A well-written story usually causes us think about life, increasing our understanding of the world, and giving us insight into how people think, feel and behave. The central insight into life or human nature in a story is called the theme.
1) To discover the theme of a story, the reader must try to discover the author’s central purpose. Ask yourself, “Why did the author write this story” and, “What comment is the author making about life or human nature.”
2) In order to understand the theme you must have a good grasp of the plot and characters, especially the central conflict. The theme usually concerns the main character and the changes he or she undergoes as a result of engaging in conflict with an opposing force. What the protagonist learns, suffers or experiences is key to the theme.
3) Examine the story’s title. Titles often provide clues as to the author’s focus and intent.
Characteristics of a Good Theme Statement
1. Theme must be expressed in a complete sentence. “Love and rejection” is not a theme statement. It is just an indication of the topic of the story. What in particular is the author saying about love and rejection?
2. Theme should describe the general meaning of a story, not specific events, actions or characters. Do not use the names of characters in the story when stating the theme. You should make specific references to the story, however, when providing relevant details and examples to support your theme statement.
3. The theme must hold true for the story as a whole, not just part of it. Pay particular attention to the story’s conclusion to make sure that the outcome matches what you think the theme is.
4. Avoid using familiar statements, or cliches, such as, ‘honesty is the best policy” to express the theme. The theme should be a generalization about life stated in your own words.