Welcome back to my three-part series about Symbolism, Themes and Motif. Today we are focusing on Themes. What counts as a Theme, how can a theme be found and used?
Google defines the word Theme as “The main idea in a piece of prose that can be directly or indirectly stated.” In laymen terms, what is the point of the novel? What is it trying to say? In children’s books these themes are often moral lessons and are quite clear. In adult books themes and moral lessons can be harder to find.
Novels are not academic essays, they don’t need to prove a point. I don’t go into W H Smiths or Waterstones to buy a novel that I can read analytically, I read because it’s fun and I want something to do while I commute. Having said that every novel has a theme, often more than one.
Romeo and Juliet – Love/Death.
The most obvious theme in Romeo and Juliet is Love, closely followed by Death. Romeo loves Juliet, Romeo loves his family and friends and they love him in return. Juliet also loves her family and friends but both these characters have to struggle between this love and their love for each other. Fate is also an important theme in the play. It is fate that stops the two lovers and according to the opening prolouge fate that they should die.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Romeo and Juliet- William Shakespeare
The play also sports minor themes such as the idea of masculinity, violence and Time. (Side note: you can see my full review of Romeo and Juliet by clicking on the link below)
Lord of the Flies- The Evil within mankind.
The Lord of the Flies is about a group of British boys who crash on an island and attempt to start their own society. They gradually descend into anarchy until they are rescued but at that point several of the boys have died or been murdered. Fear is an important theme of the novel. The group of boys splinter due to the fear of a “beastie” on the island. Some of the younger boys believe that it is a giant snake living in the jungle. Later the children believe that the monster comes out of the water and they move closer inland. When a dead pilot parachutes onto the island the children believe he is the monster.
The other main theme and moral of the novel is that all of mankind is, at heart, evil. This can be seen through the characters of Jack and Simon. Jack is the leader of a group of choir boys and is constantly arguing with the group’s leader, Ralph. Eventually Jack turns all the boys against Ralph and sets the island on fire in an attempt to kill him. At one point in the novel Simon wanders away from everyone else and discovers a pig’s head on a spear. The pig’s head seems to talk to Simon and indicates that the beastie the boys have been hunting is inside them all.
“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!”
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
A Christmas Carol – Wealth/Isolation
A Christmas Carol is one of Charles Dickins’ most famous pieces of work. Ebeneezer Scrooge learns that it is never too late to be good after being visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day he is a reformed man and gives away his wealth to help those less fortunate.
“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they”ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.
“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown.
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.
“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be!”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickins.
Scrooge’s epiphany take places when the third ghost shows Scrooge his fear of dying alone. Isolation is a key theme as Scrooge spends most of story alone save for the sprits.
Do you think writers always have a theme in mind? In my own experience, yes. When I think up an idea for a story they often centre on a theme. Maybe this is just the way my brain works, maybe this is the way my education has drilled into me that themes are important? Maybe it’s just me?
I think the best way to think of a theme is as a question. The author sets this question and the readers does their best to answer it. Have you ever read a story without a theme? Would your readers agree with the themes you give your own work? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see you next time.