Theme (narrative)

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In contemporary literary studies, a theme is the central topic a text treats.[1] Themes can be divided into two categories: a work's thematic concept is what readers "think the work is about" and its thematic statement being "what the work says about the subject".[2]

The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or concept that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g. love, death, betrayal). Typical examples of themes of this type are conflict between the individual and society; coming of age; humans in conflict with technology; nostalgia; and the dangers of unchecked ambition.[3][examples needed] A theme may be exemplified by the actions, utterances, or thoughts of a character in a novel. An example of this would be the theme loneliness in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, wherein many of the characters seem to be lonely. It may differ from the thesis—the text's or author's implied worldview.[4][example needed]

A story may have several themes. Themes often explore historically common or cross-culturally recognizable ideas, such as ethical questions, and are usually implied rather than stated explicitly. An example of this would be whether one should live a seemingly better life, at the price of giving up parts of ones humanity, which is a theme in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.[5][dubious ]

Techniques[edit]

Various techniques may be used to express many more themes.

Leitwortstil[edit]

Leitwortstil is the repetition of a wording, often with a theme, in a narrative to make sure it catches the reader's attention.[6] An example of a leitwortstil is the recurring phrase, "So it goes", in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse five. Its seeming message is that the world is deterministic: that things only could have happened in one way, and that the future already is predetermined. But given the anti-war tone of the story, the message perhaps is on the contrary, that things could have been different. A non fictional example of leitworstil is in the book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now written by Gordon Livingston, which is an anthology of personal anecdotes multiple times interjected by the phrases "Don't do the same thing and expect different results.", "It is a bad idea to lie to yourself." and "No one likes to be told what to do.".

Thematic patterning[edit]

Thematic patterning means the insertion of a recurring motif in a narrative.[7][verification needed] For example, various scenes in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are about loneliness.[8] This technique also dates back to One Thousand and One Nights.[7][example needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, retrieved January 26, 2012 
  2. ^ Griffith, Kelley (2010), Writing Essays about Literature (8 ed.), Cengage Learning, p. 40, ISBN 1428290419, retrieved February 10, 2013 
  3. ^ Kirszner, Laura G.; Mandell, Stephen R. (1994), Fiction: Reading, Reacting, Writing, Paulinas, pp. 3–4, ISBN 015501014X, retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ Weitz, Morris (2002), "Literature Without Philosophy: "Antony and Cleopatra"", Shakespeare Survey 28, Cambridge University Press, p. 30, ISBN 0521523656, retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ Obstfeld, 2002, p. 1, 65, 115, 171.
  6. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story Telling Techniques in the "Arabian Nights", Studies in Arabic Literature 15, Brill, p. 18, ISBN 9004095306, retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Heath, Peter (May 1994), "Reviewed work(s) Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights by David Pinault", International Journal of Middle East Studies (Cambridge University Press) 26 (2): 358–360 [359–60] 
  8. ^ Scalia, Joseph E.; Shamblin, Lena T. & Research and Education Association (2001), John Steinbeck's Of mice and men, Piscataway, N.J: Research & Education Association, p. 13, ISBN 087891997X, retrieved February 11, 2013. 

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