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Theme: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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The theme is a general term for literary devices used by authors to describe the main idea of the entire work.

This article explains what a theme is, how it’s used in different writing forms, the different types of themes, and explores some of the most notable examples of theme in literature.

What Is a Theme?

A theme is a moral message in a written text.

An author delivers the theme through a story’s characters, setting, dialogue, plot, or elements.

Also Known As:

Here are other terms that this literary device goes by:

  • Motif
  • Thematic concept
  • Message

Simple Definition: How To Explain a Theme to a Child

You can explain the word theme to a child as the main message in a story.

Why Is a Theme Used?

The theme is used to help readers understand basic and important aspects of human nature through storytelling.

This literary device allows readers to connect with the story.

Types of Themes

There are different variations of themes used in a text.

So whether you’re trying to figure out how to write a blog post or a novel, the theme can help writers make your story more memorable.

  • Themes in Story: An author shows story themes by reinforcing symbols and motifs in their writing. They speak broadly about the central idea because they want to let the audience figure it out for themselves.
  • Themes in Literature: Themes in literature are unlike any other because they’re hidden throughout the book. Sometimes a theme is hidden so well that the audience may not be aware that there is a theme. However, it’s essential to know that nearly every written novel contains one or more themes.
  • Themes in Writing: Nonfiction works also have a theme. For example, news articles, magazines, and autobiographies follow a central theme that develops from start to finish. Nonfiction authors convey their themes without using characters. Instead, they use different literary devices to show the theme.
  • Themes in Poetry: A theme in poetry is known to be the clearest. Since these works are shorter, the author wants to get their point across more quickly. However, some poetry authors can hide the theme so well that the reader interprets their own meaning of the poem.

How Do You Identify a Theme?

You can identify a theme by spotting the motifs throughout the work.

A motif is another literary device, and it’s a repeated image to keep the theme swirling in your mind.

Finding symbols and motifs help you narrow down the main theme, especially if there are multiple.

How Do You Use a Theme in a Sentence?

There are thousands of things to write about, but the theme is how you write your story.

You use a sentence’s theme to describe your story’s message.

So whether you’re writing a novel, poem, or short story, you need to remember the key elements of a theme: character, setting, dialogue, and plot.

What Is the Most Popular Example of a Theme?

There are a handful of famous examples by many types of writers that use different themes to get their message across to the audience.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet seamlessly portrays the theme of love and death throughout the play.

This play comes to mind when thinking about the various themes to be taken away from the plot.

It’s a tragic tale of forbidden love between two young people that ends with terrible consequences.

Other Famous Examples of Themes

Fiction authors use various forms of themes to drive the plot.

Depending on the point of view, you typically get a glimpse into a character’s mind to understand them and the overall theme.

Here are some other famous examples of a theme:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina’s most powerful theme is love. Leo Tolstoy offers many variations of love, including platonic, familial, and romantic love.

Unfortunately, all the characters in the novel have a lack of love in their lives, and they struggle to try and find it.

Leo Tolstoy shows that love is the most powerful emotion in life.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is centered around the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old boy in the 1950s.

He lives during a time of rebellion, attempting to find where he fits into the world.

This novel is memorable because Holden Caulfield is an alienated individual and has been called an isolated misfit.

Still, readers sympathize with Holden and root for him to succeed by the novel’s end.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women includes the major themes of family and a woman’s coming of age.

This novel follows four sisters on their journey from childhood to womanhood in 19th-century Massachusetts.

The experiences of these young girls shape the women they’ll become and how they will look at the world.

Authors that use the coming-of-age theme in their stories emphasize on the loss of innocence as the girls become women.

Other Modern Examples of Themes

Here are a few more examples of themes that you might recognize:

Examples of Themes In Stories

Fiction authors need help conveying themes in stories.

Typically, they’re shorter than novels, so authors need to introduce their characters and their relation to the theme more quickly.

They try to make the theme easier to find.

  • “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky: coming of age and loneliness
  • “Animal Farm” by George Orwell: Power and corruption
  • “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding: Survival

Examples of Themes in Literature and Writing

Of course, you’re going to find themes written in literature.

In a novel, the theme helps to drive the characters towards the climax, then comes together in the resolution.  

  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde: the circle of life
  • “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway: peace, war, and violence
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee: judgment

Examples of Themes in Poetry

A theme in poetry is easily recognizable because most poems are written in short verses.

  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost: the nature of free will
  • “The Poison Tree” by William Blake: anger
  • “A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe: dreams

Notable Writers Who use Themes

Writers use a theme to let readers connect to a story on an emotional level.

Here are some notable writers that use themes in their works:

1. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald compels his readers to pay careful attention to details in his stories to understand the themes he’s trying to convey.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby centers around the idea of the American Dream.

The two prominent details that connect to the themes of this story are the green light and the color green.

The reader can associate these symbols with money and how Jay Gatsby tries to attain the American dream through wealth.

2. Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne uses the recurring theme of guilt throughout his short stories, novels, and poems.

For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The House of the Seven Gables to reflect on his life and family history, which contributed to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

Guilt and sin are the themes of his most notable works, including The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and Rappaccini’s Daughter.

He features morally ambiguous characters, which builds on the guilt based on the actions taken by his characters.

3. William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare famously uses the theme of women throughout his plays.

However, during his time, women were not treated equally and weren’t even allowed in his plays.

Instead, men would play the role of women.

However, Shakespeare gives them power through the dialogue and actions of his female characters.

Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice depict women similarly to their restricted roles in society.

However, the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays are cunning and powerful enough to surpass the man around them.

What Is the Opposite of a Theme?

The opposite of a theme is moral.

A moral is a lesson or teaching that the author wants readers to know.

Business books incorporate themes because they offer a central idea that the author follows throughout the story.

Subtly, you’ll find a theme throughout literary works.

The audience searches for the theme by using the other key elements found in literature.

An alternative differs from a theme due to the precise wording used to deliver the central idea to the audience.

Other Related Literary Devices to Know  

If you’re interested in tips for writing great content, check out these other literary devices that add another layer of depth to your writing.

Knowing what each literary device can be helpful, as it could help incorporate them into various types of content and writing:

  • Imagery: Imagery is the descriptive language used by an author to allow a reader to immerse themselves in the world the author has built.
  • Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing hints at what will happen later in the story without giving away the ending.
  • Characterization: Characterization brings the characters in a story to life. Authors use this literary device to describe a character to the audience.
  • Mood: The mood is used by settings and dialogue to provoke feelings and emotions in the reader.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism uses an object or a person to invoke a particular emotion in the reader.

Writing Tools to Help You Out

There are many resources out there to help you write for the web or write for yourself.

Check out these writing tools to help you while developing your writing styles and techniques.

screenshot of a man sitting in front of computer screens looking at a bunch of productivity tools on the screens

1. Writing Helpers

Writing Helpers are platforms and software that assist you with grammatical issues and punctuation.

This writing tool helps you avoid the usage of passive voice and difficult-to-read sentences.

Hemingway Editor is the most popular platform that analyzes your work and gives you advice on how to have concise writing and better engagement.

2. AI Writing Software

AI Writing Software is perfect for blogs, social media posts, websites, and advertisements to generate the best content for your audience.

Jasper AI and ProWritingAid help you expand on your previous ideas while allowing you to rewrite your work for clarity and style.

3. Grammar Checkers

Everyone knows that you should read overdrafts to check for grammar mistakes.

However, sometimes it’s easier to get a second opinion.

After all, writers want to ensure they’re putting their best work forward, so they want a reliable app.

With that in mind, consider choosing a tool like Grammarly, one of the best grammar checkers on the internet, to assist you in proofreading your work.

4. Content Creators

Content creators are always searching for the best writing tools.

Some content creators write blog posts or newspaper articles. No matter your writing type, you want your work to sound professional and knowledgeable.

The right tools can help you develop content that matches your goals.

There’s something for everyone, whether it’s eye-catching visuals or concise wording that appeals to your intended audience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions about this literary device?

Then, we have the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions to further help you understand the meaning of prose.

Which statement best defines a theme?

The statement that best defines theme is the main idea or concept displayed throughout any written work.

Can a theme be one word?

A theme can’t be one word.

Many stories, plays, novels, and poems contain more than one theme.

The author wants the reader to remember the theme after reading, so it’s shown throughout the work.

A writer takes the reader on a journey from the first to the last page, showing the theme and why it’s important for the reader to understand.

Wrapping Up

No matter what you write, you can use a theme or multiple themes to make your story memorable for the reader.

Good themes allow a writer to be concise, helping you to connect readers with the characters you’ve created.

With that in mind, ensure your writing isn’t challenging to understand since the best themes can be recognized by all.

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