Module 4: Lesson and Notes
Topic or Theme?
Most of what we think of as literary themes are examples of topics.
Topic: What the work is exploring. The topics are the repeating or central subjects, or recurring ideas in a piece of literature.
· Examples: love, friendship, growing up, good and evil.
Theme: What the work says about the topic. Themes are always expressing as complete sentences and represent the universal idea expressed in the work.
· Examples: the bonds of friendship may be stronger than family ties, the past will always affect the present, what appears good may not always be so, not all things can be overcome by love, growing up requires sacrifice.
Common Literary Topics
· Good and evil
· Coming of age / growing up
· Power and corruption
· Survival / Overcoming hardship
· Social issues (like prejudice, poverty, injustice, inequality)
What is Theme?
· Theme is always a complete sentence.
· Theme is an arguable claim made by a story.
· Theme is the point the story is trying to make.
· Theme connects fiction to our lived human experiences.
· Theme is a big idea, a universal statement, an argument or claim about one of life’s big ideas.
This page (including a short video) (Links to an external site.) is a good start to understanding theme
What isn’t Theme?
· Theme can never be one word: love, friendship, dogs, or tacos are big ideas, but they’re not claims.
· Theme can never be summary: what happens in the story reveals the meaning, but the theme is universal and can be applied to your life and mine.
· Theme is not an easy lesson: “listen to your parents,” or “be nice to people” are good ideas, but they aren’t complex enough to drive literature.
Common Literary Themes
· Love will only grow when it is nurtured.
· Practice pays off.
· Power requires responsibility.
· Cooperation is the key to survival.
· It is important to protect the environment.
· Painful experiences can make a person stronger.
· The past will always impact the present and future.
· Some family bonds are not worth fighting for.
· Love requires sacrifice.
· Adulthood is a rewarding burden.
· Independence requires responsibility.
· Hope is powerful, but also dangerous.
Things to Remember When Writing About Theme
· Why is more important than what. Identifying a symbol is only important if you also explain what it means and how it relates to the theme.
· Think about what the story seems to value and promote? What gets rewarded? What is learned?
· Explain and analyze how a theme is shown, what in the story reveals the theme or relates to it.
Reading for theme has many benefits:
· We will read to find out what happens, what the literature is about, but also what the literature has to say.
· What we will discover this semester is that literature from hundreds of years ago still relates to our experiences.
· We will also learn about the experiences of those who have lived in wholly different civilizations. This broader perspective is one of the important benefits of reading literature.
· Finally, reading and thinking about literature helps us better understand our own lives and worlds. As we consider literature, we consider ideas, situations, and themes as they might relate to us.