The Intuitionist Thesis Statements and Important Quotes
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Intuitionist” by Colson Whitehead that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Intuitionist” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “The Intuitionist” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Intuitionist” by Colon Whitehead at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Does the Truth Matter?
Sometimes events or observations involving marginal characters may seem unimportant, but may often play a subtle yet crucial role in the development of the novel’s plot or theme. Consider the quote from page 24 (in quotes section below, begins with “Here’s a story…”) and analyze what relevance the statement about truth has about the overall meaning of this novel. Adopt and defend a position in which you either agree or disagree that the truth of a situation is important. In doing so, however, be sure that you are not speaking in general terms; rather, focus on whether the “truth” of the situation in this novel important. If it is not, identify and explain what is important, and explain why it is more important than truth.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Ambiguity of Time and Place in “The Intuitionist”
The reader knows that the setting of The Intuitionist is New York City, but it is partly a New York City of the author’s invention. Place is important yet elusive and ambiguous in this novel, as is time. Yet time and setting are important variables that give meaning to a literary work. Write an essay in which you explain why Colson Whitehead might avoid establishing a definitive sense of place and, in particular, time. Consider whether these facts help or hinder your reading and interpretation of the novel.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Empiricists vs. Intuitionists
The axis around which the idea of this novel revolves is perceived and actual differences between empiricists, who are by-the-book, procedure and scientifically oriented people, and intuitionists, who have a different philosophical and practical orientation altogether. The main character, Lila Mae, is an intuitionist; she knows what she knows because she feels or intuits it, not because she follows a checklist of steps. Write an explanatory essay in which you explain the fundamental differences between the empiricists and the intuitionists. Address not only the literal differences, but the symbolic ones as well. Whitehead is writing about elevator inspectors as empiricists and intuitionists, but consider what larger social issues he may be engaging in this novel.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Aspects of Identity: Which Is Most Important?
Throughout The Intuitionist, various aspects of identity are emphasized. Characters are defined by and relate to one another through their differences more than their similarities. Gender, race, and philosophical positions (i.e. empiricism versus intuition) are all causes for difference. Lila Mae, of course, is in the all-around “one down” position: She is “colored,” a woman, and an intuitionist. Considering these three aspects of Lila Mae’s identity—and these aspects of other characters’ identities, too—write an essay in which you argue for one aspect of self being more important than another. Explain why you have chosen the variable identified, and how it functions in the overall development of meaning in The Intuitionist.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Mysteries and Secrets
In a certain sense, The Intuitionist is a mystery novel, a fact which serves to reinforce the position that the author is taking between the empiricists and the intuitionists. Lila Mae seeks to clear her name for the elevator “accident” for which she is alleged to be responsible, and in doing so she uncovers a secret. Yet she is not the only person trying to solve mysteries; from Jim and John, the investigators who comb through her apartment, to Chancre, whose efforts to solve problems and mysteries are only ever superficial, each character uses a different approach to try arriving at the same end. Write an essay in which you explain the importance of mysteries and secrets in the novel. Consider such factors as how mysteries engage the reader, and how the approaches to their resolution reinforce the dynamics between empiricists and intuitionists.
This list of important quotations from “The Intuitionist” by Colon Whitehead will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Intuitionist” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Colson Whitehead they are referring to.
“Because her father taught her that white folks can turn on you at any moment.” (23)
“Here’s a story…that’s true or not true: it doesn’t matter.” (24)
“Why hold truck with the uppity and newfangled when Empiricism has always been the steering light of reason? It was in our fathers’ day, and our fathers’ father.” (27)
“One of the side effects of people intent on erasing you from their lives is that sometimes they erase you when it might not be beneficial.” (36)
“…the man’s face [is] so banal and uncomplicated, so like this country….”(38)
“If we have decided that elevator studies—nuts and bolts Empiricism—imagined elevators from a human, and therefore inherently alien point of view, wouldn’t the next logical step, after we’ve adopted the Intuitionist perspective, be to build an elevator the right way? With what we’ve learned?” (62).
“When the Otis Elevator Co. unveiled the world’s first escalator at the 1900 Paris Exposition, the sign at the foot of the gold gate read, TEN CENTS ONE ASCENSION. Could it be any clearer than that? This need to rise is biological, transcending the vague physics of department store architecture.” (106)
“Gentlemen,… we live in a time of great calamity. Nations clash and a great noise is heard across the land.” 158)
“She imagines the proximity of the catastrophe sending ripples through the darkness from the future, agitating the genies with impending violence.” (227-228)
“So much corruption in the world today. Oh hell that’s the way it’s always been, old fool. Let it lie. Get back to work. All this work to do.” (252)
Reference: Whitehead, Colson. The Intuitionist. New York: Anchor, 1999.