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        Theme of a Story | Meaning, Common Themes & Examples

        • calenderDec 07, 2023
        • calender 8 min read

        As we dive into a story, we’re hooked by characters, plots, and settings. However, beneath the surface lies a deeper element: the theme. A theme in literature is the story’s heart, weaving emotions and tones that connect us to its core.

        As a writer, the theme of a story guides one to the direction one should follow while crafting the plot. But what does the theme mean in a story? In this article, we will decode the meaning of the theme in literature, its importance, and how it is used in a storyline.

        Bring your themes to life with our expert editing services!

        What is the theme of a story?

        The theme of a story is the central element of its narrative. It is the underlying message that the author wants to convey to the reader. Serving as the backbone of a story, the theme of a story ties together all of its elements. A theme also works as a catalyst to bring together different narratives in one plot.

        To understand the theme definition in a story better, let’s see some theme of a story examples:

        • Survival: The novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe has a theme of survival as the lead character is shown surviving a shipwreck despite very adverse conditions on an isolated island. It is an excellent example of a theme in a story.
        • Good vs. Evil: The popular series Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling showcases the good vs. evil theme through its story. The protagonist, Harry Potter can be seen fighting against the evil antagonist, Voldemort for the greater good of his people.
        • Love and Sacrifice: Portrayed beautifully in A Thousand Splendid Suns, the themes of love and sacrifice are very evident in the novel written by Khaled Hosseini. From love towards their family to sacrificing their life for each other, the two protagonists, Mariam and Laila have a journey filled with hurdles. 

        Want to know what is the theme definition in literature? Learn about themes in detail with exciting examples from literature! 

        What is a theme in literature?

        When we talk about what is a theme in literature, we’re referring to concepts and ideas that show up in many different types of writing. These ideas are like universal messages that can be seen in literature, independent of its genres and styles. 

        Examples of themes in literature include: 

        • Death: Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I Could not Stop for Death” explores the themes of mortality and the afterlife, delving into the poet’s reflections on the concept of death and what may come afterward.
        • Loss and Grief: In The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne’s contemplations about losing friends and the uncertainty regarding the well-being of her loved ones express the deep repercussions of war.
        • Honesty: The fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf teaches the consequences of dishonesty as a boy’s false alarms lead to a lack of trust.

        Now that we’ve seen the examples of themes in literature, let us understand the most common themes used in various forms of literature.

        Seven common themes in literature

        1. Love

        Love, whether expressed romantically, within families, or through platonic connections, continues to be a universally relevant theme in literature. The theme of love in literature is expansive, providing authors with the opportunity to showcase a broad spectrum of human emotions. 

        Examples of literature with love as a theme include: 

        The love between the sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

        Romantic love between Henry and the nurse Catherine in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. 

        Forbidden love theme in a story between Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

        2. Revenge

        Revenge is a strong and captivating theme in literature. This theme revolves around wanting to get back at someone for something they did wrong. It often looks closely at the emotional and mental challenges of seeking revenge.

        Examples of literature with revenge as a theme include:

        Victor and his creation embark on a journey of revenge in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  

        Edmont Dantes seeks revenge and redemption when he is put in jail for a crime he did not commit in Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo.

        Revenge is an important theme in the lives of most characters in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Daenerys Targaryen seeks revenge for the House Targaryen.

        3. Coming of Age

        Popular in young adult literature, coming-of-age stories and poems have been liked by all age groups. This theme shows a character growing into adulthood. The different experiences that develop the characters, make them mature, lose their innocence, and grow into wiser people portray the theme of coming of age. 

        Examples of literature with coming of age as a theme include: 

        Holden Caufield from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is shown going through a journey of maturity and adulthood. 

        Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows the journey of Huckleberry  Finn, and how he experiences the complexities of life.

        To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee follows Scout Finch and her brother Jem as they learn the lessons of justice and human society, while growing up.

        4. Courage

        The courage theme in literature explores the human capacity to tackle adversities and stand strong despite threats. It resonates with readers by inspiring them to have bravery in their own life.

        Examples of literature with courage as a theme include: 

        Andy Weir’s The Martian shows how Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone on another planet. The plot exhibits the patience and courage that are needed to get him out of this situation.

        J.R.R. Tolkien shows four hobbits, who are just like normal humans, face various adversities throughout The Lord of the Rings series. They triumph through it with courage and perseverance.

        The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a popular example of courage theme in a story. This tale shines light on Offred’s struggles and oppression which she faces with bravery and intelligence.

        5. Good vs. Evil

        A contrast between moral forces represents the theme of good vs. evil in stories and poems, etc. It delves into the inherent struggle between right and wrong, virtue and vice. This theme explores the foundations of conflict and morality.

        Examples of literature with good vs. evil as a theme include: 

        Othello, a character from William Shakespeare’s famous play Othello is portrayed as a good man towards the beginning of the play. But he is vulnerable to manipulation by his deceitful “friend” Iago. Othello’s wife, Desdemona is a character who represents the positive aspects in the contrast between good and evil.

        Good vs. evil is the central theme of C.S Lewis’s The Chronicles Of Narnia. The White Witch represents the evil, who wants to take over Narnia and rule over everyone. On the other side, the good is represented by a lion named Aslan who tries to protect Narnia from the evil witch.

        In The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the exploration of good and evil is central to the narrative. The novel delves into the complex dynamics among the three brothers and their relationships with their wealthy and influential father.

        6. Redemption

        In stories where redemption takes center stage, characters recognize their mistakes and work to correct the harm they’ve caused, resulting in an inspiring narrative. Narratives of redemption frequently include a transformed character making significant sacrifices. 

        Examples of literature with redemption as a theme include: 

        In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Amir is guilty of not saving his friend Hassan from an unfortunate event. Several years later, Amir, now a prosperous novelist residing in the United States, revisits a war-ravaged Afghanistan to rescue Hassan’s family and find redemption for his actions.

        Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a good example of what is a theme in a story. It explores the genuine essence of redemption and grace by delving into the life and death of Jean Valjean. Valjean’s transformation from an ex-convict to a fully redeemed individual illustrates every person’s universal potential for redemption.

        The theme of redemption was presented in the play A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It shows Scrooge, a man who is transformed from a greedy, selfish miser into a generous and good-natured character by the end.

        7. Death

        Death is a popular theme across various elements of stories and literary works. Death as a theme delves into a broad spectrum of emotions, philosophies, and viewpoints. In certain instances, death is perceived as liberation from difficulties, and on other occasions, death is perceived as profound grief.

        Examples of literature with death as a theme include: 

        John Donne’s poem, Death Be Not Proud immediately addresses the theme of death from its opening line. The speaker, through the words “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;” appears to mock death, portraying it as less fearsome than commonly perceived.

        The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a relevant theme of the story example depicting death. For Hazel and Augustus, death is approaching soon as they are diagnosed with terminal diseases. They continue trying to live their lives to the fullest even though they know what the future holds for them.

        Jojo Moyes Me Before You is a good example of a theme in a story reflecting death. This theme is a central and poignant element of the narrative.The story revolves around the relationship between Louisa Clark and Will Traynor. Will, facing a life of severe physical limitations, contemplates ending his life through euthanasia.

        How to find the theme of a story

        Understanding the theme of a story makes reading more interesting and helps you think more deeply. It lets you connect with the story in a meaningful way and encourages you to think about the bigger picture.

        To understand what is a theme of a story, you can follow the steps below:

        1. Break down the story elements and map out the plot structure.
        2. Pinpoint the central topic or subject of the story: What is the primary focus?
        3. Scrutinize the main character: Explore the character’s emotions, reactions, actions, and interactions with others.
        4. Summarize the entire story: Reflect on the events, character development, and resolution of conflicts.
        5. Determine the lesson learned by the main character and consider its significance to both the story and broader life experiences.

        Now that we’ve taken a closer look at how to find the theme of a story, let’s see how, as writers, we can develop a theme for writing stories. 

        How to develop a theme of a story

        • Identify core Ieas:

        Delve into the fundamental ideas or messages you wish your story to communicate. What impressions or emotions do you want readers to carry with them after experiencing your narrative?

        For example, if you are crafting a tale of resilience, identify key messages about overcoming adversity and the strength that emerges from challenges.

        • Explore personal interests:

        Reflect on your passions and convictions. Which themes resonate with you? Authenticity can be infused into your story by exploring topics that genuinely captivate your interest.

        • Analyze your characters:

        Scrutinize the motivations, conflicts, and character arcs within your story. Themes often naturally emerge from the journeys and transformations experienced by your characters.

        • Consider genre and tone:

        Ponder the genre and tone of your narrative. Think about the type of story you’re telling and how it feels. Different kinds of stories have certain themes, and the overall mood—whether it’s serious, funny, or sad—can shape the themes you explore.

        For example, the genre of romance is closely related to the themes of love, hope, loss, and overcoming obstacles. 

        • Examine the setting and period:

        Explore how the setting and time contribute to your chosen themes. Consider how the cultural and historical context shapes the messages you intend to convey.

        For example, If your story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, delve into how the environment and time influence themes like survival, resilience, and the consequences of human actions. 

        • Create a theme statement:

        Articulate the overarching theme of your story in a concise sentence. This statement should encapsulate the primary idea or message you wish readers to take away.

        An example of a theme statement can be, “In a world plagued by adversity, this story explores the indomitable human spirit, illustrating that resilience and compassion prevail even in the darkest of times.”

        • Consider multiple perspectives:

        Investigate your theme from diverse viewpoints within your narrative. How might different characters or voices interpret and experience the central theme?

        For example, you can explore the theme of justice through the eyes of both the accused and the accuser. By delving into the perspectives of various characters, the narrative sheds light on the complexity of morality.

        • Use symbolism:

        Employ symbolism and motifs to reinforce your chosen theme. Objects, colors, or recurring symbols can add layers and depth to the thematic elements of your narrative.

        For example, the wilting rose symbolizes the fragility of love in the face of adversity. The withering petals mirror the challenges the characters face, reinforcing the theme of resilience.

        • Reflect on real-world relevance:

        Consider the real-world relevance of your theme. Explore how it connects to issues, emotions, or experiences that readers can relate to on a personal level.

        • Seek feedback:

        Share your theme statement or ideas with others and actively seek feedback. Engaging in discussions with beta readers, writing groups, or trusted friends can offer valuable insights and perspectives.

        • Revise and refine:

        Continuously revisit and refine your theme as you write and revise your story. Ensure that the thematic elements consistently resonate with and enhance the overall narrative.

        Now that you’ve understood what is the theme of a story, you can weave themes in your plot to create memorable stories. They’re the magic that lingers, making stories unforgettable. 

        So, the next time you embark on a literary journey, take a moment to unravel the theme woven through the pages, and you may find yourself immersed in a story that resonates long after the final word has been read. If you want to refine your themed story, you can always get the help of expert editing and proofreading services.

        Keep reading to know more about crafting better stories! 

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        Tanvi Linkedin

        With a foundation in Life Sciences, Tanvi enjoys curating technical writing tips tailored for ESL students. When she's not translating complex concepts into bite-sized nuggets, she can be found playing with dogs or painting landscapes.

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