Guide to Literary Terms Theme

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The theme of a work of literature is its central idea or underlying message. A theme ties all the elements of a piece together and is reflected throughout the text as a whole. Literary works can have more than one theme, and a theme can be stated as a single word like “revenge” for “The Cask of Amontillado” or as a longer phrase like “the failure of the American dream” for The Great Gatsby. While a theme can be stated as a moral or lesson (such as “Holding a grudge is ultimately destructive to both parties” for “A Poison Tree”), it doesn’t have to be, as every work of literature isn’t necessarily intended to have a moral.

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