Writing Thematic Statements
Theme is the central message of a literary work. It is not the same as a subject, which can be expressed in a word or two: courage, survival, war, pride, etc. The theme is the idea the author wishes to convey about that subject. It is expressed as a sentence or general statement about life or human nature. A literary work can have more than one theme, and most themes are not directly stated but are implied. The reader must think about all the elements of the work and use them to make inferences, or reasonable guesses, as to which themes seem to be implied.” (from Laying the Foundation series of books published by AP Strategies in Dallas)
For example, if love is a topic/subject of two novels, a major theme in one of the novels could be “Love, if taken to extremes, can be negative rather than positive,” while in the other novel, the theme might be “Love can conquer even the greatest evil.” Notice that the topic/subject is the same, but the messages about that topic/subject are different in different works.
A theme is a meaning of a work. (Yes, there can be more than one “meaning.”) Can the meaning of a work be love? hate? greed? No—that makes no sense! Those are just topics, not themes. The theme is the statement an author is making about a topic.
Stating the theme of a work of literature
- Begin by using several abstract words to state the principal ideas of the work (topics that the piece is really about). Abstract words describe concepts or ideas that exist only in our minds like alienation, prejudice, ambition, freedom, love, loyalty, passion, etc.
For this assignment, you will
- Combine those abstract ideas with comments that reflect the author’s observations about human nature, the human condition, or human motivation. In other words, what is the author saying about the abstract idea? Is he/she, for example, saying something about the qualities of people and/or commenting on society?
- A theme is NOT a moral, a directive, or an order. A moral/directive/order tells us how to behave or what to do. A theme observes, weighs, and considers actions and ideas, but it avoids judging what people should or should not do; therefore, words like “should” and “ought” are not appropriate in a thematic statement. Also not appropriate is an order/directive such as “Be nice to elderly people” or “Love like there’s no tomorrow.”
- Themes are NOT trite sayings (clichés, maxims, or aphorisms) such as “Actions speak louder than words,” “Love hurts,” or “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
- Themes do NOT refer to the specific names or events of a particular literary piece. A theme does not summarize a work, but it does reflect what happens in the work. A theme drops character names and uses more general terms like “parents,” “leaders,” “society,” or “young people” in a general observation about the human experience.
- Themes avoid absolute terms such as “all,” “none,” “everything,” or “always” because they indicate sloppy thinking; they are categorical, no exceptions. Terms like “we,” “sometimes,” or “often” suggest a more realistic view of the variety of human experiences.
Writing Thematic Statements
What is Theme? Theme is what a text implies about life or human nature.
A text can have more than one theme.
Theme is the “main” idea of a work; in other words, everything in the text should work together to help communicate that idea. Nothing in the work should logically contradict the theme.
How do I write a thematic statement?
Start by listing some of the topics of the text; for example, alienation, prejudice, ambition, freedom, love, loyalty, passion, etc.). The topic can also be a longer phrase, however, such as the relationship between love and hate.
Combine those topics with comments that reflect the author’s observations about human nature. What is the author saying about those topics? What does the author believe to be true about those topics?
|…draw a general insight from a character’s behavior||Friends are not always trustworthy.|
|…use qualifying words in a thematic statement, such as sometimes, can, may, and often||Poverty may transform honest people into criminals.|
|…express the theme as an insight into life||Gossip can cause serious damage to a person’s reputation.|
|…express the theme in your own words||Evil deeds are punished in ways you might not expect.|
|…express the theme as a general comment on a subject||People with realistic goals tend to be more successful than those who put little thought into their futures.|
|DO NOT…||Poorly written Statements:|
|…express the theme as a subject or topic||Crime doesn’t pay.|
|…express the theme as a moral||It’s wrong to gossip about people.|
|…make a thematic statement too general.|
…Avoid broad generalizations with words such as everyone, always, never, and all
|Poverty causes crime.|
|…refer to specific characters in a thematic statement||Holden learned not to trust others around him.|
Example Thematic Statements:
The Hunger Games: Love can make you care more about others than you do about your own life when put to the test.
Trust: Trust in yourself is just as important as trust in others.
Family: A family supports you even when the rest of the world doubts you.
- Love taken to extremes can become dangerous.
- Loving yourself, despite your flaws, can lead to a happier life.
Identity: Your identity isn’t static but grows with you as you discover more about yourself.