Definition Theme: it is the controlling idea or central insight of a piece of fiction. It is the unifying generalization about life stated or implied by the story. It is often synonymous with a story’s purpose. Theme exists only (1) when an author has seriously attempted to record life accurately or to reveal some truth about it or (2) when an author has deliberately introduced as a unifying element some concept or theory of life that the story illuminates.
“Daddy, the man next door kisses his wife every morning before going to work. Why don’t you do that?” “Are you kidding? I don’t even know the woman.” “Daughter, your young man stays until a very late hour. Hasn’t your mother said anything to you about this habit of his?” “Yes, father. Mother says men haven’t changed a bit.
Ways of discovering theme 1. Explore the central conflict and its outcome
Ways of discovering theme 2. Ask in what way the protagonist has changed in the course of the story and what, if anything, he or she has learned before its end.
Ways of discovering theme 3. Consider the title of the story as providing an important clue.
Ways of discovering theme 4. Consider if there are any significant symbols which may point to a central truth.
Theme Statements for Seven Previously Read Stories
Possible Theme for “Barn Burning” based on an analysis of the primary conflicts: protagonist vs self, protagonist vs kin For a young, uneducated, dilemma-stricken man who is trapped in a life governed by an abusive and intransigent patriarch--one who tyrannically espouses a view that blood ties (kinship) must supplant even truth and justice--the path to maturation and self-actualization may begin with his freeing himself from the chains of parental dictates in an effort to cease inimical behavior.
“A Rose for Emily” If the spirit of youthful exuberance is unable to find release due to the forces of oppressiveness, its energy may later manifest itself in a need to be secluded and in a steadily evolving eccentric pertinacity that at once may evoke pity and horror--both shrouded by the mystery inherent in reclusivity. based on: central conflicts: protagonist vs father and self; protagonist vs. town, and change in the protagonist
Theme for “The Chrysanthemums” For some strong, energetic women who want to break free of traditional barriers, to realize their spiritual and erotic cravings, to release their nuturing qualities and feminine talents in a wider world, the forces of a male dominated society may too powerfully stunt their capacities for growth and expression, thus perpetuating the frustration of their present condition. based on: central conflict, title, symbolism
Theme for “Interpreter of Maladies” Some men that experience midlife tribulations--whose domestic life is physically comfortable but spiritually unfulfilling and lacking in romance--may construct a fantasy life around another woman to bolster their attachment to idealistic romance and youthful dreams, not expecting a sudden truth to shatter their world and effect the continuation of their melacholy solitude. based on: central conflict, title, change in protagonist
“Cathedral” Barriers tend to break down when people effectively communicate with one another. Even those not physically blind sometimes need to be taught “to see.” Stereotyping often renders sighted people “blind” to the common humanity we all share. based on: central conflict, title, symbolism, change in protagonist
“The Storm A woman who is confined to a marriage that is dispassionate may be sparked to sexual desire by mysterious forces which help to effect in her a sense of liberation from repression. based on: central conflict, title, symbolism
Possible Theme for “Greasy Lake” based on an analysis of the primary conflict: narrator vs. himself The various experiences young adults have on their road to maturity may lead them to unleash violent passions, confront their own mortality, and recognize the need for an exploration of self as well as a recognition of human limitations; these lessons, perhaps due to careless behavior and a distraction of their ideals, often, if the people are not obdurate, provide them the strength to move from innocence to potentiality.
Chinua Achebe Born 1930 Biography
Those who embrace modernity--progressive international standards, rigid rationality-- to the exclusion of customs deeply rooted in emotion and intuition and who do not make an attempt at tolerance and sensitivity for the latter’s beliefs when in confrontation, may effect a terrible cost upon themselves and others. Focused on central conflict: modernity vs. traditional African values; idealistic obstinacy vs.deeply rooted local custom; rationalism vs. emotion and intuition
“The Parable of the Podigal Son” Genuine virtue requires the power to forgive. or True goodness requires love and compassion, not just outward virtue. or There is more joy in finding what was lost than there would be in merely keeping it. Focused on central conflicts, protagonist vs. self, sons vs Father; on title, on symbolic value of characters
Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007 Biography
"[...] dystopian fiction looks at totalitarian dictatorship as its prototype, a society that puts its whole population continuously on trial, a society that finds its essence in concentration camps, that is, in disenfranchising and enslaving entire classes of its own citizens, a society that, by glorifying and justifying violence by law, preys upon itself. [...] dystopian society is what we would today call dysfunctional; it reveals the lack of the very qualities that traditionally justify or set the reason for existence of a community." (Erika Gottlieb's Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial)
“Harrison Bergeron” Those societies which are intent on embracing extreme legal egalitarianism due to a distrust of intellectuality may perversely condemn and penalize all individual freedoms, all striving for excellence, including beauty, physical grace, and imagination. Focused on central conflict: protagonist vs society; on title; on representativeness of characters
Margaret Atwood Born 1939 Biography
Metafiction is a type of fiction which self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. It is the term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. It usually involves irony and is self-reflective. It can be compared to presentational theatre in a sense; presentational theatre does not let the audience forget they are viewing a play, and metafiction does not let the readers forget they are reading a work of fiction.
Possible theme for “Happy Endings” Spoofing fictional techniques, some authors may effect significant points: that many narrative endings are unconvincing and inauthentic and that mortality is the central fact of human existence, implying that possibilities are more pleasant than actualities, “beginnings are always more fun.” These abstract themes can be made accesible in a comic fashion. .