What is Theme? Everything You Need To Know

A theme is an idea, concept, or lesson that conveys a moral message in a text and explores it through characters, setting, dialogue, plot, or elements. Themes come in two different categories. They are: 

  • Thematic concept deals with how the readers perceive the concept in your text.
  • Thematic statement deals with what your work says about the subject. 


Hence, you need to invest your time in identifying the story’s theme as it is not stated explicitly. In a way, a piece of writing with a hidden, thought-provoking theme is a treasure that provokes us to think rather than telling us what to think. To identify the theme of a story, we need first to understand how writers convey the theme through their work. This article gives you an example to spot a theme and lists themes to explore with some relevant examples. 

Understanding Theme

How Do You Convey the Theme of a Story? 

Writers often use specific devices to convey their themes that interact differently to make up the story. Let us uncover these devices in detail:

  • Topic

A topic introduces your story to your readers and audiences. Mostly, the title gives a cue to what happens in the story; it may be descriptive or definitive. At the same time, a theme is interpretive, as different readers have their interpretations. Hence, a theme gives the reader the flexibility to explore a specific topic. 

Title Design and Themes

  • Motif

A motif uses an image, sound, word, or symbol repetitively to convey the story’s central idea. For example, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald emphasizes the theme of judgment through the repetitive narration by Nick Carraway. 

What is a motif? Motif examples from well known films.

  • Moral

A moral often results in a takeaway message that the readers and audiences interpret from the theme. For example, Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” deals with the theme of loneliness. Although it doesn’t have a clear cut moral to the story, one can infer the need to be sympathetic toward the lonely. 

Morals and Themes in Movies

Why is the Theme Important? 

Themes focus on the story and hence impart a meaning to the text. It also connects the reader to the characters and their struggles, contributing to a compelling read. Also, it helps the writer to focus her ideas and understandably present them. The theme of a story influences:

  • A character’s decision
  • The mood of the story
  • Moral of the story

We need to learn to identify these themes to enjoy their essence and get influenced by them. Here we go!

Jurassic Park — Using Theme to Craft Character

How Do You Determine the Theme of a Movie?

Here is an example of extracting the theme from the movie Animal Farm. Animal Farm speaks of the power struggle between different animals on a farm to achieve leadership. In reality, this symbolizes the rise and fall of communism in Russia. Furthermore, it discusses how corrupt leaders misuse their power and turn into authoritarians. Hence, the movie’s theme is found to be power and corruption. Let us now disclose how the theme is distributed across different story elements.

  • The key characters of this movie represent the leading figures of the Russian Revolution.
  • The central plot showcases the power struggle among the livestock on the farm.
  • Some plot points reveal how corrupt leadership holds onto power.
  • Literary devices like allegory mimic real-life incidents, and symbolism represents real-life personas.

How to Find a Theme?

Common Themes

As themes are present universally across all stories, here is a list of popular themes in literature for you to explore:

1. Love

Love is the most explored topic in books and movies. It has countless stories with flavors ranging from first love, last love, forbidden love, family love, unrequited love, etc. In these stories, love is often featured as a magnanimous force capable of inspiring people or a toxic weapon that tears apart a person. Here are some examples:

  • Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story between Romeo and Juliet who are forbidden to love due to their feuding families. 

  • R. J. Palacio’s Wonder talks about the unconditional familial love between the members of a family.

Best Romances of all time

2. Death

Death is a popular theme across multiple genres. It explores grief following the loved one’s death, a reflection on the cycle of life and death, or an inquiry into the aftermath of a person’s death. 

  • The Fault in Our Stars showcases terminally ill teenagers who embark on a journey to learn to face death together.

The Fault In Our Stars | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

  • J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series explores the life of Harry after his parents’ death and Voldemort’s attempts to win over his mortality.

3. Good Vs. Evil

Most commonly adopted in the fantasy genre, this theme typically consists of a good and an evil group who constantly strive to establish their supremacy over one another.

  • R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings teams up men, hobbits and elves to war against the power-hungry Sauron and his army.

  • C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia follows the encounter between four siblings and other good and evil characters.

Good vs. Evil Movies

4. Revenge

The theme of revenge portrays the conflict between a character and the enemy. The character then repays for the wrong done to them. However, it could also explore the cost of pursuing vengeance and the moral dilemmas. 

  • Stephen King’s Carrie: A group of bullies suffer from their wrath, after they humiliate a young girl Carrie with paranormal abilities.

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein follows the life of Victor, who was obsessed with creating life. However, he never expected to kill the creature he developed after an episode of disappointment. 

Revenge as a Theme in Movies

5. Coming of age

This theme includes stories of the experiences of young characters who lost their innocence or adopted a different perspective on life. 

  • J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye recollects the experiences of a teenager Holden Caulfield as he deals with the teenage rebellion in the 1950s.
  • Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women weaves the experiences of four siblings as they grow into their womanhood in 19th-century Massachusetts.

Introduction to the “Coming of Age” story

How Pixar Perfected the “Coming of Age” Story

6. Power Play and Corruption

Power is a compelling theme that explores the mental state of human beings once they begin to misuse it. Corruption is often discussed here with its impact on influential people and its dire consequences. 

  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth features Macbeth, who strives to seek power and is fated to face the consequences of his ambition.  

  • Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games talks of an autocratic government that misuses power to manipulate and murder its citizens.   

Movie Trailer: The Hunger Games (2012)

Watch the Movie Online: YouTube

7. Survival

The theme of survival is prevalent in books and movies. These stories showcase characters who fight against the odds of a destroying environment, disease, or a powerful enemy to live their life. Here are some examples of the theme:

  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies portrays the attempts of a group of youngsters who strive for their survival on a deserted island.
  • Yann Martel’s Life of Pi recounts the experiences of a young boy who tries to save himself from a shipwreck. 

Movie Trailer: Life of Pi

Watch the Movie Online: YouTube

Top 10 Survival Movies

8. Courage and Perseverance

The theme of courage and perseverance is the most sought-after and has been prevalent for a long time throughout history. It recounts the journey of a heroic character who stands up to adversity and wins over the demanding situation. 

  • Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson is subject to a series of adventures, fighting the way through mythological monsters and dark forces. 

Movie Trailer: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – HD Trailer

Watch the Movie Online: Disney+

  • Robin Hood is well-known in English folklore, famous for his heroism in helping poor people. 

9. Prejudice

The theme of prejudice thrives with stories catering around how characters overcome prejudice and change, the effect of its negative implications, and judgments. 

  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird explores the dire consequences of racism and prejudice as white lawyer fights for a black man innocent of a rape crime. 

Movie Trailer: To Kill a Mockingbird

Watch the Movie Online: Amazon

  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice  weaves a love story out of first impressions and false judgements. 

Movie Trailer: Pride & Prejudice (2005) Official Trailer

Watch the Movie Online: Amazon

10. Individuals Vs Society

Most popular in dystopian fiction, this theme consists of stories about a character who has a pretty different thought process from his society. This challenges him to fit himself into society or makes him a rebel against them. 

  • George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the life of Winston Smith as he agitates against a tyrannical government.

  • Huckleberry Finn, a misfit, runs away from his society to only have his adventures.

Movie Trailer: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) Original Theatrical Trailer – Warner Archive Collection

11. War

Exposing the horrors of war is one of the most featured themes. It features epic battles between different groups of people. 

  • Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms explores the efforts of Lieutenant Frederic Henry to overcome the ill effects of war. 

Best War movies

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy explains the impact of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

 12. Redemption

In this theme, the stories revolve around characters who self-realize their mistakes and attempt to correct them.

  • Charles Dickens’s A Christmas carol talks about the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge after he meets with the ghosts. 

  • Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables: Les Misérables recounts the life of Jean Valjean as he transforms from a prisoner to an industrialist while being monitored by inspector Javert.

Watch the movie Online: YouTube

Conclusion

A theme is an excellent tool to convey the central idea of the entire story. It gears the characters, plot, setting, dialogue, and other elements towards the main idea and enhances the reader’s comprehensibility. Therefore, a story with a theme completes the book and movies, satiating the minds of readers and audiences. 

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