What is Theme? | BEST Literature Review



Theme is the overall idea of a piece of literature. Think about the lesson, or moral, of the story that the author is trying to get across to you. One thing to remember is: Do not confuse theme with plot. Plot is what the characters do. It’s the action of the story. It does not have to do with the overall lesson or message that the author is getting across. Now, obviously, what the characters do is going to help you understand the theme, but plot and theme are not the same thing.

Plot is going to be more about human nature, society, and life in general. There can also be more than one theme. The author may have one overall message, but there may be a few messages in there, or you may be able to find more than one theme besides the main controlling theme of the story. Some questions to ask yourself are: What is the lesson or message?

Some common themes are: Man’s struggles against society, Man’s struggles against nature, overcoming adversity, the importance of family and friendship, Man’s struggles with faith, sacrifices bring rewards, and honesty is the best policy. For all of these, I want us to look at the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare” from Aesop’s fables. This shows you that there can definitely be more than one theme for one story.

Now, all of these may not be what Aesop had in mind when he was coming up with this fable, but I was able to see all of these themes in this story. The last one, I couldn’t come up with something for, but I’ve got a good one for that as well. Man’s struggles against society. You’ve got this tortoise who feels like he’s going to keep going and he’s going to try to win the race, but all of society is against him and saying, “Oh, that hare has got you beat.

He’s way faster than you. I don’t know why you think you’re fast enough to beat him.” I’m sure that tortoise was struggling against society’s views of him. Another one would be man’s struggle against nature. The tortoise is struggling against the nature of his self, how he’s made. He’s obviously not going to be as fast as the hare. He’s going to have to go up hills. He is going to be fighting against the very nature of his self, where the hare is made to go much faster.

Overcoming adversity: Just simply winning the race, the tortoise ended up winning, even though no one expected him to do it. Even though people were probably telling him, “Oh, you can’t do that. The hare is always going to beat you.” The importance of family and friendship: I’ve talked a lot about society telling the tortoise he couldn’t do this, but I’d like to think that the tortoise had some family and friends on his side that were urging him on that helped him feel like he could actually go through and win this race.

Man’s struggles with faith: The tortoise had to have faith in himself. The hare was very, very cocky. He felt like he had this race won, so much so that he went and took a nap, where the tortoise didn’t do that. He had faith in himself and knew that he could do this if he just kept going, if he gave it is all. Then, sacrifices bring rewards: The tortoise sacrificed that nap that the hare took, and, in the end, he won the race, because he just kept going.

Now, the moral of the story they give you is “Slow and steady wins the race,” but I can see all of these themes in that story. “Honesty is the best policy” I couldn’t really come up with one for, but you can always look at Pinocchio. Pinocchio, every time he told a lie, his nose grew. It was not a good thing. Every time he lied, something bad happened to him. I won’t ruin the whole story for you, but everyone knows about the growing nose, which is a sad punishment for someone who is not using honesty.

It’s showing you that honesty is the best policy. Whenever you’re reading a story, you can look at what the characters are doing to figure out what the plot is, but remember the theme is different. The theme is going to be the controlling idea in that piece of literature. You want to ask yourself, “What is the lesson or moral the author is trying to get across to me?”

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Last updated: 07/17/2018


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