Themes in Literature

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When a friend inquires about a movie you saw recently, you might describe it by saying something like “It’s about a Guatemalan girl who moves to New York and adjusts to life in an unfamiliar world.” While it is true you’ve described the topic of the movie, you’re not communicating its big idea. If you continue by saying “It’s really about finding a way to fit in without losing your uniqueness,” you are talking about theme. A theme is an underlying message about life that a writer wants to convey. Whether that message is about fitting in, love, or another timeless topic, it can often prompt you to think about human nature in a new way.

Theme and Symbol - Themes in Literature


When a friend inquires about a movie you saw recently, you might describe it by saying something like “It’s about a Guatemalan girl who moves to New York and adjusts to life in an unfamiliar world.” While it is true you’ve described the topic of the movie, you’re not communicating its big idea. If you continue by saying “It’s really about finding a way to fit in without losing your uniqueness,” you are talking about theme. A theme is an underlying message about life that a writer wants to convey. Whether that message is about fitting in, love, or another timeless topic, it can often prompt you to think about human nature in a new way.

Themes in Literature


Despite the diversity in the world, many themes show up again and again in literature, no matter what the culture, time period, or country. These universal themes deal with archetypal experiences—that is, experiences common to all cultures. For example, the theme “With great power comes great responsibility” has been explored in stories as varied as ancient epics, myths, and today’s comics.

Theme and Symbol


A writer has many tools he or she can use to develop a theme. Symbols, for example, can serve to powerfully reinforce a theme. A symbol is something concrete—a person, place, object, or activity—that represents an abstract idea. Among their many functions, symbols can help establish thematically appropriate moods, provide information about characters, reveal an author’s perspective, and even show readers something about a work’s historical context. Here are some examples of symbols and the ideas they might communicate:

• a bleak winter setting (isolation or death) • a small child (innocence) • a physical challenge, such as climbing a mountain (a character’s emotional growth)


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Mr. ‏El-Sayed Ramadan ‎ ‎

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