What is the major theme of the novel Monster?

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As is the case with many successful literary works, Monster is richly layered in its thematic concerns.  The prominent theme, however, is revealed through Steve Harmon's struggle to be viewed as an individual by his family, his attorney, and the judicial system, instead of a stereotyped young African American thug or "throwaway" person.  

Steve's diary and screenplay reveal that he understands the odds are against him, and his recollection of a discussion with his teacher, Mr. Sawicki, about predictability is meant to deliver this truth home about how empowered individuals consider his demographic.  Because Steve does not recount the details of the crime in his notes, there is ambiguity about his actual role in the robbery/murder, but readers are meant to understand that Steve might have been forced to act as a look out for the robbery, if he was involved at all. His own attorney is skeptical of his innocence and turns away from him at his acquittal. 

Steve's humanity is denied by almost everyone who surrounds him.  His father communicates his disappointment and distances himself emotionally and physically.  The perpetrators of the crime attempt to implicate him to shift blame from themselves. The judge is portrayed as mostly disengaged, as if this type of trial has become so routine and predictable that it is of little interest to him.  Steve emerges from the novel, not as a monster, but as a victim of the disinterest and dismissal of the people that surround him.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter Dean Myers examines several themes throughout the novel Monster, but the most significant theme he explores is how the justice system dehumanizes young African Americans during the judicial process. During the trial, the prosecuting attorney refers to Steve Harmon and the rest of the individuals allegedly involved in the crime as "monsters." Even though Steve is a relatively shy, kind person who has a positive reputation throughout his school as a talented filmmaker, he is categorized as a "monster" simply because he is on trial. This label bothers Steve, and he begins to struggle with his identity for the remainder of the novel. One scene, in particular, illustrates the extent of his identity crisis when he begins to get sick while he is mopping the jail floor after noticing that he looks similar to the other inmates. O'Brien informs Steve that her job is to differentiate him from the other individuals on trial because the jury already views him as guilty. Myers examines how Steve is not viewed as a unique individual while he is on trial, and Steve is at the mercy of the attorneys, judge, and jury. Steve and his attorney struggle to distinguish him as a talented, respected young man in order to win the case. Fortunately, Steve is found not guilty by the jury, but his attorney still views him as a "monster."