPhones with an $8 app. It may be a sun-scorched Christmas on Santa Monica Boulevard, but the dreamy white dots from a bar-room glitterball provide the illusion of snowfall.

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol, with several of the Muppet cast

“If you like this,” says Gonzo as Charles Dickens, “you should read the book.” And who wouldn’t like it? This is not only the greatest Christmas film ever made, but also the best Muppet movie and among the most glorious of all Dickens adaptations. Michael Caine plays it fantastically straight as the icicle-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, which makes his eventual thawing a joyous spectacle. Quotable lines fall like pine needles (“Light the lamp, not the rat!”) and every song by the musical god and Phantom of the Paradise star Paul Williams is a cracker, especially the rousing curtain-raiser introducing Scrooge as “the undisputed master of / The underhanded deed”. God bless us, every Muppet.

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‘Origin’ Review: The Roots of Our Racism

Ava DuVernay’s new feature film, adapted from the Isabel Wilkerson book “Caste,” turns the journalist into a character who examines oppression.

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In a film scene, a woman walks amid a crowd, pulling her purse strap up over her shoulder.

By Manohla Dargis

Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” is as audacious as it is ambitious. At its core, it concerns an intellectual argument about history and hierarchies of power, but it’s also about the fraught process of making this argument. It’s a daunting conceit that DuVernay has shaped into an eventful narrative that is, by turns, specific and far-ranging, diagnostic and aspirational. It is a great big swing about taking a great big swing, and while the film is more persuasive as a drama than the argument it relays, few American movies this year reach so high so boldly.

The inspiration for “Origin,” which DuVernay both wrote and directed, is Isabel Wilkerson’s acclaimed, best-selling 2020 book “Caste.” In it, Wilkerson argues that to fully understand the United States and its divisive history, you need to look past race and grasp the role played by caste, which she sees as an artificial and static structural “ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups.” Caste, she writes, separates people — including into racially ranked groups — and keeps them divided. These separations, as the subtitle puts it, are “The Origins of Our Discontents.”

For the film, DuVernay has turned Wilkerson into a dramatic, at times melodramatic character of the same name — a moving Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor — who develops her thesis while traversing history and continents on a journey from inspiration to publication. The movie also includes segments of varying effectiveness that dramatize Wilkerson’s understanding of specific caste systems: One is set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, another in Depression-era Mississippi and a third in India over different time periods. This last interlude focuses on Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (Gaurav J. Pathania), who helped draft India’s Constitution and championed the rights of Dalits, people once deemed “untouchables.”

Isabel’s intellectual quest is bold, sweeping and determinedly personal — a handful of close relatives have decisive roles — and DuVernay’s version of that venture is equally expansive. She gives it tension, tears, visual poetry, shocks of tragedy, moments of grace and many interlocking parts. “Origin” opens in 2012 with a re-enactment of the last night in the life of Trayvon Martin (Myles Frost), the unarmed 17-year-old who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. The killing becomes the catalyst for her thesis about caste because, the more she considers it, the more she believes that racism alone can’t explain it. Racism, she says at one point, has become “the default” explanation.

Isabel’s process unfolds rapidly and is framed by her resistance to the default. Her resistance surfaces in a discussion that she has with her husband, Brett (a sympathetic Jon Bernthal), and mother, Ruby (Emily Yancy), as they watch President Obama address Martin’s death on TV. It also informs Isabel’s talks with an acquaintance (Blair Underwood), who early on urges her to write about the case, pushing her to listen to the 911 calls that were made the night Martin was killed. (Wilkerson is a former bureau chief for The New York Times; her first book is “ The Warmth of Other Suns : The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.”)

Isabel does listen to the 911 calls one quiet evening at home. Steeling herself, she begins the recordings, at which point the scene shifts to the night of the killing; it’s as if she had hit play on a grotesque movie. As DuVernay cuts back and forth between Isabel and that night, you hear George Zimmerman, a largely offscreen presence, talking to a dispatcher as he follows the worried teenager in his car. (“He’s running.”) You also watch as a terrified Martin struggles for his life. DuVernay’s staging here is blunt, visceral and harrowingly intimate. Isabel is shaken and so are you, in part because the 911 calls in the re-enactment are real.

“Origin” doesn’t tip that the calls are real, though it’s obvious. (Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, is thanked in the credits.) The calls are excruciating. They intensify the palpable urgency that defines “Origin” from its opening and informs even outwardly ordinary scenes, urgency that feels very much like the sounding of an alarm. DuVernay has consistently drawn from history in her work, including in her documentary “13TH” (about the racism of the American prison system), her period drama “Selma” (about the 1965 march and the events preceding it) and her Netflix series “ When They See Us ” (about the teenage victims known as the Central Park Five). For her, history isn’t a random dusty box to open; it is a living thing.

This explains, I think — beyond obvious commercial considerations — DuVernay’s decision to turn Wilkerson into Isabel, the empathetic heroine of a story larger than any one person. DuVernay fleshes out the character from the start in homey scenes of Isabel with her family, so you’re smitten quickly. And Ellis-Taylor helps keeps you on the character’s side even when you wonder where she’s headed and why. Isabel is an appealing, celebrated public intellectual. As such, she lives in her head (she often misplaces her keys), but she also lives in a body shaped and buffeted by a past that is always present, a past that at times reveals itself in meaningful details: in a flirty joke, a misty story and the memory of a Tuskegee airman.

As a character, Isabel doesn’t simply make this material approachable, she embodies it, putting it into warm, breathing, at times weeping terms, much like the characters in the historical episodes. It’s instructive that DuVernay shows Isabel falling apart after she endures great personal loss and before she goes deep into her investigation into caste. When her cousin Marion (Niecy Nash-Betts) comforts her, murmuring “I’m right here,” the film shifts into a deeper melodramatic register that, in its raw emotion, is startling and touching. It is a potent reminder that Isabel’s intellectual project isn’t some dry exercise; it is, instead, a search for meaning that insists history is also written on bodies and through lived experience.

Not everything works. There are too many scenes and DuVernay clutters the narrative by over-cutting among them; she also, in an attempt to strengthen Isabel’s ideas, needlessly stages one scene in a Nazi extermination camp and another on a ship transporting captive Africans during the Middle Passage. More prosaically, Isabel’s research can seem less like work and more like tourism, especially when she’s drifting through museums and libraries. It’s in a Berlin exhibition, for one, that she learns of the connection between old American racial classifications, in which anyone of mixed ancestry was considered Black, and Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg race laws , which segregated Jews from so-called Aryans.

“Caste” has generated criticism, including for its omission of class politics; as the historian Charisse Burden-Stelly points out in the journal Boston Review , the word capitalism never appears in the book. For his part, the author Sunil Khilnani, writing in The New Yorker , sees in Wilkerson’s book “more grim continuity than hopeful departures, more regression to the mean than moments of progress.” Despite its well-wrought, meaningful tears, “Origin” is, by contrast, extraordinarily hopeful. It never makes a persuasive case for Isabel’s thesis, but I’m not convinced it needs to. For DuVernay, speaking to the convulsions of a past that shape us is a moral imperative, and so too is the optimism that is finally her film’s greatest argument.

Origin Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. In theaters.

Manohla Dargis is the chief film critic of The Times, which she joined in 2004. She has an M.A. in cinema studies from New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. More about Manohla Dargis

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Developing Strong Thesis Statements

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These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution implies that something is bad or negative in some way. Furthermore, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is unambiguously good.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.

Another example of a debatable thesis statement:

In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.

The thesis needs to be narrow

Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.

Example of a thesis that is too broad:

There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.

Example of a narrow or focused thesis:

In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.

We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:

Narrowed debatable thesis 1:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.

Narrowed debatable thesis 2:

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.

Qualifiers such as " typically ," " generally ," " usually ," or " on average " also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.

Types of claims

Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, or, in other words, what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.

Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:

Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:

Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:

Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:

Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.

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  1. Thesis Statements

    answers the question, "so what?" How to write a thesis statement: Suppose you are taking an early American history class and your professor has distributed the following essay prompt: "Historians have debated the American Revolution's effect on women.

  2. Historical Thesis Statements

    Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay, but thesis statements typically share the following characteristics: Presents the main idea. Most often is one sentence. Tells the reader what to expect. Is a summary of the essay topic. Usually worded to have an argumentative edge.

  3. Thesis Statement

    The thesis statement summarizes the central argument of your paper. It is placed at the top of the outline page, and appears again in the opening paragraph. A clearly stated thesis performs three functions: it provides a focus for your research, helping to prevent time wasting digressions. it furnishes an organizational theme for the paper ...

  4. Thesis Statement

    Writing in History Writing Guide Thesis Statement Thesis and Argument: Answers the inquiry question with a thesis statement that is historically defensible and supported by available evidence The Thesis Every history paper has a big idea that serves as an umbrella for all the evidence included in the essay.

  5. Historical Arguments and Thesis Statements

    Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay, but thesis statements typically share the following characteristics: Presents the main idea. Most often is one sentence. It tells the reader what to expect. Is a summary of the essay topic. Usually worded to have an argumentative edge.

  6. PDF Thesis Statements REVISED

    • is historically specific. • is focused and precise. • answers the question, "so what?" How to write a thesis statement: Suppose you are taking an early American history class and your professor has distributed the following essay prompt: "Historians have debated the American Revolution's effect on women.

  7. Writing a Thesis and Making an Argument

    A thesis statement is a sentence in which you state an argument about a topic and then describe, briefly, how you will prove your argument. This is an argument, but not yet a thesis: "The movie 'JFK' inaccurately portrays President Kennedy."

  8. Thesis Statements

    A thesis is the main point or argument of an information source. (Many, but not all, writing assignments, require a thesis.) • Arguable: Can be supported by evidence and analysis, and can be disagreed with. • Unique: Says something new and interesting. • Concise and clear: Explained as simply as possible, but not at the expense of clarity.

  9. Thesis Statements

    Thesis statements: Harry Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima was motivated by racism. The US confrontation with the Soviets was the key factor in Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. This paper will demonstrate that in his decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, Truman was unduly influenced by hawks in his cabinet.

  10. Developing a Thesis Statement

    Writing a History Paper Developing a Thesis Statement Usually papers have a thesis, an assertion about your topic. You will present evidence in your paper to convince the reader of your point of view. Some ways to help you develop your thesis are by: stating the purpose of the paper

  11. How to Research and Write a Compelling History Thesis

    In writing the thesis, the author should keep in mind that the document will require multiple changes and drafts—perhaps even new insights. A student should gather feedback from a professor and colleagues to ensure their thesis is clear and effective before finalizing the draft. 6. Prepare to Defend the Thesis.

  12. Thesis Statements

    makes a claim that others might dispute. is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

  13. Developing a Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement . . . Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic. Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper. Is focused and specific enough to be "proven" within the boundaries of your paper.

  14. Historical Argument Definition, Steps & Examples

    The components of a historical argument are the thesis (specific, provable, arguable), the evidence (the information provided that supports the thesis statement), and the conclusion (the decision ...

  15. Frontier Thesis

    The Frontier Thesis, also known as Turner's Thesis or American frontierism, is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that the settlement and colonization of the rugged American frontier was decisive in forming the culture of American democracy and distinguishing it from European nations. He stressed the process of "winning a wilderness" to extend the frontier line ...

  16. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Step 1: Start with a question Step 2: Write your initial answer Step 3: Develop your answer Step 4: Refine your thesis statement Types of thesis statements Other interesting articles Frequently asked questions about thesis statements What is a thesis statement? A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay.

  17. 17.9: The West as History- the Turner Thesis

    17.9: The West as History- the Turner Thesis. Figure 17.9.1 17.9. 1: American anthropologist and ethnographer Frances Densmore records the Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief in 1916 for the Bureau of American Ethnology. Library of Congress. In 1893, the American Historical Association met during that year's World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

  18. What Is a Thesis?

    A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay, and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay. A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to ...

  19. What is your thesis statement on the meaning of being American?

    A thesis statement, however, will need to focus on American values, and the most obvious place to find these is in the founding documents of the United States of America: the Constitution and the ...

  20. definition of thesis statement in us history

    A thesis statement is a sentence that summarizes the main point or argument of an essay. It should be clear, concise, and to the point.... A good thesis statement is a single sentence contained in the introduction of a paper that provides the reader with some idea of what the writer is trying to convey in the body of the paper.

  21. Strong Thesis Statements

    General Writing Academic Writing Establishing Arguments Developing Strong Thesis Statements Developing Strong Thesis Statements The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim.

  22. Thesis Statement American History Definition

    Thesis Statement American History Definition - Thesis Statement American History Definition, Sch Ma Dissertation Fran Ais, Free English Creative Writing Course, Assessment Discovery Education, Essay On Dinosaur For Class 1, Tobin James Essay, Application Letter Philippine Government

  23. Thesis Statement American History Definition

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