List of themes

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A Huge List of Common Themes

Themes in literature are often varied and hidden. Sometimes you can get through an entire book and not realize what the author meant. However, this is a good basic list that you can build from. Remember that some books have multiple themes.

  • Beauty of simplicity
  • Capitalism – effect on the individual
  • Change of power – necessity
  • Change versus tradition
  • Chaos and order
  • Character – destruction, building up
  • Circle of life
  • Coming of age
  • Communication – verbal and nonverbal
  • Companionship as salvation
  • Convention and rebellion
  • Dangers of ignorance
  • Darkness and light
  • Death – inevitable or tragedy
  • Desire to escape
  • Destruction of beauty
  • Disillusionment and dreams
  • Displacement
  • Empowerment
  • Emptiness of attaining false dream
  • Everlasting love
  • Evils of racism
  • Facing darkness
  • Facing reality
  • Fading beauty
  • Faith versus doubt
  • Family – blessing or curse
  • Fate and free will
  • Fear of failure
  • Female roles
  • Fulfillment
  • Good versus bad
  • Greed as downfall
  • Growing up – pain or pleasure
  • Hazards of passing judgment
  • Heartbreak of betrayal
  • Heroism – real and perceived
  • Hierarchy in nature
  • Identity crisis
  • Illusion of power
  • Immortality
  • Individual versus society
  • Inner versus outer strength
  • Isolationism – hazards
  • Knowledge versus ignorance
  • Loneliness as destructive force
  • Losing hope
  • Loss of innocence
  • Love and sacrifice
  • Man against nature
  • Manipulation
  • Materialism as downfall
  • Names – power and significance
  • Nationalism – complications
  • Nature as beauty
  • Necessity of work
  • Oppression of women
  • Optimism – power or folly
  • Overcoming – fear, weakness, vice
  • Patriotism – positive side or complications
  • Power and corruption
  • Power of silence
  • Power of tradition
  • Power of wealth
  • Power of words
  • Pride and downfall
  • Progress – real or illusion
  • Quest for discovery
  • Quest for power
  • Role of men
  • Role of Religion – virtue or hypocrisy
  • Role of women
  • Self – inner and outer
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-preservation
  • Self-reliance
  • Social mobility
  • Technology in society – good or bad
  • Temporary nature of physical beauty
  • Temptation and destruction
  • Totalitarianism
  • Vanity as downfall
  • Vulnerability of the meek
  • Vulnerability of the strong
  • War – glory, necessity, pain, tragedy
  • Will to survive
  • Wisdom of experience
  • Working class struggles
  • Youth and beauty

Movies generally have one or two themes, but not many more. The themes in movies are often said outright instead of hinted at. Some of the popular themes from movies today include:

  • Abuse of power
  • Beating the odds
  • Celebration
  • Common Sense
  • Conservation
  • Darkness and lightness
  • Disillusionment
  • Effects from the past
  • Evils by humanity
  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender rights
  • Good vs Evil
  • Human Nature
  • Individuality
  • Inner peace
  • Man vs nature
  • Man vs self
  • Man vs machine
  • Nationalism
  • Opportunity
  • Peer pressure
  • Perseverance
  • Segregation
  • Self-discipline
  • Social Construct
  • Unselfishness
  • Winning and losing

Themes in poetry are often quite apparent, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the theme doesn’t make itself apparent and is instead up to the reader. Reading a poem aloud often helps with understanding the theme. Here are some examples:

  • Comfort after death
  • Encouraging
  • Forgiveness
  • Imagination
  • Impossibility
  • Inner Peace
  • Inspiration
  • Life – purpose of
  • Not Giving Up
  • Unconditional love

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  • Common Noun
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  • 1984 Themes
  • The Crucible Themes
  • Frankenstein Themes
  • Oedipus Rex Themes
  • The Metamorphosis Themes
  • Beowulf Themes
  • Odyssey Themes
  • Beloved Themes
  • Slaughterhouse-Five Themes
  • Antigone Themes
  • Inferno Themes
  • Fahrenheit 451 Themes
  • Into the Wild Themes
  • The Alchemist Themes
  • Night Themes
  • Life of Pi Themes
  • The Invisible Man Themes
  • The Tempest Themes
  • The Iliad Themes
  • The Jungle Themes
  • Siddhartha Themes
  • The Stranger Themes
  • The Aeneid Themes
  • Dracula Themes
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Themes
  • The Scarlet Letter Themes
  • The Canterbury Tales Themes
  • Heart of Darkness Themes
  • Brave New World Themes
  • Death of a Salesman Themes
  • Things Fall Apart Themes
  • A Tale of Two Cities Themes
  • A Doll’s House Themes
  • The Grapes of Wrath Themes
  • Twelfth Night Themes
  • Crime and Punishment Themes
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God Themes
  • Wuthering Heights Themes
  • In Cold Blood Themes
  • The Kite Runner Themes
  • The Glass Castle Themes
  • Julius Caesar Themes
  • King Lear Themes
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Themes

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Themes in Literature: Definition & Examples of Central Ideas

Have you ever asked yourself why some books are so compelling that you keep thinking about them even after you have finished reading? Well, of course, it can be because of a unique plotline or complex characters. However, most of the time, it is the theme that compels you.

A literary theme is a central or underlying idea of the story. This article by our custom writing team will explain what a theme is, introduce some common theme types, and give examples of main ideas from literature.

  • 🤔 Theme in Literature: Definition

🎭 Common Theme Types

  • 📚 Examples of Central Ideas
  • 📖 Articles on Themes

🤔 What Is a Theme in Literature: Central Idea Definition

A central idea or theme can be defined as a universal truth or dominant impression of a story. It ties together all elements of fiction that the author uses to narrate the events of the book.

The picture shows the definition of themes in literature.

Here are some essential features associated with themes:

  • They are often related to the human condition .
  • They often deal with a specific group of people.
  • They usually deal with abstract concepts and ideas.
  • They tend to be universal .
  • They don’t have to hold true outside the story.
  • They unfold through characters’ personalities or actions .
  • There is usually more than one theme in every story.

Theme Is Not…

A lot of time, a theme can be confused with similar notions. Here is the list of what a theme is not:

  • the purpose of a literary work;
  • the story’s moral;
  • something that can be expressed in one word;
  • the conflict in the story.

Theme vs. Moral

Even though the theme and the moral are overlapping concepts, they are still two different things. While the theme is the story’s main idea, the moral is the teaching that is conveyed through the story’s elements.

For example, in Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby , the moral is that the American Dream is unattainable. The story’s central idea is a materialistic, money-driven society and its effect on people’s lives.

Theme vs. Message

The theme is also often confused with the message of the story. The main difference between the two is that the message illustrates a specific situation while the theme refers to a larger context. In other words, the message is the story’s theme in action.

For example, in The Great Gatsby , the message would be that a chase after money and the desire to be accepted by society will not bring love or happiness.

Theme vs. Plot

The main difference between the plot and the theme is that the plot is the order of events , whereas the theme is the story’s central idea. The plot is synonymous with the storyline. It tells what happens in the story from the begging to the end.

For instance, the plot of The Great Gatsby is all the events described in the book, including Jay Gatsby’s tragic fate.

Themes vs. Topics

The terms “ topic ” and “theme” can be confused as well. Yet, they are different concepts. A theme is the central meaning of the story, and you can understand it only after reading the whole work. A topic explains what the story is about. It is more specific than the theme.

So, in case the theme of The Great Gatsby is how materialistic society affects people’s lives, the topic is the chase after money and love.

Why Are Themes Important?

Now, let’s talk about the significance of a theme in a story. Here are some of its essential functions:

  • It unites all the elements, such as plot and character development.
  • It regulates and gives meaning to story elements.
  • It helps to make a story relatable to the reader.

Note that the protagonist’s internal journey is also closely connected to a theme. When we see character’s growth and learn about their motivation, we begin to relate to them and their struggles. At the same time, the story itself becomes more compelling.

How to Find the Theme of a Story

To identify a theme, first make sure you are familiar with the plot, the main conflicts in the story, and the way it uses characterization. You can identify a theme easily by asking the right questions:

Now we are going to talk about common theme types. We’ll start with major and minor themes and the difference between them:

  • A major theme is expressed repeatedly and is central in a literary work.
  • A minor theme only briefly appears in the text. It may or may not give way to other minor themes.

Implied Theme

The author may choose how to present their ideas in the text. If the author uses implied or implicit themes in the story, the message is not expressed directly but conveyed through circumstances and the characters’ emotions.

Stated Theme

A stated theme is an opposite of an implicit one. If a theme is stated, it means that the author chooses to express it directly. For example, the theme of Pride and Prejudice is stated in the title . There is no need to determine it through the context.

Universal Themes

Universal themes are ideas that can be understood by anyone regardless of their culture or geographical location . They often deal with the human condition and fundamental human concerns. Such themes as man vs. nature or life vs. death are good examples.

Recurring Theme

A recurring theme or a motif is a unifying idea that recurs throughout the story and has a symbolic meaning. It often helps to reinforce the overall message of the book. This type of theme is conveyed in multiple ways throughout the literary work.

📚 Examples of Central Ideas in Literature

There are, of course, countless books on numerous different topics. Every author chooses what to write about and how to express their ideas in writing. However, we can try and single out some common themes. Now, let’s look at the example of some central ideas that appear in literature a lot:

Themes in American Literature

American literature combines the ideas of the past and hopes for the future; it embodies the worldview of the American people. Because of the county’s unique historical background, some themes are especially prominent in American literature. Here are some examples:

Themes in English Literature

Compared to American literature that emerged in the early 17 th century, English literature has a long history. It is known for its wit, depiction of manners, and criticism of the disparity between classes. Here are some examples of common themes in English literature:

Thanks for reading through our article! We hope you found it helpful. If you did, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends. You may also want to check our articles dedicated to themes in specific books.

📖 Themes in Literature Articles

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Themes

From this article, you will learn about the story’s core themes, such as good vs. evil, religion, and death.

Barn Burning: Themes

Read about the themes related to the story’s main characters: loyalty & morality and resentment & racism.

Death of a Salesman: Themes

This article explains the key themes of Arthur Miller’s play: the American dream, family, and betrayal & abandonment.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Themes

Read this article if you want to learn about the core themes in Frankenstein : dangerous knowledge, nature, isolation, monstrosity, and revenge.

Hamlet: Themes

William Shakespeare’s timeless play deals with themes such as death, revenge, corruption, and appearance vs. reality.

Night by Elie Wiesel: Themes

The novel’s themes are related to critical issues that were prominent during World War II: faith and dehumanization.

Othello: Themes

This article explores how the themes of appearance vs. reality, jealousy, racism, and women are treated in the play.

Pride & Prejudice: Themes & Ideas

The themes in Jane Austen’s brilliant novel include love & marriage, social class, and reputation.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Themes

There are many themes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but chivalry and honor are especially prominent.

The Canterbury Tales’ Themes: Estates Satire & Deceit

This article will help you dig deeper into The Canterbury Tales’ themes of satire and deceit.

Great Gatsby: Themes

The novel’s numerous themes include the American dream, money, social class, love, morality, and time.

The Lottery: Analysis

The story’s central idea is the presence of a dominant tradition that overwhelms the villagers’ rationality.

The Metamorphosis: Themes

This article will show you how the themes of transformation and alienation unfold within the story.

The Necklace: Themes

Read about the two central ideas of Maupassant’s sensational story: appearance vs. reality and greed.

The Odyssey: Themes

The epic poem raises numerous issues that remain relevant, such as loyalty & perseverance and hospitality.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes

Read this article and discover the story’s central themes of gender, mental illness, and freedom.

Wuthering Heights: Analysis

Emily Bronte’s novel is multifaceted, but it’s primarily built around the ideas of tragic love and revenge.

🔍 References

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