How To Write A Theme Statement

"What are the steps to writing an effective theme statement for the short story 'Desiree's Baby'"?


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When teaching my students how to write a theme statement about any story, I typically guide them through the following series of simple steps. Examples of each are provided for this short story.

  1. Select a subject presented in the story. Example: prejudice and racism.
  2. Make a list (using details from the story) of all the causes of the theme subject selected in #1. Example: prejudice and racism was a result of enslaving Africans and treating them like property.
  3. Make a list (using details from the story) of all the effects of the theme subject selected in #1. Examples: prejudice and racism caused Armand to act rashly and violently; prejudice and racism in this story tore Armand's family apart; prejudice and racism contributed to an identity crisis for the two main characters.
  4. Using the two lists from #2 and #3, answer the question: What is the author trying to say about [theme subject] from #1?

The answer to number 4 above will become your theme statement. In this case, the sentence you write will be based on examples in the story, but should not actually mention these details. Instead, it should follow these guidelines:

Theme statements:

  • assert a specific idea about a universal subject. 
  • are based on plot but do not contain plot details.
  • do not give advice (no "should" or "ought to").
  • do not use 2nd person (no "you").
  • can be proven using details from the plot.

Example for #4 above:

Prejudice and racism in the Antebellum South was a prevalent human condition that often manifested itself in anger and violence, and resulted in broken lives.

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