What is the theme of the book Monster?

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Walter Dean Myers' novel Monster is about a sixteen-year-old African American male named Steve, a teenager who may or may not be guilty of being an accomplice to a homicide, but whose depiction by the prosecuting attorney as subhuman (as, in a word, a "monster") and whose treatment in the criminal justice system is as depraved as the crime of which Steve is accused, could foreshadow a ruined existence with more than one victim. Steve, however, is a perceptive and creative young man whose depiction of his own journey through the criminal justice system lends Myers' novel a unique perspective into a system that has swallowed thousands of such individuals. If Monster has a theme, then, it is the dehumanizing nature of that justice system, its propensity for casting too-wide a net in its zeal at punishing minority youths, and the seemingly arbitrary way in which individuals condemned to the live on the wrong side of the tracks can find themselves pulled into the labyrinth that is the criminal justice system. In structuring his novel, Myers not only establishes as his protagonist a young man with a gift for documenting his observations, but employs the "Rashomon" technique of describing the same event from myriad perspectives, with Steve's constituting the most important one. Additionally, the author's use of screenplay format to illuminate his protagonist's promising future as a writer lends this novel an added element of poignancy. 

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Walter Dean Myer’s book Monster depicts how the American legal system functions. The primary theme of the story is to examine how a person who commits a crime is arrested, convicted, tried, and punished. This book looks at the legal system through the eyes of a young, African American teenager. He paints horrible images of life in jail (but keep in mind… this is a detention center or equivalent to juvenile hall, not the state or federal penitentiary). Further, Myers brings to point that everyone who is sentences to this facility is to be punished, whether they are guilty or innocent. By the end of the story, Steve has a different outlook… things are typically not as bad as you initially think they are… it is all in how you view things.

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What is the major theme of the novel Monster?

The major theme of Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, is the dissolution of racial prejudice. In the novel, the prosecution, led by Sandra Petrocelli, attempts to associate the African American Steve Harmon with confessed criminals and convicted felons, such as Osvaldo Cruz and Salvatore Zinzi. Steve's Lawyer, Kathy O'Brien, suggests this when she asserts how most of the jurors thought Steve was guilty the second they saw him: "You're young, you're Black, and you're on trial. What else do they need to know?" (79). Steve remarks on this again when he writes in his journal, "Miss O'Brien said things were going bad for us because she was afraid that they jury wouldn't see a difference between me and all the bad guys taking the stand" (116).

O'Brien combats this prejudice by placing Steve on the stand and encouraging him to express his character, ideas, and version of events. In this moment, he dissolves the criminal identity forced upon him by his race and establishes his individual genuine identity: Steve the student filmmaker, who only wished to make a film about his neighborhood over the holidays (231). This identity challenges the jurors' preconceptions of him and ultimately convinces them to deem him innocent. The very form of the book itself reproduces this conflict between preconception and perception. The story is relayed via both prose and screenplay; the screenplay relays an unmediated, objective version of events while Steve's prose involves his biased interpretation of events. The book thereby advocates for us to forgo our prejudices and instead attempt to view people objectively, like a camera does: without preconceptions or prejudice.

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What is the major theme of the novel Monster?

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.

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What is the major theme of the novel Monster?

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."

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What is the theme of the novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers?

The prominent theme of the novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers examines how the criminal justice system dehumanizes the accused and arbitrarily sentences young minorities. Throughout the novel, Myers characterizes the prosecutor, judge, and attorneys as unattached participants who are not concerned with correctly bringing to justice those truly guilty of committing crimes. The prosecutor and attorneys simply seek personal gain from winning their cases, while the defendants are essentially helpless. The prosecutor also describes Steve Harmon as a "monster," which adversely affects Steve's perception of himself. Throughout the novel, Steve struggles with his identity and becomes sick when he realizes he looks similar to the other criminals in jail. Various inmates also elaborate on how truth is insignificant during a trial and sentencing is rather arbitrary. Steve feels hopeless throughout the novel and fears being lost in the system. Myers illuminates the impersonal reality of the criminal justice system and how it negatively affects and victimizes young minorities.

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What is an important theme found throughout the novel Monster?

An important theme that Walter Dean Myers explores throughout the novel Monster concerns identity and perception. The protagonist, Steve Harmon, is viewed as a "monster" by the prosecutor while he is on trial for the robbery and murder of Aguinaldo Nesbitt. This label seriously damages Steve's self-esteem, and he begins to question his own identity. He also fears that he will not be able to distinguish himself from the other minorities who are on trial. Kathy O'Brien, Steve's attorney, informs him that it is her job to make him appear different in the eyes of the jury from the other defendants. While Steve is on trial, he questions his morals and struggles with his conscience. He wonders if he is fooling himself and obsesses over being called a "monster." Although Steve is found not guilty, he continues to struggle with his identity and makes films that help him discover his true self.

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