Common Themes in Literature
A story’s plot answers the question “What happens in the story?” This is the action from scene to scene. This is what the characters do.
A story’s theme answers the question “What is this story about?” This is the issue or concept explored in the novel. It is not explicitly stated in the text. It is the deeper idea that the story explores. Quick hint; a theme is almost never described in one word.
There are countless themes…as many as there are ideas. But these below are the most broad and common.
1. The Individual in Nature – surviving in a world where man is not in charge.
- Nature is at war with each of us and proves our vulnerability.
- People are out of place in Nature and need technology to survive.
- People are destroying nature and themselves with uncontrolled technology.
2. The Individual’s role in society
- Society and a person’s inner nature are always at war.
- Social influences determine a person’s final destiny.
- Social influences can only complete inclinations formed by Nature.
- A person’s identity is determined by rank in society.
- In spite of the pressure to be among people, and individual is essentially alone and frightened.
3. Human relations, loving, hating and communicating.
- Marriage is a perpetual comedy bound to fail.
- Marriage is a relationship in which each partner is supported and enabled to grow.
- An old man marrying a young woman is destined to be a cuckold.
- Parents should not sacrifice all for a better life for their children.
- There are few friends who will make extreme sacrifices.
5. Growth and initiation, finding one’s place, coming of age.
- A boy and a girl must go through a special trial or series of trials before maturing.
- Manhood or womanhood is often established by an abrupt, random crisis, sometimes at an unusually early age.
- Aspects of childhood are retained in all of us, sometimes hindering growth.
- A person grows only in so far as he or she must face a crisis of confidence or identity.
6. The power and mystery of death
- Death is part of living, giving life its final meaning.
- Death is the ultimate absurd joke on life.
- There is no death, only a different plane or mode of life without physical decay.
- Without love, death often appears to be the only alternative to life.
7. Alienation, rebellion and standing apart from the crowd.
- An individual is isolated from fellow human beings and foolishly tries to bridge the gaps.
- Through alienation comes self-knowledge.
- Modern culture is defective because it doesn’t provide group ties which in primitive cultures makes alienation virtually impossible.
- Going against the normal world to achieve goals, justice. Doing what’s right as opposed to whats expected.
Formative to-do challenge…
- Find three works that deal with the theme you have been assigned. You should have at least one novel as well as film, if you like.
- Join the extremethemes wikispace for our class. When you do, use your real names please. Ask to join but do not choose to create your own wiki.
- Introduce the three works in a wiki entry. Describe each and how it explores the theme. Use a visual for each, but not the cover of the book, not a movie poster.