WRITING THESIS STATEMENTS – ANSWER KEY

PAGES 3-4: REMINDERS Read the following reminders and click the examples to see the evaluation of the statements below:  A thesis statement is meant to be an argument, not just an observation. Your goal should be to prove your position, not merely to make an observation. In order to avoid making an observation, your thesis should include a topic and an argument.  Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” discusses the importance of water. (vague, broad)  In Joan Baxter’s “Act of God,” water is used to represent the nature of humanity’s power struggle for survival in life-and-death situations. (better)  Try to find a thesis focus that isn’t too vague or too broad. Overly general topics won’t provide you with a cohesive focus to structure your essay around. You may end up talking about too much without really analyzing anything in detail. Overly specific topics may limit the discussion and make it impossible to develop more than one idea, leading to an essay that is repetitive.  Drought is hard for people to deal with. (too broad)  Jillian cannot cope with her physical unease during the village drought. (too specific)  Your thesis can identify the story’s main idea, but it must clearly indicate an argumentative interpretation or stance in relation to the main idea.  Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” focuses on the impact of foreign government aid. (no interpretation)  Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” uses the impact of drought to depict how the underlying cultural differences between Jillian and the villagers lead to dire consequences. (better)  Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” uses comparison and contrast, setting and imagery related to the drought to depict how the underlying cultural differences between Jillian and the villagers lead to dire consequences. (best)  Remember to focus on proving one point, not more.  The story deals with death, drought, foreign policy and survival instincts. (too many topics)

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

2
PAGE 6: FIGURING OUT A TEXT’S MAIN IDEAS The following seven events are included because they are events that are important to understand and take into consideration when interpreting this text. 1. The electricity goes out. 2. The water is cut off. 3. Jillian thinks about how long it has been since there was rain. 4. Aisha arrives to sell tomatoes to Jillian. 5. Jillian goes inside to get money and Aisha takes water. 6. Jillian goes to work and, on her ride back with Bukari, discusses the water situation. 7. New tomato girl arrives to sell Jillian tomatoes. PAGE 7: COMPARISON OF ANSWERS EXAMPLE: 1. The electricity goes out. [Feedback:] Jillian thinks about her role in the community and whether or not she can really make a difference. 2. The water is cut off. [Feedback:] The water cut makes Jillian think about how energy and water are controlled in the region and the water mafia, and she expresses her frustrations about the situation. 3. Jillian thinks about how long it has been since there was rain. [Feedback:] The drought makes Jillian think about the differences between Africa and America. She compares the two places and realizes how much the weather is taken for granted back home. 4. Aisha arrives to sell tomatoes to Jillian. [Feedback:] We realize that Jillian can barely communicate with the locals because she doesn’t speak the language. 5. Jillian goes inside to get money and Aisha takes water. [Feedback:] Jillian yells at Aisha because she feels like if she says yes to Aisha and gives her water, she’ll have to share with everyone, which she’s not equipped to do. Jillian ends up

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

3
feeling guilty for scaring Aisha, but because of the language, she can’t really apologize and fix the situation. 6. Jillian goes to work and, on her ride back with Bukari, discusses the water situation. [Feedback:] Bukari tells Jillian, and readers, why the people can’t change the situation (because of the violent punishment they’d receive if they tried). Jillian also learns about the death at Independence Valley and that it means that the locals will no longer get water from that source. 7. New tomato girl arrives to sell Jillian tomatoes. [Feedback:] Jillian learns that Aisha is the girl who died at Independence Valley. PAGE 10: MAIN IDEAS FOR ESSAY Answers will vary. See next exercise for explanations. PAGES 11-12: MAIN IDEAS FOR ESSAY – YES OR NO QUESTIONS

Main Idea
1.Government corruption leads to Aisha’s death.

Explanation
No. Although this idea is briefly mentioned in the text, it isn’t a central idea being developed in the story, nor does the text identify corruption as the direct cause of Aisha’s death. An essay developing this idea could border on being a misreading because it misidentifies the central idea and it develops an argument that misinterprets the text’s focus.

Main Idea
2. Survival instinct overrides charity and motivates Jillian’s actions.

Explanation
Yes. This is a central idea. The following passages show how Jillian, who came to the village to help the villagers, deprives them of the one thing that they really need because she saves it for herself. Instead of helping the villagers by sharing her water or by helping them create their own water storage system, she protects her store of water out of fear of not having enough for herself, which leads to dire consequences. She walked around the house to the water tank that was settled unevenly on four bricks behind the garage, mentally thanking Bukari for his foresight and ingenuity. She fiddled with the lock on the faucet, thinking that if things worked here—if the water corporation provided people with water as it was supposed to—she wouldn’t have to lock the faucet on the tank to keep all the women in the neighbourhood from helping themselves. In fact, she wouldn’t even need the tank.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

4
[…] She sighed. “It’s not that I don’t want to give you water, Aisha,” she said, trying to sound gentle. “But I can’t give water to everyone. I know you need water, but if I give you water, I have to give everyone water. You should all march to the sewerage corporation and break it down. As long as you can come to me, the real problem will never be solved…”[…] Come back, I’ll give you some water,” Jillian said, but the girl was already through the gate and across the road, too far away to hear. Jillian picked up the fallen tomatoes, cradling them against her stomach, and wondered what had happened to her, when she had become so hard.

Main Idea
3.Western guilt leads to misguided action.

Explanation
Yes. This is a central idea. Although most passages don’t express this idea explicitly, we are aware early on that Jillian feels helpless in the face of corruption and the gravity of the situation. This idea is presented early in the text in the following quote: The blackness was complete. She dreaded the depth of the night here. It crowded her, brought fears and doubts. What if the people really hated her, the foreigner come to “help” them? What did those smiling market women really think of her? Did her African co-workers on the rural credit project secretly resent her being there, collecting a salary then, fifty times higher than theirs, money her country was ostensibly giving to theirs? Was this guilt a Western medicine, a placebo to replace the real suffering? This sense of misguided action is elaborated upon when Jillian not only starts to question her own concern and belonging, but proceeds to offer help that isn’t what the villagers really need. Despite the fact that the villagers are suffering from a water shortage, Jillian is trying to educate them about credit systems. Although she wants to help, her help is misplaced and unable to solve the real challenges experienced by the villagers: water shortage and corruption in the water corporation. OR The power came on at dusk, but the water was still off when she got up the next day. She listened vaguely to the morning news from former Yugoslavia. Did she care what happened in Herza-something? What world did she belong to? Then she headed out for a day in the villages, where she would explain, again, the credit system and how the repayment had to be made. The money, even the few dollars the women’s groups were allocated, always came with rules attached. On the way home that evening she engaged Bukari in another discussion about local corruption, asked him how the water corporation could get away with the deliberate water cuts. “They’re just wicked people,” he said. “They want to chop our money, that’s all.” “But why don’t the people do something about it?” she asked. “I mean, demonstrate, or…” He didn’t allow her to finish. “The police will shoot us or arrest us. They always do.” Furthermore, the consequences of Jillian’s inability to communicate with the villagers, share necessary resources and fully understand how to navigate the situation are so dramatic that the reader is clearly left with a sense that Jillian’s intentions, although well-meaning, actually worsen the situation.

Main Idea
4.Modern technology could solve the villagers’ water shortage.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

5 Explanation
No. There is no evidence that this idea is presented in the text. Be careful not to read into the text and make conclusions that aren’t supported by the text.

Main Idea
5.Faith and the power of God play a role during times of suffering.

Explanation
Yes. Although this idea isn’t the most obvious choice, the evidence in the story does support it as a main idea. The title of the text, along with the villagers’ faith in God, work together as a parable that shows how the villagers cope with hardship, and educate readers about the concept of charity. What’s important to notice in the following quote is the emphasis on the people learning appreciation and not on God punishing them. […] the harvest would fail if the rains didn’t come soon. She had asked the women farmers with whom she worked in the villages what they would do then. “We will suffer,” they said. “Sometimes when God has given us too many gifts, He has to take some back, so we will know how to suffer.”

Main Idea
6.Failed language communication leads to cultural misunderstandings.

Explanation
Yes. This could be developed as a main idea. If Jillian had been able to communicate with Aisha and the villagers, Aisha might not have been so scared and would have understood that Jillian was trying to make amends. Instead, because Aisha knew little English and Jillian knew little Goroni, Jillian was unable to communicate properly with Aisha. Aisha, the tomato girl, was standing a few feet from her, smiling. The metal tray of tomatoes on her head dipped as she bowed. Jillian wanted to tell her to go away. Normally she rather liked the visits of the tomato girl, who came most days in search of a few coins in exchange for a few tomatoes. But right now Aisha irritated her, standing there in her rags, cloaked in need. “I don’t want any tomatoes this morning,” Jillian said. Aisha grinned. She understood almost no English. She lifted the plate of tomatoes from her head and began to select the best ones, firm as Madam liked, from the little tomato pyramids arranged so neatly on the tray. “Fifty fifty,” said Aisha, holding up four tomatoes. “Okay,” Jillian said finally, kicking the tap closed. “Give me two piles.”

Main Idea
7.God is punishing the villagers and Jillian.

Explanation
No. This isn’t an acceptable idea because although the text implies that Aisha’s death and the drought are both acts of God, the text never states that God is punishing them. Jillian may

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

6
have denied Aisha water, but Aisha’s death isn’t Jillian’s fault. She feels guilty because she knows that she could have prevented Aisha from getting water from the silo on the day in question, but two other girls would still have died and the water source under the silo would no longer have been used by the villagers. To say that Jillian feels guilt over her misplaced charity and desire for self-preservation is possible, but stating that God is punishing her risks misreading the more pressing points being made in the text.

Main Idea
8.The death of Aisha represents the village’s absolute dependence on agricultural industry.

Explanation
No. This isn’t a central idea in the text.

Main Idea
9. Life goes on, despite hardships and loss.

Explanation
Yes. An essay could be structured around this as a main idea. As the following excerpt shows, life goes on in the village and a new girl comes to take over Aisha’s job selling tomatoes. It wasn’t Aisha. This girl was smaller, even thinner. The plate of tomatoes looked as if it could squash her. Aisha’s junior sister perhaps. “Tomato,” said the girl. “Where’s Aisha?” Jillian asked. “My tomato girl?” “Fifty fifty,” said the girl. “Aisha bene,” Jillian persisted, trying out one of the few Goroni words she had learned over the past year. The girl cocked her head to one side and answered in Goroni. Jillian held up her hand. “Wait, I’m coming,” she said, dashing inside to find her Goroni-English handbook. “Now,” she said, “say that again, biala, biala.” Slowly, slowly. The girl repeated herself, slowly. Aisha… something. Just one word. Jillian flipped through the dictionary, looking for a word that resembled the one the girl kept repeating: Ofieme. There it was. Ofieme. “Drowned?” she whispered. The girl nodded and the plate of tomatoes tipped dangerously. “Fifty fifty,” she said.

Main Idea
10. Political corruption has an impact on the poor.

Explanation
Yes. This is a main idea. The text clearly indicates that there are people who are meant to help the villagers obtain water, build wells, etc., but that corruption prevents the villagers from benefiting from these initiatives. If she complained at the office about the lack of power and water, people would commiserate. Bukari, her driver, would say, as he always did, that the water and sewerage corporation was making some extra money again by shutting off the pipes so that the Talon water mafia—the men who owned the tanker trucks—could sell water to people and “grow fat.”

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

7
He told her that people in Talon could always go out to fetch water at Independence Valley. That was the name they had given to a half-finished two-storey warehouse on the outskirts of town. It had been started under the country’s first president after independence. “But then the money was finished like always because the Big Men chop it.” He told her. “Underneath that building, there’s water. They wanted to store grain there, it was going to be a silo. Now it’s just full of water from the rainy season. It is not good water, but the people go down there whenever the water is off. It’s not nice, the stairs are steep and the girls fear the place. PAGES 15-16: THESIS STATEMENT ANALYSIS Thesis Statement Strong (S) OK Poor(P)

1. Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” uses setting, imagery and dialogue. (P) 2. In the short story “Act of God,” the author, Joan Baxter, uses techniques and devices to represent Jillian’s alienation from the community she is trying to help. (OK) 3. “Act of God” is a short story about the suffering of poor people and the government’s inability to help them because of corruption. (OK) 4. The use of setting, symbolism and dialogue in Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” depicts the significance of water in our lives. (OK) 5. Setting, foreshadowing and characterization serve to depict the dire consequences that can occur when a foreigner steps in to help a culture she doesn’t fully understand during times of crisis. (S) 6. The role of God plays a significant role in Joan Baxter’s story “Act of God.” (P) 7. The failed communication between Jillian and the villagers, particularly Aisha, causes gross misunderstandings and tragic consequences, leading readers to understand that foreign aid is often more detrimental than beneficial. (OK) 8. Characterization, irony and symbolism are used by Joan Baxter in “Act of God” to show how the instinctive desire to survive can cause government corruption. (P) 9. Although we can try to control our environment, ultimately, as Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” shows through diction, imagery and metaphor, certain events are beyond our control and we must work together in order to overcome adversity in order to survive. (S) 10. “Act of God,” by Joan Baxter, reveals through the use of tone, diction and imagery how alienation and greed can cause cultural miscommunication and ultimately lead to a failure in dialogue between parties so as to ensure the government’s inability to fix its own problems and help its citizens. (P) [Feedback for answers] 1. Poor. The statement fails to provide an argument or a main point for interpretation.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

8
2. OK. 3. OK. 4. OK. 5. Strong. 6. Poor. Technically, an essay could be built around the story’s title, but it would need to be more specific and draw upon techniques and devices that would prove the significance of God in the story. Which of the following additions would strengthen the thesis statement? a. … because it reveals the apathy of the villagers toward changing their situation. b. … because it reveals the power dynamics at work in the village in terms of religion, government, foreign influence and the village’s mentality. 7. OK. Although the statement is strong, it fails to address crucial elements of the English Exit Exam: techniques and devices. The statement would be strong if it were followed up with a sentence indicating which techniques and devices were going to be examined in order to prove the argument presented. 8. Poor. This idea isn’t supported by the text and would lead to an essay that is based on a misreading. 9. Strong. An essay built around this statement would need to focus on how working together could improve the situation in the village by showing how the current state of affairs is failing both the villagers and Western aid workers. 10. Poor. The focus of the essay is muddled and not based on the main ideas that are developed in the text. Even though the words sound like they are saying something important, there is no argument for the essay to be built around. PAGE 20: BUILD YOUR OWN THESIS STATEMENT Communication barriers + dire consequences + Jillian’s frustration: The communication barriers that exist between foreign aid workers and locals, in this case Jillian and Aisha, often prevent aid workers from being able to perform even the most simple of transactions, which, in moments of extreme frustration, can cause grave misunderstandings and potentially lead to dire consequences. Communication barriers + impact upon the village + relying on local resources: Bukari, a Westernized African, helps bridge the communication gap between Jillian and locals, and in the process shows how important it is for foreign aid organizations to make connections with and draw upon local resources in order to be able to understand the communities they are working in to effectively bring about change.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

9
Communication barriers + inability to help/understand + struggles to connect: Jillian, a Western aid worker, struggles to connect with the community she wishes to help, but, despite her best intentions, is unable to fully understand or help the villagers because of the communication barriers that exist between them. Alienation + dire consequences + times of crisis: Dire consequences can occur when a foreigner who fails to connect to a culture steps in to a situation he or she doesn’t fully understand during times of crisis. Alienation + impact upon the village + awareness of the issues: As the water situation in Talon begins to have a serious impact on the community and Jillian becomes more aware of the issues at stake, she becomes overwhelmed and frustrated, which leads to her being unable to connect with the villagers because of her sense of helplessness. Alienation + inability to help/understand + outsiders’ failure to connect: Jillian’s failure to connect with the locals reveals the ineffectiveness of having outsiders attempt to effect change in an environment they cannot learn to relate to. Flaws in foreign aid + dire consequences + misunderstandings: The failed communication between Jillian and the villagers, particularly Aisha, causes gross misunderstandings and tragic consequences, leading readers to understand that foreign aid is often more detrimental than beneficial. Flaws in foreign aid + impact upon the village + conversations and indifference: Her conversations with Bukari, the irony behind her indifference to the Yugoslavian crisis and the characters of Bukari and Aisha reveal the extent to which the foreign aid offered to the community is flawed and unable to have a significant impact upon the village. Flaws in foreign aid + inability to help/understand + survival: Although we can try to help others, sometimes there are certain events that are beyond our ability to fix because we don’t fully understand the nature of the problem; and in such situations, it is only through working together that we can overcome adversity in order to survive. Water as life/power + dire consequences + survival: By looking at the impact of the Talon water mafia’s control of a limited resource in Africa, Jillian’s outsider point of view and frustrations, and what water and weather represent to the African community, Baxter makes readers aware of just how much “blue gold” influences our daily lives. Water as life/power + impact upon the village + outsider perspective of the situation: The systematic abuse of power and control over water by the Talon water mafia has a significant impact on the villagers’ daily existence to the point where it forces Jillian to question the usefulness of providing aid to people if the aid provided is misplaced and fails to address the community’s most pressing concerns. Water as life/power + inability to help/understand + fighting for rights: Given how vital a resource water is, it is difficult to understand why the Talon community and foreign aid organizations do not do more to solve the water shortage; but as we learn from Bukari and Jillian, since it is not in the financial interest of the corrupt government, individuals and organizations are powerless to effect change.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

10
PAGES 21-22: DEVELOP A THESIS PARAGRAPH 1.Communication barriers + inability to really help or understand + dialogue, diction, characters In today’s current political and economic situation, many Westerners feel compelled to reach out and help those in need in foreign countries. However well intentioned such a desire may be, it presents several linguistic and cultural challenges for individuals who venture to help communities that are vastly different from their own. Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” attempts to tell the story of these challenges. Jillian, a Western aid worker, struggles to connect with the community she wishes to help but, despite her best intentions, is unable to fully understand or help the villagers because of the communication barriers that exist between them. Baxter’s use of dialogue, diction and characters reveals how these cultural and linguistic barriers faced by Jillian prevent her from realizing her goal. 2.Water as life/power + dire consequences + symbolism, setting, point of view Canada is a country rich in resources and most Canadians never stop to question the presence of these resources in their daily lives. Water, which Canada currently has in abundance, is now being called “blue gold” because of its scarcity in other locations around the world. What happens when water, a symbol of life, is a limited resource needed by all, but controlled by few? Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” explores the consequences such a power dynamic can have on local and global citizens. By looking at the impact of the Talon water mafia’s control of a limited resource in Africa, Jillian’s outsider point of view and frustrations, and what water and weather represent to the African community, Baxter makes readers aware of just how much “blue gold” influences our daily lives. 3. Alienation, setting, diction, imagery, and inability to help or understand One of the central themes in Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” is alienation. Although the protagonist, Jillian, wishes to serve the community she has come to help, she feels alienated from her environment for several reasons and this alienation renders her impotent. Jillian’s failure to connect with the locals reveals the ineffectiveness of having outsiders attempt to effect change in an environment with which they cannot learn to relate. Her inability to connect with the people, the land and the culture are illustrated through Baxter’s use of setting and imagery, comparison and contrast, and diction. 4. Flaws in foreign aid, irony, characters, dialogue and impact upon the village Joan Baxter’s “Act of God” is the story of a Western woman who travels to Africa in order to provide foreign aid, in the form of microcredit loans, to African communities. Over the course of her time there, she comes to realize that the service she offers fails to address the most basic and pressing needs of the community she seeks to help. Her conversations with Bukari, the irony behind her indifference to the Yugoslavian crisis and the characters of Bukari and Aisha reveal the extent to which the foreign aid offered to the community is flawed and unable to have a significant impact upon the village. Students can go back to try a different combination if they need more practice.

Author: Marya Grant, Vanier College

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful