The Nun Thesis Statements and Important Quotes

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Nun” by Denis Dideroit that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Nun” 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 offer a short summary of “The Nun” by Diderot in terms of the exploration of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, 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 Nun” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay. Before you begin, however, please get some useful tips and hints about how to use PaperStarter.com in the brief User's Guide…you'll be glad you did.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Nun as an Epistolary Novel

The Nun is a novel that is written as a letter, and as such, it is an epistolary novel. At times, the reader might forget that the novel is a letter that the nun has written to the Monsignor, but there are occasional references to the Monsignor, which remind the reader of the epistolary frame in which her story is contextualized. Write an essay on “The Nun” by Diderot in which you explain the value of this epistolary style. Explain why Diderot might have written the novel in this way. Be sure to cite evidence from the text.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Nun’s Courage

The narrator, letter-writer, and nun is constantly confronting others and speaking her mind, though it is not out of hostility, but of conviction. Examine one or more episodes in which the nun is particularly courageous. Analyze these episodes and explain how they shed light on her character and the overall meaning of the novel. Be sure to pay attention not only to the speech of the nun, but her actions, too, as well as the reactions of others toward her.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Diderot and Religion

This novel makes strong claims both for and against established religion. Take one or more of the most powerful episodes in which religion figures prominently and analyze them fully. Using your analysis, offer an interpretation of what Diderot might have wanted to convey to the reader about the nature of organized religion. Evaluate whether he effectively conveys this meaning. Conversely, you can write an argumentative essay on “The Nun” by Denis Diderot in which you discuss which position Diderot seems to be advocating, if any.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Credibility

At the beginning and at the conclusion of the novel, the narrator asserts that her tale is not one of artifice. At various intervals throughout the story, she also restates this claim and practically begs the reader to see her as earnest. Examine these claims and contentions and evaluate whether the nun is a credible narrator. Defend your position with carefully selected textual evidence. Beyond her assertions about her credibility, note how her actions do or do not parallel her words.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Madness in The Nun

There are frequent references or allusions to madness and insanity in The Nun. Diderot seems to be suggesting that established religion, and particularly the life of priests and nuns, can be quite maddening. Examine one or more episodes specifically relating to madness. Evaluate how the characters decide who is made and who is stable. Identify what happens to the characters who are deemed mad, and offer your own conclusion about who/what is mad and what is not.


This list of important quotations from “The Nun” by Denis Diderot 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 Nun” by Diderotlisted 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 from “The Nun” 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 Dennis Diderot they are referring to.

“…I have made up my mind to overcome my pride and reluctance and embark upon these recollections in which I shall describe part of my misfortunes without talent or artifice, with the ingenuousness of a girl of my age and with my natural candour." (21)

“Since my benefactor might require it, or perhaps the spirit might move me to finish these memoirs at a time when distant events had faded from my memory, I thought that the summary…would suffice to bring them back to my mind with accuracy." (21)

“The day was fixed, my habit prepared, the hour for the ceremony had come, and looking back now I cannot see the slightest interval between these events." (25)

“Monsignor…you are asking whether I promise God chastity, poverty, and obedience. I heard what you said and my answer is no." (33)

“In this world each is for himself, and I don’t advise you to count on them if you happen to lose your parents." (37)

“Yes, Madame, I see everything, and I realize that I am destroying myself, but a moment sooner or a moment later is not worth bothering me about." (65)

“Of course I had foreseen that I would encounter many kinds of opposition…." (73)

“Is strength of purpose in our control? I was strong the first time, but the second time I was a fool." (75)

“Each of us has a character, and I have mine." (76)

“It was then that I felt the superiority of the Christian faith over all the other religions of the world; what profound wisdom there was in what blind philosophy calls the folly of the cross." (92)

Reference: Diderot, Denis. The Nun. New York: Penguin, 1972.

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