The central theme of the story is the dangerous period of adolescence where identity is still so unformed and malleable, which allows certain individuals the chance to manipulate and control such adolescents. This is shown through the central character of Connie, who is depicted very early on as a young girl who is trying to grow up and struggling to find her identity through becoming older and wanting to assert her independence. Note how the following quote describes her:
Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head...
It is this uncertainty and lack of surety that Connie displays about her personality and who she is that allows Arthur Friend to exploit her and to force her to come with him, and clearly face some sort of terrible fate. The central theme of this story then is the way in which adolescence is such a dangerous time of transition for young people, and how this period allows others to exploit teenagers who are going through this process of trying to work out who they are.