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What is the difference between subject matter and theme?I'm confused in determining the...

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marissa28 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 14, 2011 at 8:51 PM via web

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What is the difference between subject matter and theme?

I'm confused in determining the subject matter and theme of a poem and short stories.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 14, 2011 at 11:46 PM (Answer #1)

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This is a good question. There are a few ways to look at this. So, I am sure that there will be some differences of opinion. Let me answer this question by making a few points.

First, there is some overlap between theme and subject. So, a subject matter and theme can be the same thing but this is not always the case. Let me give you an example, if there is a love story and main point of the story is about true love, then the theme and subject would be on love. There is overlap.

Second, subject and theme can also be different. The subject is the broader topic and the theme is a variation of the subject matter. The best way to underline this is by another example. Let's take the book, A Christmas Carol, as an example. The subject matter of this book is Christmas, but the theme is on giving and being generous.

In light of these two points, think of subject as the general topic and the theme as the specific topic.


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marissa28 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 15, 2011 at 12:57 PM (Answer #3)

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your answer is awesome! thank you very much.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 5, 2015 at 9:19 AM (Answer #4)

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Subject matter is what something is about. The theme is the message that the author of this subject matter wishes to convey. For instance, Edward Arlington Robinson's well-known poem "Richard Cory" is about a wealthy man, who for all appearances, is a fortunate man: he is wealthy; he is handsome and well-dressed; he has good manners--"he glittered when he walked"--and made others envy him. Yet one night, Cory killed himself. This all is the subject matter.The theme, however, differs from the subject matter. The theme is that appearances can deceive, and that people may not always be what others believe them to be. Another theme may be that the wealthy are often lonely and in despair.

In another example, John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath has as its subject matter the displacement of the sharecroppers of Oklahoma after the Dust Bowl and during the Great Depression. The Joad family must load all their belongings onto an old truck and drive like so many others, staying in tent camps, working for a pittance, and hoping to find work. The themes, however, are the strength of family, the endurance of man and man's inhumanity to man. The Joads and others learn that they must rely upon others and form a brotherhood of men. 

And some day--the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.

And, Tom Joad says, 

"Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one--"


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