the meaning of the story; central or dominating idea


What theme is not:

·         It is not the “moral” of the story.


A moral is a piece of practical advice that can be gained from the novel to apply to our own lives.


A theme is more complex than a moral and may have no direct advice or philosophical value that the reader can apply

·         It is not the subject of the story.

·         It is not a “hidden meaning” that needs to be pulled out of the story.

What theme is:

·         Theme is the meaning released by the work when we take all aspects of the work in its entirety into account.

·         It is an aspect of human experience that the author wishes to express.

Discovering theme:  Theme can be discovered only by becoming aware of the relations among the parts of a story and of the relations of the parts to a whole:


Characters:  What kind of people does the story deal with?


Plot:  What do the characters do?  Are they in control of their lives, or are they controlled by fate?


Motivation:  Why do the characters behave as they do, and what motives dominate them?


Style:  How does the author perceive reality?


Tone:  What is the author’s attitude towards his subject?


Values:  What are the values of the characters in the story?  What values does the author seem to promote?

The importance of theme in literature can be overestimated; the work of fiction is more than just the theme.  However, the theme allows the author to control or give order to his perceptions about life.

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