The theme of a story is what the author is trying to get you to learn- it is a lesson, a moral, an essential message about life.
- What happened?
Take a few moments to write down the the main literary elements: plot, characterization, etc. What were the conflicts in the work? What was the most important moment in the work? Does the author resolve the conflict? How did the work end?
- What is the subject?
If you were to tell a friend what the work of literature was "about," how would you describe it? What is the topic?
- What about the protagonist (the main character)?
How does he/she change? Does the protagonist affect other characters? How does this character relate to others?
All of these lead to what the theme of the story may be.
What is the lesson, moral, or message that the author feels that you should learn by reading this story. What is trying to teach you about LIFE?
More on Theme--
Theme is one of the more difficult elements of a story to identify. A theme is a story’s message. It is what the author of a piece of text wants you to remember most. The theme of a fable is its moral. The theme of a parable is its teaching. The theme of a piece of fiction is its view about life and how people behave.
A good place to start when learning how to identify theme is to look at Aesop’s Fables. These are short tales that were written long ago for the purpose of teaching little morals, or lessons. Here in these tales, you can identify the theme of the text right away, because the author gives it to you with the tale. Here’s an example:
The Ant and the Grasshopper
In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"
"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."
"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper. “We have got plenty of food at present."
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
In this fable, the theme is, “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
More on Theme:
While reading a story, the theme might not be that obvious at first. Many people confuse the theme with the subject of the story, but a theme is more abstract than the subject. The theme of a story is the idea that holds the story together. In essence, a theme is the main idea or some type of lesson or message that the author wants to convey to the reader. For example, the great novel, Little Women, is about four sisters, but that is the subject of the book. One of the themes is the struggles of young girls maturing into women. A story can have more than one theme. Though themes might be difficult to find, there are some ways to identify them.
- Identify the central topics or "big ideas." Before you read a work, look at the title. Does it give any clues as to what the book will be about? And Then There Were None is a great mystery book by Agatha Christie. The title alone hints that there are going to be many disappearances or murders. In the aforementioned Little Women, the reader knows that she is going to be reading a book about young girls and that the theme might possibly have something to do with them. As you read the book, look for the central topic of the book. Is the book mostly about secrets, as in And Then There Were None? Is it about family? Is it about growing up, as in Little Women? When you identify the central topics of the book, write them down. Getting a feel for the central topics of the book will help you begin to identify possible themes.
- Identify how the characters relate to the central topic. As you read the story, try to see how the characters relate to the central topic. Pay attention to key events, dialogue, ideas, metaphors, and changes in a character's actions or beliefs. In Little Women, Meg is faced with her poverty when she attends a party. The other girls dress her up like a doll and she begins to act like someone that she is not. When she is confronted about this by another character, she becomes ashamed and alarmed at her behavior. Seeing how Meg deals with this event and knowing that one of the central topics of the book is growing up, one can conclude that a possible theme might be the struggles with growing up.
- Organize your thoughts. If you are still struggling with finding the theme of a story, try to organize your thoughts by writing them down. Write down the central topic and then include examples from the story that support that topic. What did the characters do? What did they say? How did they react? Sit back and look at what you wrote and try to see the "big picture" of the story. What was that story all about? What was the author trying to tell me? With a little bit of time and thought, the theme will come to you.
Remember, a story can have more than one theme. In Little Women, there are many themes, such as the struggles of growing up, the struggles of poverty, and death. Identifying themes does not come easily to everyone. The key is to be patient and not be too hard on yourself if you cannot identify literary themes right away.
Aesop's Fables Website(s):