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Concerning Joyce's "Araby" the enotes Study Guide on the story lists three themes revealed within the story.  I'll list the three and give a brief explanation of each:

  • Alienation and Loneliness:  the boy tells no one about his feelings for Mangan's sister--not his friends, his family, nor the girl herself.  He is isolated in his crush and in his illusion, and later, in his awakening or epiphany.
  • Change and Transformation:  the boy undergoes significant emotional growth, changing from an innocent boy to a disillusioned adolescent in an instant.  This is a major step toward adulthood.
  • God and Religion:  the boy at first sees himself as a religious hero and Mangan's sister as the embodiment of the Virgin Mary.  He is unable to separate the spiritual from the secular.  Later, when he experiences his epiphany, it is partly a realization that he is just a boy, Mangan's sister is just a girl, and also, that Araby is just a mediocre place to buy crap, sponsored by the church in order to make money for the church.  
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Like any work of literature, there are mutliple possible themes. One possible theme could be, "We should learn to value ourselves before seeking validation from others." From the very beginning of the story you can tell that Alice is very insecure. She bases her self-worth on relationships with boys and popularity in school. This also applies to her relationship with her family: Alice's fear about how her family will react to her mistakes plays a big role in her digging herself deeper into trouble instead of asking for help. This can be seen in the chapters set in San Francisco where she wants to contact them but repeatedly puts it off.


A note on themes: remember that the topic of a book is different from the theme. In my example above, the topic could be "social acceptance" or "self-esteem," but if your teacher is asking for a theme, they probably want to know what the book is saying about that topic. Try to apply your theme to the reader and not just the character(s) in the book. Also, if you can't point to specific parts of the story that show your theme, you should probably pick a different theme.

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'Theme' is a literary term used to convey the central idea or message in a literary text.  The theme is not the same thing as the subject of the text.  For example, the subject of the story "Chicken Little" is a paranoid little chicken, but the theme of that story could be fear or hysteria.  

One of the key points in literary analysis when reading a poem or novel is to be able to identify what the theme is.  Understanding the theme of text is important, because then the reader can make connections to what the author's purpose for writing the text may have been. 

For example, in Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the central character Macbeth murders the king so that he may rule instead.  A central theme of this play is ambition, because the Macbeth's thirst for power causes him to commit terrible acts.  A thematic statement then describes how the theme relates to the specific text; for example: In the play Macbeth, unchecked ambition leads to dire consequences.

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I'm not sure exactly what you are referring to when you say "the theme", but I'm assuming you mean the definition in general.  The theme of any literary work is the enduring message or insight about life that the reader is left with after reading and analyzing the work.  Sometimes the "big idea" or essential question of a unit is another way of referring to theme.  You may have heard your teacher use some of these terms in class. 

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This is a deceptively simple question. A theme, in short, is the main idea of a story. However, you have to keep in mind that stories, especially good ones have many themes, and some of the best stories have two or more themes that may even compete with each other. In this way, it leaves the reader to decide for himself or herself what the theme is. Let me give you an example.

In the tragedy, Antigone, there are many themes. On the one hand, loyalty to family is a theme. This is why Antigone wants to bury her brother even at the expense of the law of Creon. Creon, the ruler of Thebes does not want anyone to buy Polynices, the brother of Antigone, because he attacked the city.

 On the other hand, there is a theme of obeying the laws of the land. So, what should a person do? This is not an easy question. So, here is an example of many themes and in this situation there are two themes that oppose each other.

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Another important theme is the isolation and meaningless of life in the industrialized world.  Gregor is a traveling salesman who has no time to forge relationships outside his immediate family, and even those prove to be a bit strained.  He hangs up a picure pulled from a magazine because he doesn't have a lady friend.  While he is devoted to his job, he hates it.  He is unappreciated and generally ignored until the one day that he is late.  On that day, his work not only wants to know where he is, they actually show up at his home to find out what is keeping him and threaten immediate dismissal if he doesn't come to work.  He is literally treated like a bug -- like a busy anonymous worker ant. 

Once he becomes a bug, he is isolated by his family and he chooses to isolate himself in his room.  The family barely tolerate him, and only his sister can bear to be in the same room with him for a short period of time.  Out of deference to her, Gregor isolates himself from her by hiding under a sheet and under his bed.  

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There are several important themes of Kafka's Metamorphosis, but certainly one that is central and anchors them all is engulfment vs. freedom.

The man in the story is the meal ticket to everyone in his family. However, he feels engulfed even before his transformation took place. He felt trapped by his family, the co-workers, his job, and everything around him. He was so fed up that he would pretend things in his head, talk to himself in hopes to establish firmness in his identity, and dreams of the day when he can heave everything behind.

Yet, he continues to be engulfed by society, his own guilt, his sense of duty, his family's obligations, and the reality of his life.

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