What is a theme?

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I am hoping your question is asking about what theme is in literature rather than just the conventional composition theme like a five-paragraph essay

Authors develop themes in their writing to get across important ideas that they would like their readers to take away from their piece of literature. Usually, these themes are universal; in other words, they span culture and time. For example, the theme of good vs. bad is seen in various works of literature from the stories in The Bible to characters in the Harry Potter series.  As readers, we learn about ourselves and the human experience through an author’s development of theme. The main theme of a work is usually developed through the main character and his actions and motivations. A single piece of literature can have many themes, and they can be found through analyzing what you learn about human beings through characters, actions, and events.

As an example, here are a few themes found in the Harry Potter series.

  • Friendship
  • Competition
  • Responsibility
  • Overcoming obstacles and hardships
  • Morality
  • Good vs. evil
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What is theme?

If you are talking about a generic definition for theme, it would be "the main point of the story". It's kind of like the moral to the story, or the topic of a talk.

If your teacher is asking you to state the theme of a particular work, be careful about cliche answers like, "All is fair in love and war." Try to use your own words and desribe for the asker what the story was about, what the point of the story was, and what you learned from reading the story.

For example, if I were to give what I thought the theme was for "Brave New World", I might say: "It was a story about a world everyone thought was perfect because they all sought to be happy, but they found out focusing on happiness doesn't make one happy."

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What is theme?

Theme can be understood in a couple of different ways. I like to think of theme as the overlying idea or "message" in a text. There is even a fun little trick to help you remember this: Theme is THE MEssage. You can see the word "theme" as the first five letters of "the message"! That helps me remember what it means. Some people prefer to think of theme as the main idea of a text.

Finding and understanding the theme of a work of literature is often a bit tricky. Theme tends to be an abstract concept and is not stated directly in the text. To choose a simple example, the theme in the children's book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss could be explained as the following: "Nature is precious and fragile, so we must take care of it." A more complicated book, such as Wonder by R. J. Palacio, actually has a relatively clear and simple theme: "Choose kindness."

There are some common themes that appear often in fiction. One popular theme, of course, is love—especially love that does not go smoothly! In many stories, the power of love is what resolves the characters' problems and brings their conflict to an end. Other common themes are "man versus nature" or "survival," which we can find in the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

If you need more ideas of common themes, you might take a look at the first link I've posted here. The other link can help you define theme and guide you a bit more with questions to ask yourself when you're reading. Just remember: it's THE MEssage! Good luck, and happy reading!

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