A strong thesis statement lets your reader – most likely, your teacher or professor – know immediately 1) what topic your paper will address and 2) your attitude toward the topic.

An effective thesis statement cannot be a mere statement of fact; a thesis must contain an argument of some sort. 

In other words, the following is not a thesis statement, for it has no argument:

"Jack London's 'To Build a Fire' is a story about a man and a dog in the Alaskan wilderness during the winter."

Keep reading! Good thesis statements for papers on "To Build a Fire" are below.


The first section below discusses thesis statements (strong and weak) that my students wrote for a 500-word paper.


The second section discusses effective thesis statements that students wrote for a 1,000-word paper on “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Leo Tolstoy.


500-word paper

This was the assignment (i.e., the prompt):

In the first half of your 500- to 600-word paper, discuss how the protagonist in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” lacks virtú. In the second half, discuss how the protagonist in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” exhibits virtú.

(Professor’s note: The word “virtú” comes from the Latin word meaning “strength.” The word does not necessarily mean “physical strength”; it also might mean having “the right stuff” – in other words, “the ability to accomplish the mission.”)



  • The protagonist in “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London, lacks virtú; by contrast, Delia, the protagonist in “Sweat,” by Zora Neale Hurston, exhibits virtú. (This is a great thesis: It names the stories and the authors, and specifies which character lacks virtú and which one has this very important trait.)
  • In the short story “To Build a Fire,” the protagonist shows lack of virtú in many ways, while the protagonist in the short story “Sweat” exhibits virtú. (This is clear and concise, though the writer did not need to include “the short story.”)
  • In “Sweat,” Delia shows a lot of virtú, while the man in “To Build a Fire” lacks virtú. (Clear and concise, though this thesis does not mention the author of either story.)


  • In the stories, one character exhibits virtú, but the one in the other story does not. (You need to specify which character exhibits virtú, as well as name each story. If the character lacks a name, as in “To Build a Fire,” call him or her “the protagonist.”)
  • After reading the two stories, we can see that one character has virtú, though the other does not. (Which character, in which story, has virtú? Which character, in which story, does not?)
  • Authors, in many instances, reveal whether their main character has virtú. (This statement is true, but it does not refer to either character in either story.)


1,000-word paper




These are three of the best thesis statements. Students wrote about the lessons that Tolstoy's novel teaches us. Note the use of double and single quotation marks.


The most-specific (and best) version:
“‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ by Leo Tolstoy teaches a variety of lessons about human nature, appreciating life, and how people handle grief.”


The simpler-but-slightly-more-specific (second-best) version:
“Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ provides multiple insights into human nature through the attitudes of Ivan and other main characters.”


The simplest (not great, but acceptable) version:
“Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ provides insights into human nature.”