How to find Theme in a Story

How do you know if it’s a theme?

  1. It can apply to anyone in the world, not just the characters in the story.  The theme must not mention specific characters or situations, it must be a general statement.
    • “Batman and Robin are great friends and they fight crime together well because of their friendship” is not a theme because it’s too specific.
    • “Friendship at work makes work more pleasant” is a theme because it can apply to anyone.
  2. The theme must be a lesson or moral of some kind, even if you don’t agree with it.
    • “Women are evil, but they hide it well” is a lesson that you might not agree with, but it’s the writer’s opinion and counts as a theme.
  3. The theme must not be a single word, but a complex idea.
    • “Love” is not a theme
    • “Love has the power to heal even the deepest hurts” is a theme because it’s a complex idea
  4. The theme must not be simplistic, it must be a complex idea that is not necessarily obvious.
    •  “Love is a good thing” is too simple, but “Love is a good thing, but it can sometimes hurt,” is a theme.
  5. It is not obviously stated in the story.  You must figure it out on your own.
  6. You must be able to find contextual clues (evidence) in the story that prove that this theme exists in the story.  If you cannot find evidence, then it’s not a theme.

How do you find the theme of a story?

  1. Come up with a list of topics that relate to the story
    • Love
    • Gifts
    • Happiness
  2. Turn your topics into complex sentences.  The sentence must have at least two parts to it to keep it from being too simple or obvious:
    • “Black cats are evil” is too simple to be a theme
    • “Black cats are evil, but they are capable of good, sometimes’ has two ideas and is complex enough to be a theme.
  3. Find contextual evidence within the story– in other words, skim the story looking for parts of the story that relate to your sentence.   If you cannot find anything, then re-write your theme so that it aligns with the story better.  Here are a few types of contextual clues:
    • Find something that a character says
    • Find something that the character does
    • Find something that the narrator or author says
    • Find something that is repeated in the story– a word, a phrase, an object or action.  This is likely to be evidence of a theme

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