Understanding Themes

  • Themes usually represent the author’s message or the main ideas that are being brought forward by a text.
  • Unlike the plot which is the physical event of the story, themes are the underlying ideas or universal truths that the plot and characters represent.
  • Themes can be broad, covering large-concepts like love, betrayal, or fear; they can also be quite specific such as commentary on political events or societal changes.

Identifying Themes

  • Themes are generally not explicitly stated and have to be inferred from the ways characters behave, the plot unfolds, and the setting is described.
  • Clues about the theme might be found in the narrator’s attitude towards the characters or events, recurring motifs or symbols, or even the title of the text.
  • Pay attention to the conflicts, or tensions, in the story as they often highlight the themes. These may be internal (within a character) or external (between characters or between a character and a societal norm).

Analysing Themes

  • Once identified, consider why the author chose this theme. What idea are they trying to convey or advocate for?
  • Analyse how the theme influences the character’s actions and attitudes, and how it interfaces with the overall plot.
  • Note the connotations of the words used which relate to the theme. Do they give a positive or negative judgement?

Comparing Themes Across Texts

  • If analysing more than one text, make note of any common or contrasting themes. This can help draw connections and deepen the understanding of the individual texts.
  • Aren’t all stories with the same theme the same? Note how different authors might handle the same thematic concept in different ways.

Thematic Impact

  • Understand that the theme of a text often aims to make the reader contemplate a particular concept, moral issue or aspect of life.
  • Reflect on how the theme may affect you as a reader, your interpretation of the world, or your perspective on the topic at hand.
  • Finally, in crafting an analysis, remember to justify and provide examples for your interpretation of the theme.