Themes “Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story” -Stephen King
THEME: The main message or insight an author has to share with humanity about life, society, or the human condition through the telling of his/her tale. What is theme? “If you write a novel, spend weeks and then months catching it word by word, you owe it both to the book and to yourself to lean back (or take a long walk) when you’ve finished and ask yourself why you bothered—why you spent all that time, why it seemed to so important. In other words, what’s it all about Alfie?” -Stephen King It is important to remember that the first level of the story deals with characters, settings, narrators, and to a lesser extent plot; in discussing theme we are entering a second tier of reading. This is what the author thinks about in the weeks and months after finishing a novel/story/poem. We are discussing his/her editing rather than writing.
Themes Versus Topics • The subject or topic of a piece = what the piece is about. • When you discuss the question of what a story or poem is about, you are discussing the subject. • Examples • Kid's on an Island. • A bank robbery. • A sunrise. • Two roads that separate in the woods. Topics are often a single word or phrase.
Theme: what the author has to say about the topic or subject and through the topic or subject about the world and life in general. Themes When discussing themes, retelling what a poem is about is like tying your shoes before playing soccer; it is essential to playing soccer, but being able to tie your shoes "don't make you Pele." • The question: Why has the author told me about this in this way? is an important question in the discovery of a theme. • Also important is to realize that, in general, author's use characters who are people by themselves, but represent groups or everybody at large. • Most themes are implied. It is rare that the author will come right out and state the theme, it is something the reader must put together.
Always remember themes are not topics Some tricks to finding the theme: Topics • Love • God • Murder Themes • You should follow your heart. • If there is a God, why do bad things happen? • Is murder ever justified? Themes are opinions or questions posed by the author about topics. (Themes are generally a sentence about the topic.)
Theme in the “Gift of the Magi” Working as a table: (Clearly labeled on a piece of paper.) • State the Topic of the Story • Discuss and state the Theme of the story • Identify a Passage in which the theme is “contained” • you may not use the last paragraph of the story • Discuss and be ready to defend your reasoning